Walter Payton #34
Hall of Fame Class: 1993
Statistics: Height:5’10 Weight: 204 Pounds Rushing Yards Gained: 16,726 Receiving:492 catches for 4,538 yards Touchdowns: 125 (110 Run/15 Reception) Touchdown Passes: 8
Pro Bowls: Pro Bowls: 9 All-Pro:8 (7 1st team and 1 second team)
Career Achievements: Jim Thorpe Trophy/NEA MVP(NFL MVP Chosen by Players): 2 AP MVP:1 NFL Man Of The Year:1 NFC Player Of The Year:1 NFL All Decade Team 1970s NFL All Decade Team 1980s NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
Retired as the leader in rushing yards, yards from scrimmage and rushing touchdowns. Number 34 is retired by the Chicago Bears.
Never die easy. “As great as he was, Walter Payton is underrated”- John Madden NFL fans are biased. Its an integral part of fandom. You compare your team to another, your players to others and even your city/region. When choosing a great for the Chicago Bears, the direction could have gone multiple ways. John Madden thought Walter Payton wasn’t given enough respect. People forget. Younger people resist the past because they think the moment in time they exist is the most important the world has yet seen. NFL fans are no different. Payton played when ESPN was young and he wasn't attention starved. His NFL records have (mostly) been broken. To most Bears fans, what matters is that he was the best all-around running back in NFL history and the epitome of the Bears.
Walter Payton was born in Columbia,Mississippi. He didn’t play football until his Junior year of High School. He drummed for the band and only agreed to play football if the coach allowed him to continue his drumming position. His first play from scrimmage was a 65 yard touchdown run. Payton was lightly recruited coming out of High School. Florida State sent a fellow named Bill Parcells to scout Payton for them. Parcells’s report said he was good but too small. No SEC schools offered him a scholarship. Kansas State offered him a scholarship and he planned on going there until he visited his brother Eddie at Jackson State. The idea of staying home appealed to him. He never caught his flight to Kansas.
Payton ran for 3,500 yards at Jackson State while averaging 6.1 yards a carry. He scored 65 touchdowns and was twice named Historically Black College Player of the Year. His senior year, he was named to the All-American team with D1 players like Archie Griffin. He also spent some time as the Jackson State place kicker where he converted 53 extra points and made 5 field goals. Payton was renowned for a level of energy that made hyperactive children seem tame by comparison. He graduated from Jackson State at the age of 20 and worked on his master’s degree in education for the deaf while playing for the Tigers. Payton advanced to the finals of a national “Soul Train” dancing contest. He’d later say that he liked that he did not fit the stereotype of the athlete who went to college to just play ball. He left Jackson State as the NCAA leader in points scored by a football player. The story goes that Walter Payton earned the nickname “Sweetness” while at Jackson State because of his ability on the field. As a child, his nickname was Bubba. One story had Payton playing in a college all-star game. The players involved were there to have fun and relax. Payton couldn’t relax. He did everything going one hundred miles per hour. He wanted to impress the big school players surrounding him. An Ohio State safety named Neal Colzie lined up the small school star only to have him juke and high step by him. Payton, who wasn’t a trash talker, said something to him as he went by. When Colzie was asked by teammates, he relayed Payton saying “Your Sweetness is your weakness”. At those workouts, Payton would show off his athletic abilities to his big school teammates. He could throw a football 60-80 yards. He would walk the length of the field on his hands. People say athletes are often “gifted” but that term seems to imply that something was given. Hard work takes and is not given. Walter Payton made himself a superb athlete. He ran on sand dunes near Jackson State and would famously run up a giant recovered trash hill near his home in Chicago. He could bench press 390 pounds. He leg pressed 700 pounds. Walter Payton wouldn’t have any problem doing modern workouts because he was working out until exhaustion then.
The Dallas Cowboys had the second pick of the 1975 NFL Draft and debated until 30 minutes before the Draft on whom they would take. It was down to Payton or Randy White. Tom Landry was a defensive coach and wanted White. He was also a legend and legends tend to get what they want. The next pick was the Colts. They took a guard from UNC named Ken Huff. The Bears rushed to the podium and took Walter Payton. NFL founder and Bears owner George Halas was delighted as he had become an enormous fan of Payton. The Bears in the 1970s were awful. The late 60s and early 70s had seen what would become, to Bears fans, a typical formula. Bears teams with good defenses and absurdly incompetent offenses. The Bears still had no quarterback and lacked receiving threats at wideout and tight end. Payton would become the Bears offense.
