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Walter Payton
Walter-payton-1-sized.jpg
Position(s)
Half back
Jersey #(s)
34
Born July 25, 1954(1954-07-25)
Columbia, Mississippi,
United States
Died November 1, 1999 (aged 45)
South Barrington, Illinois,
United States
Career information
Year(s) 19751987
NFL Draft 1975 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4
College Jackson State
Professional teams
Career stats
Rushing Yards 16,726
Average 4.4
Touchdowns 110
Stats at NFL.com
Career highlights and awards

Walter Payton (July 25, 1954 – November 1, 1999) was an American football player who spent his entire professional career with the National Football League's Chicago Bears. Walter Payton was known around the NFL as "Sweetness". He is remembered as one of the most prolific running backs in the history of American football. Payton, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, once held the League’s record for most career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, and many other categories. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. Hall of Fame NFL player and coach Mike Ditka described Payton as the greatest football player he had ever seen—but even greater as a human being.[1]

Payton began his football career in Mississippi, and went on to have an outstanding collegiate football career at Jackson State University where he was an All-American. He started his professional career with the Bears in 1975, who selected him as the 1975 Draft’s fourth overall pick. Payton proceeded to win two NFL Player of the Year Awards, and won Super Bowl XX with the 1985 Chicago Bears. After struggling with the rare liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis for several months, Payton died on November 1, 1999.

Contents

Early life

Payton was one of three children born to Edward Charles Payton and Alyne Payton in Columbia, Mississippi. His father was a factory worker who had played semi-professional baseball.[2] Payton was an active member of the Boy Scouts, Little League, and his local church. At John J. Jefferson High School, Payton played drums in the marching band, participated in the track team as a long jumper, and sang in the school choir.[3][4] Outside of school, he played drums in jazz-rock groups.[4] During his first few years at high school, his older brother Eddie was on the football team, and Payton did not play partly to avoid competing with him. After Eddie graduated, the football coach asked Payton to try out for the team, and he agreed on condition that he be allowed to continue playing in the band.[4]

Once he began to play football, as a junior, he achieved instant success as a running back.[4] At 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m), he was not especially large, but his speed and strength made him one of the team's featured players. Jefferson High School was integrated with neighboring Columbia High School that year; Payton and his teammates were upset that their head coach, Charles L. Boston, had become an assistant and Payton boycotted some of the spring practices in protest, but returned during the fall season.[5][6] He then earned state-wide honors as a member of Mississippi's all-state team, leading Columbia to an unexpected 8-2 season.[6][7] His performance helped ease the local tensions surrounding desegregation.[3][8]

College career

Although Payton had established himself as one of the state’s top running back prospects, he received no invitations from Southeastern Conference colleges and universities, which were accepting only a few black players at the time.[9] He decided to pursue his collegiate career at the historically African-American, Jackson State University, where his older brother Eddie had played football (declining a scholarship offer from the University of Kansas, where fellow Chicago Bears running back legend Gale Sayers had played).[5][6]

While attending Jackson State, Payton played alongside many future professional football players, including Jerome Barkum, Robert Brazile, and Jackie Slater. As a member of the Jackson State Tigers, Payton rushed for more than 3,500 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Also, he broke the NCAA’s scoring record by rushing for 65 touchdowns during his college career. In 1973 and 1974, Payton was selected for the All-American Team and was named Black College Player of the Year.[10] Payton graduated in 1975 with a Bachelor's degree in communication.[5][6]

He acquired the nickname "Sweetness" in college. The nickname's origin was ambiguous: it is variously said to have stemmed from his personality, from his athletic grace, or as an ironic description of his aggressive playing style.[11] In 1996, Payton was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.[6] On January 18, 2010, it was announced that Payton would be one of eleven members of the inaugural class inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame on February 20, 2010.[12]

Professional career

1975–1982

The Chicago Bears drafted Payton 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.[5][6][13]

