Walter Payton

Walter Payton was one of the NFL's greatest rushers. Nicknamed "Sweetness" for his aggressive behavior, Payton played 13 seasons with the Chicago Bears from 1975 to 1987. His ability move on the field helped him shatter the records for rushing.

Payton rushed 3,838 times for 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns-all records. Walter Payton also caught 492 passes for 4,538 yards and 15 more touchdowns. Altogether, he scored 125 touchdowns, second most ever, and he accounted for a record 21,803 combined net yards.

Walter Payton was born on July 25, 1954, in Columbia, Mississippi. He was the youngest and the shyest of three children. His father Edward, a factory worker, played semi-pro baseball but Walter described himself as a "Mama's boy." His mother Alyne often made trips to Chicago to see her boy play. Preferring music to organized sports, Payton played the cymbals in his high school band, and was even a finalist on Soul Train with his dance moves.

Walter Payton did not play football until his junior year in high school, partly because his brother Eddie was a star on the team and he didn't want to compete with him. After Eddie graduated, the football coach asked Payton to try out for the team, and he agreed on the condition that he be allowed to continue playing in the band. He ran 65 yards for a touchdown on his first high school carry and scored on a 75-yard play later the same game.

After high school Walter Payton was recruited by numerous major colleges but enrolled at Jackson State so he could play in the same backfield as his older brother, Edward. While playing football at Jackson State, Payton rushed for 3,563 yards in four seasons and scored an NCAA record 464 points on 66 touchdowns, five field goals and 53 extra points. It was in college that Payton picked up his famous nickname, "Sweetness," because of the smooth way he ran.

At 5-10, 200 pounds running back Walter Payton was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft, as the fourth overall pick. The Bears had endured several losing seasons after the retirement of the iconic Gale Sayers in 1972. Payton's first game was not particularly successful; he was held to zero net rushing yards on eight attempts. His best performance of the season was the final game against the New Orleans Saints, where he rushed for 134 yards on 20 carries. Payton finished the season with only 679 yards and seven touchdowns.

Payton won the NFC rushing title five straight years from 1976 to 1980. He also led the NFC with 96 points in 1977 and won the NFL kickoff return championship in his rookie 1975 campaign. He was named both All-Pro and All-NFC seven times and played in nine Pro Bowl games. Payton was selected as the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1977 and 1985, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1977 and 1985 and the NFC Most Valuable Player in 1977.

When Mike Ditka became the head coach for the Chicago bears Walter Payton went from being the best player on a losing team, to the best contributor to a winning team. In Ditka's first speech to the players in the Spring of 1982, he stated that his team would be going to the Super Bowl, and 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 intended to back his words up. Along with bringing a winning attitude, Ditka, along with General Manager Jim Finks, for the first time started assembling a supporting cast 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, once featuring Payton as its only weapon, added gambling 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 Van Horne. After 3-6 and 8-8 seasons in 1982 and 1983, Chicago felt they were primed for a real run at the postseason in 1984. Finishing 10-6, the Bears were definitely improving and on October 7, 1984, Payton broke Jim Brown's career rushing record of 12,312 yards.

In 1985, Payton rushed for more than 1,500 yards, while helping the Bears establish the league’s second-best offense. The Bears' 46 defense of that season would go on to become one of the best in NFL history, setting a record for fewest points allowed. Payton performed with his teammates in the widely released 1985 music video The Super Bowl Shuffle. The Bears went on to a 15-1 record that culminated in a 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Although Payton's offensive prowess had assisted the Bears throughout the 1985 season, the New England Patriots prevented him from reaching the end zone. According to quarterback Jim McMahon, he was targeted by two or three defensive Patriots during each play.

One of Payton's signature maneuvers was the "stutter-step," a high-stepping, irregularly paced run. He developed this as a way to distract his pursuers during long runs, saying that it startled them into thinking and gave him some advantage over players who were actually faster runners. In his autobiography, he likened the stutter step to a kind of "option play": when he was stutter-stepping, defenders would have to commit to a pursuit angle based upon whether they thought he would accelerate after the stutter-step, or cut—he would read this angle and do the opposite of what the defender had committed to.

Walter Payton reinvented the practice of stiff-arming his tacklers, which had gone out of favor among running backs in the 1970s. His running gait was somewhat unusual, as his knees were minimally bent, and the motion was largely powered from the hip. This may have given his knees, a football player's most vulnerable joints, some protection, although he underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees in 1983. He referred to this procedure as an 11,000-yard checkup

Walter Payton retired from football in 1988, ending his career with a loss to the Washington Redskins in the divisional round of the playoffs by the score of 21-17. Payton set several team records, including most career rushing yards, receptions, and touchdowns. His jersey number was retired by the Bears, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. The only game he missed in his 13-year career was in his rookie season of 1975.

In early 1999, Walter Payton faced the media in Chicago to announce that he had been diagnosed with PSC (Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis), a condition that may lead to cancer of the bile ducts in the liver. Suddenly the lines that Walter used earlier in his career, such as "Never Die Easy", and "Tomorrow is promised to no one," struck close to home. On November 1, 1999, Payton died from the complications that arose from his illness. During the same week, the NFL held special ceremonies in each game to commemorate his career and legacy. In addition, the Chicago Bears wore special #34 patches on their jerseys to honor Payton.

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