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NFL Hall of Fame - Walter Payton
Chicago Bears First-Round Draft Pick
Chicago Bears Running Back
In his early days Walter Paytons nickname was "Spiderman," But when he went to Jackson State, he was re nicknamed "Sweetness". Some say it was for all the skills he brought to the field and then others think he got the name because it packed a certain irony for someone who enjoyed physical contact. He may have been called Sweetness, but to defenders Walter Payton was anything but. He was an unstoppable force running with the ball, he had great hands as a receiver out of the backfield, but more important he was an inspiration in everything he did.
Payton the Man, the Football Player, the Legend
Payton was born on July 25, 1954 and he was taken way too soon for on November 1, 1999 nearly 12 years after his retirement from football, Payton died of bile duct cancer that had been discovered earlier that year during treatment for a rare form of liver disease.
An American football legend, Walter Payton earned a place in NFL history and in the hearts of NFL fans everywhere. His career rushing record of 16,726 yards was an all-time high in the NFL. The Hall of Fame running back played his entire 13-year career with the Chicago Bears.
He was a tough competitor who refused to "go down" easily. Where other players in the NFL would run for the sidelines to avoid a crushing tackle, Payton faced defensive blockers squarely head-on; If you ever watched him play you would understand that he made these defenders "earn" the down for a tackle.
Sweetness Was Loved
Walter Payton the Early Years
Growing up - born in 1954 in Columbia, Mississippi, in the heart of the racially-charged South. Edward and Alyne Payton had three children, Eddie, Walter and Pam. Living in a small town the kids had a regular childhood. Eddie and Walter were active in any sport they could participate in. In High school Walter played football his first three years at all-black John Jefferson High. In his senior year, he went to Columbia High school and integration had begun to integrate. This wasn;t a problem for Walter and he made the transition easily. It was the 1960's and after high school, the options for a black athlete in the south were limited. Though schools like Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana State began recruiting blacks, there were more opportunities for players like Payton to head to California or Big Ten schools. Most, like Payton, chose to stay closer to home at traditionally black schools such as Jackson State, in Jackson, Mississippi. At Jackson State, Payton did quite well and he finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. Many believed he would have won, had he played at a school with any amount of notoriety, which Jackson State lacked. Walter was not only a great athletle, but his grades were quite commendable. Interesting to note is that he made national appearance on Soul Train, performing the "Cock Walk", a dance move he created. It was early 1975, and Payton was ready for the big league.
Walter Payton Timeline
"He is a complete football player," quoted from Jim Finks, the former Chicago Bears general manager who drafted Payton.
Dick Butkus who was the Dallas Cowboys assistant recounted these words years later about the 1975 draft "With the fourth pick in the 1975 NFL draft, the Bears selected Payton. Chicago's running game hadn't been the same since Gale Sayers' retirement due to injuries in 1971. It remains a mystery how Payton lasted until the fourth pick until this day. Taken before him were QB Steve Bartkowski by Atlanta, DT Randy White by Dallas, and G Ken Huff by Baltimore."
In Paytons first NFL game, #34 carried the
ball eight times for
zero net yards, not exactly what you would think considering this man had such an incredible football career. Although 1975 began with a performance
that didn't merit
writing home about, the season finale did. At New
Orleans, Payton ripped off
perhaps the best touchdown run of his career, finishing
with 134 yards on 20
carries, the Bears' best rushing performance since
Sayers resided in Chicago.
Paytons rookie year ended with 679 yards and seven touchdowns, the lowest total of his football career. Also, the biggest letdown of his career occurred that season, as Payton was held out of the only game he would miss in 13 seasons. It was his rookie year,1975 Said Payton of that missed game, " I could have played but my coach, Jack Pardee, wouldn't let me. I don't count that as a miss,"
Looking back .. did it matter. .I think not for the best . . yes the best was yet to come!
Walter Payton on the sidelines 1980 in a lose to the Steelers
Walter Payton - Timeline
In 1976 Walter Payton went over 1,000 yards and scored
13 touchdowns. In 1977 he was the Most Valuable Player in the NFL. And when the Chicago Bears went to the
playoffs after the '77 season, Payton came up with a
275-yard game. This best single-game performance stood the test of until it was
surpassed by three yards in 2000.