The joke in Chicago was the first 10 years of Walter Payton’s career consisted of Payton left,Payton right,Payton up the middle or punt. In the first 10 years of his career, Payton would have no offensive linemen from his teams given any awards or Pro-Bowl recognition. Same for the skill position players outside of himself. Every team knew the Bears offense was Payton. And he still put up numbers. He ran around, over or through defenders. He was the Bears best running and receiving threat. In a 1983 game against the New Orleans Saints, Payton ran for 161 yards and a touchdown, caught two passes for 27 while also completing two passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears ended up losing in overtime.
Payton’s running style and the grit it exemplified endeared him to Chicago fans and other NFL players. Payton did not run out of bounds. Payton did not cede anything to a defender. Payton’s stiff arm became famous. One teammate said it felt as if his arm was shot out of a cannon. A favorite quote of Payton’s was told to him by a former coach: “Never die easy. Why run out of bounds and die easy? Make that linebacker pay. It's okay to lose, to die, but don't die without trying, without giving it your best.” In the early 1980’s, it was a race to see which player would break the great Jim Brown’s rushing record. Oj Simpson was thought to be a favorite but he ran out of…energy around 1980. It came down to Payton and Steelers great Franco Harris. Harris, quite logically, stated that he ran out of bounds and avoided some contact as a way to prolong his career. The honesty of his statement did not endear him to the NFL running back fraternity. When asked whom he would prefer to break his record, Jim Brown stated that he would like to be there to shake Payton’s hand. He was friends with Franco Harris but didn’t think he could shake his hand in the same circumstance. Brown said there was an equivalent to the code of the gladiators with running backs and he saw it in Payton.
The role that Payton excelled at that is overlooked by many but was integral was as a teammate. Writers and Bears observers often commented on the pathetic nature of his teammates on offense. The linemen were incompetent, lazy or just mediocre. It wasn’t until 1983 when the Bears added Jimbo Covert to a young group that included Mark Bortz, Jay Hilgenberg, Tom Thayer and Keith Van Horne that Payton would have a quality line to run behind. The quarterbacks? Here are the quarterbacks Payton caught passes from: Gary Huff,Bob Avellini, Bobby Douglass, Mike Phipps, Vince Evans, Rusty Lisch, Jim McMahon, Steve Fuller, Greg Landry, Mike Tomczak, Doug Flutie and Jim Harbaugh. The two Jims and Flutie would be the cream of that crop. Harbaugh was his quarterback his last year and Flutie was the fill in for an injured McMahon that McMahon’s friends on the team ostracized and ignored. There was an exception. Doug Flutie would say that Payton was one of the few friends he had on the team. A Sports Illustrated writer covering a game in the 1970s saw a fine example of Payton’s character and leadership. The Bears were in a tie game against the Falcons when their punt returner muffed a return. The returner walked to the sideline. He sat on the bench alone until Walter Payton walked over and sat with him. Even Buddy Ryan liked Walter Payton. When it is time to present a player for the NFL Hall of Fame, a person is chosen to make a case. Payton was presented by Chicago Tribune writer Cooper Rollow. He stood, said “Walter Payton” and sat down. Walter Payton was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame.
A little more than a decade after he retired, Walter Payton become ill with a liver disease. It led to bile duct cancer. Payton started 178 consecutive games at a position where he took dozens of physical shots and collisions weekly and illness slowly wasted him away. Walter Payton was indestructible. He was the little guy who put the fear into the monsters of the NFL. The guy who, when asked for a highlight play of his career, mentioned a blitz pick up where he stonewalled Lawrence Taylor. Walter Payton could run through defenders but cancer has no mercy. Teammates like Matt Suhey and Mike Singletary were with him and his family until the end. And they all reported that Walter Payton did not surrender. He lived up to his coach’s motto. He didn’t die easy. George Young, the great GM of the New York Giants, would say that Jim Brown was the better pure runner but Walter Payton was the better all-around player. Payton did everything a running back needed to do and excelled at them all. He blocked as well as a fullback. He caught 492 passes from a collection of quarterbacks that went to one Pro Bowl while his teammate(McMahon,1985). He ran for more yards than anyone before him and only one after. He threw 8 touchdown passes and was the Bears emergency QB and kicker. In short yardage situations, he became famous for leaping over the train wreck between the offensive and defensive line. There wasn’t a situation involving a runningback that you needed to remove Walter Payton from the game for a specialist. He did what they did and did it better. This entry began with a quote from John Madden so we should end with one as well: "I thought Walter Payton was the greatest football player who ever lived. He did it and he did it better than anyone. And he had more fun -- and that combination is a treasure."
Submitted May 14, 2017 at 08:19PM by caseysanterre
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