Payton was eager to improve his performance. During the 1976 NFL season, Payton rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. After the season, he was selected to play in the 1977 Pro Bowl, where he was declared the Pro Bowl MVP. The next year, he rushed for 1,852 yards and scored 16 touchdowns, becoming the league’s leading scorer for the season. He earned numerous awards that season, including the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America’s Most Valuable Player awards. His most memorable game of the 1977 NFL season was against the Minnesota Vikings on November 20. He rushed for a then-record 275 yards on 40 carries while combating the flu, breaking the previous record of 273 yards held by O.J. Simpson.[14] By the end of the decade, Payton had received additional accolades for his exploits as a blocker, receiver, emergency punter, and quarterback.[5][6][15]

1983–1986

Payton breaks Jim Brown's career rushing record

The Bears struggled to assemble consecutive winning seasons, landing only two playoff berths since his arrival. The lack of success prompted the Bears’ management to replace Neill Armstrong with Mike Ditka for the season that began in the Fall of 1982. Ditka, a Tight end during the 1960s and 1970s who would also join the Pro Football Hall of Fame, led the Bears to a 3-6 (strike-shortened) record in 1982. He led the Bears to an 8-8 finish in 1983 and to a 10-6 finish in 1984. Payton continued his success by rushing for more than 1,400 yards in both seasons. 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 points allowed.[16] 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.[17]

In a later interview, Ditka stated that Payton's lack of a touchdown in this game was one of his major regrets.[5][6][18]

1986−1987

Payton, who was a twelve-year veteran, amassed 1,333 yards in the 1986 NFL season. The Bears won the NFC Central Division, but lost to the Washington Redskins 27-13 in the divisional round. At the end of the 1986 season, he announced that he would retire after completing the 1987 NFL season. During his last season with the Bears, Payton split carries with his successor, Neal Anderson, and rushed for only 533 yards. Payton's career ended with another loss to the Washington Redskins in the divisional round of the playoffs by the score of 21-17 on January 10, 1988. Over his entire career, Payton rushed for 16,726 yards and scored 110 touchdowns. Also, he caught 492 passes for 4,538 yards and 15 touchdowns. 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.[5][6] The only game he missed in his 13-year career was in his rookie season of 1975. His ankle was injured, and an assistant coach held him out of play; the miss rankled Payton for years afterwards.[4]

Playing style

Payton's motto was Never Die Easy, which is also the title of his posthumously published autobiography. Payton attributed this motto to Bob Hill, his coach at Jackson State. In practice, this meant that Payton refused to deliberately run out-of-bounds, and always delivered some punishment to his tacklers before being forced off the field or forced down.[9]

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.[9] 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.[1] He reinvented the practice of stiff-arming his tacklers, which had gone out of favor among running backs in the 1970s.[19] At times, he used his high school experience as a long jumper to leap over his opponents, landing on his head in the end zone to gain a touchdown in a game against the Buffalo Bills.[20] His running gait was somewhat unusual, as his knees were minimally bent, and the motion was largely powered from the hip.[21] 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.[21]

After scoring touchdowns, Payton declined to celebrate; instead, he would often hand the ball to his teammates or the official. He disapproved of the growing practice of touchdown celebrations; he preferred post-game antics such as rushing into the locker room and locking his fellow teammates out in the cold while taking a long shower.[9]

Although Payton might have won the respect of his peers and coaches by his running alone, he made 492 receptions over his career and was a consistent threat in the passing game.[22]

Personal life

Payton married Connie Norwood in 1976. During his rookie years he resided in a home on the north side of Arlington Heights, Illinois. The couple had two children, Jarrett Payton (born 1980)[23] and Brittney (born 1985)[24] and resided in South Barrington, Illinois. In 1995, Walter, along with many other investors, sought to bring an NFL expansion team to Saint Louis, Missouri. Although the NFL strongly favored a franchise in St. Louis, their efforts were thwarted because of internal dissension among the investment group members[1] leading the NFL award to franchises to investment groups in Jacksonville, Florida (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Charlotte, North Carolina (Carolina Panthers).[25]

Payton pursued various business ventures in retirement, including becoming co-owner of Dale Coyne Racing in the CART IndyCar World Series. He also drove in several Trans-Am Series events, including a 1993 race at Road America in which his car overturned and caught fire. He suffered burns but escaped serious injury.[26]