Walter "Sweetness"Payton defined the Bears in the years spanning from 1976-1981. He was the Bears, and jokes circulated that their game plan was as simple as Payton left, Payton right, Payton middle, punt. Sweetness, which became Payton's nickname early in his career, rushed for over 1,000 yards in every season from 1976-1981. Though 8-8 and 6-10 seasons in 1981 were no fun on the field, hos fellow team mates will tell you that Payton wasn't just a great player on the field, he was perhaps one of the best all time practical jokers. This not only kept the moral up in the locker room but it adds to why this football player will be forever enshrined as one of the greatest ever! Perhaps it was Walter's "Sweetness spirit" that can be credited to what was the underlying fuel to the winning Bears that would take the field a few years down the road.
Payton Timeline 1984
Walter Payton In PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Walter Payton Timeline
The Ditka Years 1982 -1984
In 1982 "Papa bear" George Halas, in one of his last major ownership acts (he died in 1983), hired a new leader for his Chicago Bears. Ditka who was a former Halas player in the 1960s was the choice. It was Mike Ditka who turned around a team that had been 81-124-1 under the four coaches who had followed Halas' retirement from coaching in 1967. And so in 1982 Mike Ditka became the new Coach of the Chicago Bears.Many sports historians consider this to be the turning point in Payton's career. This turned Payton into the best player on a losing team, to the best player on a winning team. In Ditka's first speech to the players in the Spring of 1982, he told the team that they would be going to the Super Bowl, some would be there and some wouldn't.
This was the first statement of confidence the team had heard from a leader in some time, and Ditka had every intention of backing up his words up. Ditka brought the Bears a winning attitude and together with Jim Finks the General Manager of the Bears, a Chicago Bears team was starting to be put together with some other players that would ensure Payton's success. An already tough defense was bolstered with such players as Richard Dent, Dave Duerson and Wilbur Marshall. The offense, that once featured Payton as its only weapon, added the charismatic Quarterback Jim McMahon, reliable and speedy receivers Willie Gault and Dennis McKinnon, and assembled a dominating offensive line, featuring Jim Covert, Mark Bortz, Jay Hilgenberg, Kurt Becker, Tom Thayer, and Keith VanHorne.
After 3-6 and 8-8 seasons in 1982 and 1983, Chicago felt they were ready for a real run at the postseason in 1984. In addition to dominating the NFC Central by the middle of the '84 campaign, Walter Payton was in position to break Jim Brown's all-time rushing record. Sweetness broke the record early in the third quarter on a toss left, and after a few celebratory high-fives, in his typical fashion he urged everyone off of the field to allow the game to continue.
After the game, Payton dedicated his achievement to all the athletes that didn't have the chance to achieve their goals. He talked about players that came before him such as the late Brian Piccolo. Injecting his typical playful antics into the day, Payton finished his postgame press conference by speaking to President Reagan and asking him to give his best regards to Nancy.
The '84 Bears finished the regular season 10-6, and won their first postseason game since 1963 at Washington. During that game, Payton threw a touchdown pass to THE Pat Dunsmore, adding to his long list of achievements. The following week, Chicago lost the NFC Championship at San Francisco, and TV cameras showed Payton sitting dejectedly on the bench. After the game Payton voiced his sorrow to the press. His team had come so far, and tomorrow is promised to no one, so who knew if he'd get his shot again at the elusive Super Bowl ring.
Walter Payton Football Career Highlights
Walter Payton Not So Sweet
A Running Back and his Quarter Back Looking OnClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Superbowl Shuffle
1985 CHicago Bears Super Bowl Shuffle
1985 Superbowl Champions
There are teams that are fair-haired, and those that aren't so fair-haired. Some teams are named Smith, some Grabowski. We're Grabowskis." ~Mike Ditka, January 1986
1985 Records:Preseason 1-3, Regular Season 15-1, Playoffs 3-0
1985 NFL Rankings: Offense 7th Overall, 1st Rush, 20th Pass; Defense 1st Overall, 1st Rush, 3rd Pass
1985 Coaches: Mike Ditka, Head Coach; Buddy Ryan, Defensive Coordinator; Ed Hughes, Offensive Coordinator
- In the 15 wins by the 1985 Bears, only four games were decided by less than ten points.
- The 1985 Bears defense was the third highest rated defense against the pass and the #1 defense against the run.
