By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) The greatest game played in the history of Wrigley Field — which is celebrating its 100th birthday today — was arguably a football game. Of all the great performances and team wins that have occurred at the corner of Clark and Addison, perhaps none surpass the six touchdowns scored by Gale Sayers 49 years ago.
Back on Dec. 12, 1965, a muddy Wrigley was a quagmire of dirt and sod when Bears rookie running back Sayers began his historic day against the 49ers with an 80-yard touchdown on a screen pass from quarterback Rudy Bukich.
“Gale should have had at least seven touchdowns,” Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus said at the Wrigley celebration Wednesday. “George Halas did not want Gale to get a big head, so he had Jon Arnett run the ball in from the 2-yard line.”
Sayers earned his nickname “Magic” from teammate Brian Piccolo on that wet December day. He ran for four touchdowns (50,21,9,and 7 yards), took that screen pass to paydirt and returned an 85-yard punt for a score to cap off an electric performance for the ages.
“Dave Wilcox, who was a great linebacker for the 49ers, told me that Gale could have scored 10 touchdowns against them that day,” Butkus said. “No one could have stopped him that day.”
Sayers’ career, like that of Butkus, was cut short after numerous knee surgeries. Yet on that day, a different spirit was the wind behind Sayers’ majestic 60-minute romp into history.
“That was my rookie year,” Sayers said. “That was only my seventh or eighth game in the NFL. I had a lot of good games before and after that.
“I scored 22 (total) touchdowns (in 1965), went to the Pro Bowl and made the Hall of Fame. But people still ask me about that day here in Wrigley and what an impression it had on them.”
Sayers played in only 68 career games, but that one special day will always be the benchmark of all Wrigley Field’s individual accomplishments.
“I knew what I wanted to do in the mud, I had a different way of running,” Sayers said. “They couldn’t touch me that day. God had a special plan for me.”
Sayers played only five years in the league and points to the fact no one ever played a shorter time with more credentials.
“All the players knew I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “One game I got hurt and I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Kerry Wood had the 20-strikeout game in 1998 at Wrigley. Ryne Sandberg had the two clutch, famous home runs off of Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter in 1984. Gabby Hartnett hit the “Homer in the Gloamin'” in 1938.
But for a one-day explosion of excellence, Gale Sayers’ run to touchdown glory may be the best performance ever at Wrigley Field.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.