Oh, if only Gale Sayers hadn't suffered the knee injuries that ruined his career.
He might even now be known as the greatest running back in NFL history. Instead, we are left to wonder what might have been. But on this December day at Wrigley Field, Sayers entered the NFL record book in dramatic fashion, as reported by George Strickler in the Tribune:
The ghosts of Red Grange, Ernie Nevers, George McAfee and Jim Thorpe moved over in football's Valhalla yesterday to make room for a mercurial rookie from Kansas, who tore up the record book and the sodden turf of Wrigley field with one of the most spectacular demonstrations of ball carrying in the history of the sport. Leading a Chicago Bears team that was hellbent on revenge from an opening day humiliation, Gale Sayers staked out squatter's rights in the San Francisco 49ers' end zone, scoring six touchdowns and contributing 36 points to a 61 to 20 triumph by which the Bears preserved a mathematical chance of bringing a championship playoff to the north side on Jan. 2. Operating on a field made slick by intermittent showers, and considered more suited to San Francisco's heavy power backs than his twinkle-toed ballet technique, Gallopin' Gale raced 80 yards with a screen pass for the Bears' first touchdown in the third minute of play. He returned a punt 85 yards in the fourth period, charged 50 yards on a pitchout in the fourth minute of the third quarter, and had other touchdowns of 21 yards, 7 yards, and one foot. None was routine. All were spectacular, including the one from one foot out on which he landed on his head with his feet straight up in the air.
A packed house of 46,277 saw this record performance. The record of six touchdowns in a game still stands, 48 years later. Sayers wound up with 22 touchdowns total in 1965, which set a rookie record that also still stands. The 61 points scored remains the Bears' team record for points in a regular-season game.
The Bears needed a win in their last game and a Packers loss and a Colts loss in order to make the playoffs. None of those things happened, and the Bears, despite Sayers' amazing rookie season, finished just 9-5.
The record 61 points set that day in 1965 was tied by the 1980 Bears in a 61-7 win over the Packers. The Bears need to defeat the Packers this afternoon to make the playoffs. A repeat of the 1980 score would surely be welcome, but Bears fans will take a victory by any score. Go Bears!