- Walter Payton (Offensive Player of the Year), Mike Singletary (Defensive Player of the Year), Mike Ditka (Coach of the Year) and a club record of 9 Pro Bowlers
- The 1985 Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl with their offense crippling Buddy Ryan 46 defense, and it was a season that undoubtedly goes down in the history books as the most successful team in franchise history. Many like to argue the ‘85 Bears as the greatest NFL team of all time.
The Bears’ were hoping for a perfect season, but Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins defeated the Bears on Monday Night Football during week thirteen, 38-24. It was after this game that a few Bears got together and produced (note, is still considered today to be the anthem of the Chicago Bears) a rap hit Super Bowl Shuffle. It immediately became a phenomenon and even reached as high as #41 on the music charts. It sold a half a million copies and was even nominated for a Grammy that year. Known as "The Chicago Bears Shufflin Crew", Walter Sweetness Payton had the starring role and he was joined with Jim (Punky) McMahon, Samurai Mike Singletary. Also in the video : Willie Gault, Steve Fuller, Mike Richardson, Richard Dent, Gary Fencik, Otis Wilson, William "Refrigerator" Perry
The Bears, then on to win the remainder of the games, and
earned the NFC’s top playoff seed with a 15-1 record. The Bears Defense
only allowed 12.4 points/game.
reached the high of
sports greatness as Chicago defeated New England 46-10
in the Super Bowl. If
teammates were asked who the victory would be dedicated
to, unequivocally they
would say Payton in part for his outstanding career and his complete dedication to the
sport. Obvious that this was one football player that was destined to be in the Hall of Fame.
Hall of Fame - NFL Player Walter Payton in Super Bowl XX
Walter Payton Timeline
A SuperBowl Regret
January 26: One of Mike Ditka regrets was that he did not create a scoring opportunity for Payton during the game. Perry's touchdown and McMahon's rushing touchdowns are widely considered as scoring opportunities that were denied to Payton. This not only upset Payton but it angered football fans everywhere. Payton doesn't score in the game, the Bears' only Super Bowl.
December 20: Payton plays his final regular-season game at Soldier Field, rushing for 79 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-21 loss to the Seahawks. The Bears retire his jersey number, 34.
December 27: Payton's final regular-season game is a 6-3 victory for the Bears over the Raiders at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
January 10: Payton plays in his final game, a 21-17 loss to the Redskins in the NFC divisional playoffs at Soldier Field. Payton rushes for 85 yards on 16 carries and has three receptions for 20 yards.
Hall Of Fame 1993
Walter Payton Timeline
Life After Football
- January 30: Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- July 31: Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- Walter formed a CART racing team with partner Dale Coyne, and survived a spectacular collision while racing at Elkhart Lake
1995, A Group of investors got together and they went after bringing an NFL expansion team to Saint Louis, Missouri. The NFL strongly favored the franchise but due to internal dissent among the insiders this never happened, and at this time the NFL awarded franchises to other investment groups in Jacksonvlle (Jaguars) and in Carolina (Panthers).
1996 Walter Payton's Roundhouse, a restaurant and brewpub featuring the Payton Hall of Fame, was opened in Aurora, IL.
Son Jared Peyton
Walter Payton Funeral 1999
The Legacy of Sweetness
Feb. 2, 1999 - Announced at a news conference that he has an incurable liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis, and was seeking a transplant.
Nov. 1, 1999 - Walter died of bile duct cancer at age 45. He is survived by his wife Connie his son Jarrett and his daughter, Brittney.
The day that Walter "Sweetness died" all of Chicago went into full-scale mourning. John Madden, Mike Ditka and others eulogized Payton at his funeral, and thousands of fans and the '99 Bears team showed up at Soldier Field that Saturday to celebrate his life. All the games played that week held a moment of silence to remember this incredible man. The Bears in a final tribute upset Green Bay on a last-second blocked field goal by Bryan Robinson.
Perhaps Payton's greatest achievement in his passing remains that organ donation in Illinois has skyrocketed he announced this illness.
His wife Connie Payton continues to operate the Walter and Connie Payton foundation, which among other things donates Christmas toys to thousands of underprivileged children.
His final public appearance came in April 1999 when, joined by Mike Ditka, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.
The Biography of Sweetness
Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton
If you want to read more about the life of Sweetness, this the is the book to read by Jeff Pearlman. "The Enigmatic Life Of Walter Payton is the definitive biography of the Chicago Bears superstar.
Did You Know
Walter Payton missed only one game in his entire career, demonstrating his incredible durability as a running back. The game was in his rookie season; he went on to play 186 consecutive games.