He was called Sweetness, but to defenders Walter Payton was anything but. He was a nearly-unstoppable force running with the ball, he had great hands as a receiver out of the backfield, and he could throw a devastating block that would knock defenders off their feet.
Payton also seemed to have a sixth sense for picking up the blitz. He was the type of physical blocker that could lay out a defender coming through a hole in the line just like a linebacker mowing down a running back.
Payton's biggest assets on the field were his leg strength and incredible balance. He could lower his shoulder and run over a would-be tackler, or he might simply hit a defender hard enough to bounce off and around him. He also had a straight arm that could take a defender off his feet and send him sliding across the turf on his face mask. One thing he rarely did, however, is run out of bounds. Instead, he would lower his shoulder and deliver a blow of his own, always trying to make defenders pay for attempting to bring him down.
Payton always played the game with the attitude that if he was going to get hit at the end of the play, he was going to dish out a little punishment of his own; something to make the defender remember him the next time they met. He was always looking for that extra yard, and that ever-so-slight advantage over his opponent.
Payton's physical style of play made his durability an incredible accomplishment. He missed just one game his entire thirteen-year NFL career, which can be credited to his fantastic physical conditioning and work ethic. He didn't work out with his teammates in the off-season, but he always came into training camp in better shape than anyone else. He had a very disciplined training regiment that included running steep hills located near his home. No doubt this type of training helped develop the leg strength and quick burst that helped him break away from defenders.
Drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1975 out of Jackson State, Payton ran for 679 yards his rookie year and at least 1200 yards in ten out of the next eleven seasons. In 1977 he had a career high of 1852 yards with his average yards per carry at 5.5. He also scored fourteen touchdowns.
He finished his career as the all-time leading NFL rusher with 16,726 yards. He had 492 receptions for 4,538 yards, giving him him a total of 21,803 combined net yards. He also scored 125 touchdowns, 110 of which were rushing. He was voted NFL MVP
in 1977, was named All-Pro seven times, and played in the Pro Bowl nine times. He held the single-game rushing record of 275 yards and has rushed for 100 yards in a game 77 times. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season ten times. He was also named to the NFL's Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Team... and the list of accomplishments goes on and on.
You could make an argument for Walter Payton as the greatest player to play the game of football, but he was also a great person. He played for the love of the game and he gave it everything he had every Sunday. His premature death left a gaping hole on the Bear's sideline and in the broadcast booth, but the legacy he left behind will live on.
Any list of the greatest running backs of all time would be incomplete without Payton on it.
Walter Payton - July 25, 1954 - Columbia, Mississippi,
November 1, 1999
The Chicago Bears drafted Walter Payton with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft.
Years Played: 1975-1987
Position Played: Running Back
Uniform Number: 34
Played For: Chicago Bears (1975-87)
Alma Mater: Jackson State
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1993
Other Members Inducted in 1993: Dan Fouts, Larry Little, Chuck Noll, and Bill Walsh
Best Known For...
Walter Payton is best known as a great running back for the Chicago Bears, the former all-time leading rusher in NFL history, and the one-time holder of the single-game rushing record.
In 10 of Payton's 13 seasons, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards. But in 1977 he outdid himself, running for 1,852 yards, third best in history at that time.
NFL Career Statistics
Rushing - 3,838 Carries for 16,726 Yards and 110 Touchdowns
Receiving - 492 Receptions for 4,538 Yards and 15 Touchdowns
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1993)
Selected for the Pro Bowl 9 Times (1976-80, 1983-86)
Selected First-Team All-Pro 6 Times (1977-80, 1984-85)
Super Bowl XX Champion
Named NFL MVP (1977)
Named Pro Bowl MVP (1978)