"Give me 18 inches of daylight, that's all I need."
Gale Sayers' infamous quote helps tell the story of what made him one of the most electric players in pro football history. Sayers, who died at age 77 in 2020, was born 80 years ago today (May 30, 1943). Sayers dazzled NFL fans with his dizzying array of speed, agility and vision. Known as the Kansas Comet during his playing days, Sayers won NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 1965, edging out his teammate and fellow future Hall of Famer Dick Butkus. He twice led the NFL in rushing despite having to face Don Shula's Colts and Vince Lombardi's Packers a combined four times a season. Sayers also developed a close bond with Bears fullback Brian Piccolo, a bond that was captured on the big screen in 1971.
Here are five things you may not know about Sayers, one of the best running backs in NFL history.
His six-touchdown performance is still an NFL record
On Dec. 12, 1965, Sayers scored six touchdowns on a mud-soaked field against the 49ers. In addition to his four touchdown runs, Sayers also caught a touchdown pass before returning a punt 85 yards for a score. Sayers actually could have scored seven touchdowns had George Halas not pulled him from the game early, as Jon Arnett scored the final touchdown in Chicago's 61-20 victory.
Sayers still holds the rookie record for touchdowns
Though it's been 55 years since his rookie season, Sayers' 22 touchdowns in 1965 is still the most touchdowns scored by a rookie. That season, Sayers rushed for 14 touchdowns, caught six touchdown passes and had a punt and a kickoff return for scores. All told, Sayers amassed 2,272 all-purpose yards that season for an average of 162.3 yards per game. Making Sayers' scoring record even more impressive is the fact that it was accomplished in a 14-game season.
He played in just 68 games
In 1968, Sayers was in the midst of arguably his best season before a serious knee injury altered the course of his career. While he was physically not the same player, Sayers, with the help of Piccolo, willed himself back onto the field in 1969, winning Comeback Player of the Year honors after leading the league in rushing for a second time. Sayers' comeback didn't last long, however, as another knee injury kept him sidelined for all but two games in 1970. After an ankle injury limited him to just two games in 1971, Sayers decided to retire before the start of the 1972 season.
As great as he and Butkus were, the duo never played in a playoff game, as the Bears -- who won the NFL title two years before drafting Butkus and Sayers -- never finished higher than second in their division with the two Hall of Famers on their roster. In fact, the '65 season was the only year that saw Chicago post a winning record with Butkus and Sayers on the team.
The youngest Hall of Fame inductee
On July 30, 1977, Sayers was part of a star-studded Hall of Fame induction class that also included Frank Gifford, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr and Bill Willis. At 34, Sayers remains the youngest player to receive induction.
Along with his Hall of Fame induction, Sayers is a member of the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team. He was also included in the NFL's 50th, 75th, and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams. His No. 40 was retired by the Bears in 1994, the same night the team retired Butkus' No. 51. Sayers still owned 20 team records at the start of the 2020 season.
Sayers' post football success
After a brief career as a college athletic director, Sayers founded Crest Computer Supply Company, which was later renamed Sayers 40, Inc. The company, which was founded in 1984, is a technology consulting and implementation firm serving Fortune 1000 companies.
Sayers and his wife, Ardythe, founded The Gale Sayers Center, an after-school program located in Chicago. The program focuses on leadership development, tutoring and mentoring.