In 1995, he and his partners, Mark Alberts, Scott and Pam Ascher, bought a Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad roundhouse in Aurora, Illinois. The property became known as "Walter Payton's Roundhouse," hosting a restaurant, brewery, banquet and meeting facility, and museum. In 1999 the property received an award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.[27] The beers brewed at the Roundhouse received awards in the 2000s.[28]

Payton was interested in cooking, often making meals for friends[29] and was also an enthusiastic chess player. He was known for making practical jokes, including untying referees' shoelaces during pileups, setting off firecrackers at unexpected moments, taking calls at the Bears' switchboard, and calling his friends' wives pretending to be their girlfriends.[30] He appeared on the NBC comedy show Saturday Night Live in 1987 (co-hosting with fellow football player Joe Montana).[31]

Payton had always been an accomplished dancer. While at Jackson State in 1975, he and a girlfriend entered a couples' dance contest televised on the nationally syndicated music/dance show Soul Train and finished second overall.[32]

Illness and death

In February 1999, Payton announced that he had a rare autoimmune liver disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis. The disease probably led to his bile duct cancer.[33] Payton spent his final months as an advocate for organ transplants, appearing in many commercials to encourage others to donate organs, although by the time his first appeal was recorded, his illness was already too far advanced for transplantation to have been a viable option.[9] In April, Payton made a final public appearance at a Chicago Cubs game with Mike Ditka, where he threw the game's ceremonial first pitch.[34][35] Author Don Yaeger worked with him during the last weeks of his life to create his autobiography, Never Die Easy.[4]

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.[34] His body was cremated after his death.[36]

The speakers at Payton's public funeral service, held in Soldier Field, included Jesse Jackson; former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue; former teammate Dan Hampton; his widow Connie Payton; and his children—Jarrett and Brittney Payton.[37] Among the 1,000 mourners at the private service were John Madden; Illinois Governor George Ryan; Chicago's mayor Richard M. Daley; former teammates Matt Suhey, Mike Singletary, Roland Harper, and Jim McMahon; the Bears' equipment manager and building superintendent; and many other people representing a wide racial, social, political, and economic spectrum.[38]

Legacy

Payton's legacy continues through the charitable Walter and Connie Payton Foundation. His own appeals—and after his death, his foundation's—for greater awareness of the need for organ donations are widely credited with bringing national attention to the problem.[39] After his appeals, donations in Illinois skyrocketed, and the regional organ bank of Illinois was overwhelmed with calls.[40] In response, the City of Chicago inserted organ donation requests into city-vehicle-registration mailings in early 2000, and by August 2000, 13,000 people had signed on to the program.[41] The foundation continues to run a program that Payton organized to donate toys to underprivileged children across the Chicago area each Christmas.[42] The family established the Walter Payton Cancer Fund in 2002.[43]

Many modern NFL running backs have cited Payton as a source of inspiration. Emmitt Smith tearfully paid homage to Payton after breaking Payton’s rushing record.[44] LaDainian Tomlinson, who set numerous records during the 2006 NFL season, named Payton as one of his foremost mentors and inspirations.[45] Ahman Green, a player for the Bears' rival Green Bay Packers, is said to have idolized Payton, viewing the highlight film "Pure Payton" before each game.[46] Walter's son, Jarrett Payton, was a running back for the Tennessee Titans, NFL Europe's Amsterdam Admirals and CFL's Montreal Alouettes. During his tenure at the University of Miami, Jarrett wore a #34 jersey to honor his father's memory.[42]

The city of Chicago has honored Payton’s memory in several ways. In 1999, the city created a special city sticker that featured Payton. The profits from the sales of these stickers along with the special license plate created by the State of Illinois are given to support organ-donor programs across Illinois.[47] Also, the city named a high school, Walter Payton College Prep, in his honor. In September 2007, the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center opened the Walter Payton Liver Center.[48] Chicago Metra commuters have long been witness to a simple "#34 Sweetness," painted on a bridge piling of the Air Line on the south end of the Chicago Union Station yards.

His Walter Payton's Roundhouse continues to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the Aurora, Illinois site. There are two athletic awards named after Payton. The NCAA gives the "Walter Payton Award" to the best offensive player from a Division I FCS (still often known by its former designation of Division I-AA) football team. The NFL hands out the "Walter Payton Man of the Year" award for player achievements in community service during a particular season.

The Chicago Bears honored Payton's career and life on November 1, 2009 by airing a special tribute video during halftime. The video consisted of highlight clips from Payton's career and interview segments from Mike Ditka, Virginia McCaskey, Richard Dent, and many other members of the Bears organization. Payton's wife, daughter, son, and mother were present to watch video, which aired on Soldier Field's Jumbotron.[49]

Career statistics

Payton was the NFL's all-time leader in rushing yards and all-purpose yards prior to the 2002 NFL season, when Emmitt Smith broke his record. He also held the single game rushing record until the 2000 NFL season, when it was broken by Corey Dillon. Payton led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns in the 1977 NFL season. Also, he was among the top-ten players for rushing attempts during his entire career, including 1976, 1977, and 1978, leading the category in 1979. As of 2006, he was the NFL's second all-time rusher, and he ranked third in rushing touchdowns scored.[50]

Regular season

  • Rushing Yards: 16,726
  • Rushing Touchdowns: 110
  • Rushing Attempts: 3,838
  • Receiving Yards: 4,538
  • Receiving Touchdowns: 15
  • Receptions: 492
  • All-purpose yards: 21,803
  • Games with 100 yards from scrimmage: 108-NFL record
  • Games with 150 all purpose yards: 46-NFL record shared with Barry Sanders
  • Passing Touchdowns: 8[51]

Post-season

  • Rushing Yards: 632
  • Rushing Touchdowns: 2
  • Rushing Attempts: 180
  • Receiving Yards: 178
  • Receptions: 22

References

  1. ^ a b c Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton. New York Times book review of Never Die Easy. Michael Lichtenstein, 2000.
  2. ^ Walter Payton. Chicago Bears, 2007.
  3. ^ a b "AT A GLANCE - Payton, Walter". Oxford African American Studies Center. http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/aag/896. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Walter Payton, Extraordinary Running Back for Chicago Bears, Dies at 45. New York Times, November 2, 1999.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Payton34.com, Walter Payton Biography, Retrieved on May 16, 2007.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i BearsHistory.com, Walter Payton, Bears RB, 1975–1987, Retrieved on May 16, 2007.
  7. ^ Walter Payton Biography, Retrieved on May 16, 2007.
  8. ^ "Walter Payton always at home in bronze sculpture". Chicago Tribune. 2009-11-01. http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2009/nov/01/sports/chi-01-haugh-bears-payton-nov01. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Walter Payton; Don Yaeger (2001). Never Die Easy. Random House. ISBN 0375758216. 
  10. ^ www.biography.com
  11. ^ Walter Payton. PBS, 2002.
  12. ^ "Payton, Rice among 11 set for Black Hall". ESPN. January 18, 2010. http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=4836017. Retrieved January 18, 2010. 
  13. ^ "1970's Chicago Bears: Peaks & Valleys". http://www.bearshistory.com/seasons/1970schicagobears.aspx. 
  14. ^ "Payton Runs All Over The Place". Sports Illustrated. 1977-11-28. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1093068/index.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-07. 
  15. ^ "34 Walter Payton". http://www.chicagobears.com/tradition/hof-payton.asp. 
  16. ^ R. Ryan Takes Baltimore Defense Back to '86 With the 46. Washington Post, June 14, 2005.
  17. ^ Walter Payton; Don Yaeger (2001). Never Die Easy. Random House. p. 124. ISBN 0375758216. 
  18. ^ "1985 Chicago Bears–World Champions Again". http://www.bearshistory.com/seasons/1985chicagobears.aspx. 
  19. ^ Brown, Payton delivered the pain Pro Football Weekly, 2007.
  20. ^ Sweetness, Till the Bitter End. Washington Post, November 2, 1999.
  21. ^ a b Main ingredient in 'Sweetness' was heart Pro Football Weekly, August 1, 1993.
  22. ^ Walter Payton Pro Football Hall of Fame, 2007.
  23. ^ "Jarrett Payton". National Football League. http://www.nfl.com/players/jarrettpayton/profile?id=PAY601397. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 
  24. ^ [Publisher=Walter & Connie Payton Foundation "http://payton34.com/brittney.asp"]. Publisher=Walter & Connie Payton Foundation. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 
  25. ^ "Q&A: Hall of Fame eve". http://www.sportingnews.com/archives/payton/article1.html. 
  26. ^ "SPORTS PEOPLE: AUTO RACING; Payton Escapes Serious Injury in Crash". New York Times. 1993-08-21. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE4DA123DF932A1575BC0A965958260. Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
  27. ^ Robin Shepard. The Best Breweries and Brewpubs of Illinois: Searching for the Perfect Pint. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 3. http://books.google.com/books?id=xyF1wp70jp4C&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=payton+roundhouse+historic+preservation&source=bl&ots=_aKn1Y1bSL&sig=9xTNsPzr2O47t3rDYRy_v1AT724&hl=en&ei=sY0uS431BpL6nAeQx633CA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CCoQ6AEwCTgK#v=onepage&q=payton%20roundhouse%20historic%20preservation&f=false. 
  28. ^ "America's Brewing Company -World Beer Cup and GABF Medal Winning Brewpub". Walter Payton's Roundhouse. http://www.walterpaytonsroundhouse.com/content/5.html. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  29. ^ Kup's Column Irv Kupcinet.Chicago Sun-Times, November 5, 1999. Cited through Findarticles.com.
  30. ^ 1979 Chicago Bears. BearsHistory.com, 2003.
  31. ^ Saturday Night Live – Walter Peyton/Joe Montana/Debbie Harry (1987). IMDB
  32. ^ Running Wild. Time, 1997.
  33. ^ "Gallbladder & Bile Duct Cancer". Johns Hopkins University Pathology. http://pathology2.jhu.edu/gbbd/types_ca.cfm. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  34. ^ a b "Payton dead at 45". http://www.sportingnews.com/archives/payton/article6.html. 
  35. ^ "NFL's all-time leading rusher dies at 45". http://static.espn.go.com/nfl/news/1999/1031/144491.html. 
  36. ^ http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6885
  37. ^ Chicagoans Bid Payton Fond Farewell At Soldier Field. New York Times, November 7, 1999.
  38. ^ Walter Payton 1954 - 1999. Daily Herald, 1999.
  39. ^ Levin Joins Senate Colleagues, NFL Players to Promote Organ and Tissue Donation United States Senate, 2000.
  40. ^ Jennings death puts lung cancer in the public eye. ABC, 2005.
  41. ^ Jesse White Unveils New Organ Donor License Plate. Illinois Secretary of State, August 2000.
  42. ^ a b "Walter Payton, Bears RB, 1975–1987". http://www.bearshistory.com/lore/walterpayton.aspx. 
  43. ^ Walter Payton Cancer Fund: Research. www.payton34.org.
  44. ^ Emmitt Smith. ESPN, 2007.
  45. ^ "IS LT the best ever?". http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=neel/061214. 
  46. ^ Green Bay Packers Player Profile, Ahman Green
  47. ^ Secretary of State White Joins City Clerk Laski to Increase Organ Donor Participation Illinois
  48. ^ Walter Payton Liver Center opens at UIC. American Broadcasting Network (ABC7Chicago.com), September 5, 2007.
  49. ^ Mayer, Larry (2009-11-02). "Emotional video tribute highlights Payton ceremony". chicagobears.com. http://www.chicagobears.com/news/NewsStory.asp?story_id=6263. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 
  50. ^ NFL Rushing Records. NFL Record and Fact Book, Updated Through 2006 Season.
  51. ^ ChicagoBears.com, How did Kevin Jones fare against the Bears?. Retrieved on July 21, 2008.

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Bert Jones
AP NFL Most Valuable Player
1977 season
Succeeded by
Terry Bradshaw
Preceded by
Jim Brown
NFL Career Rushing Yards Leader
1984 - 2002
Succeeded by
Emmitt Smith

Simple English

Walter Payton (July 25, 1954November 1, 1999) was an American football player. He was born in Columbia, Mississippi. Payton played for the Chicago Bears from 1975 to 1987. The Bears won Super Bowl XX in 1985. Payton was made a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. He died of liver cancer in 1999.

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