|Date of birth:||July 25, 1953|
|Place of birth:||Columbia, Mississippi, U.S.|
|Date of death:||November 1, 1999(aged 46)|
|Place of death:||South Barrington, Illinois, U.S.|
|Height:||5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)|
|Weight:||202 lb (92 kg)|
|High school:||Columbia (MS)|
|NFL draft:||1975 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Stats at NFL.com|
Pro Football Hall of Fame
College Football Hall of Fame
Walter Jerry Payton (July 25, 1953– November 1, 1999) was an American football running back who played for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) for thirteen seasons (only missing one game in all of the thirteen seasons). Walter Payton was known around the NFL as "Sweetness". He is remembered as one of the most prolific running backs in the history of the NFL. Payton, a nine-time Pro Bowl selectee, once held the league's record for most career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, yards from scrimmage, all-purpose yards, and many other categories. His eight career touchdown passes are just second to Frank Gifford an NFL record for non-quarterbacks. 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.
Payton began his football career in organ donations.
- Early life 1
College career 2
- Breakout performance 2.1
- Statistics 2.2
Professional career 3
- 1975–1982 3.1
- 1983–1986 3.2
- 1986−1987 3.3
- Playing style 4
- Personal life 5
- Investments 6
- Illness and death 7
- Legacy 8
Career statistics 9
- Career totals 9.1
- Statistics by season 9.2
NFL records 10
- Service 10.1
- Rushing attempts 10.2
- Rushing yards gained 10.3
- Rushing touchdowns 10.4
- Yards from scrimmage gained 10.5
- All-purpose attempts 10.6
- All-purpose yards gained 10.7
- Touchdown passes 10.8
- Further reading 11
- References 12
- External links 13
Payton was one of three children born to Peter and Alyne Payton in Columbia, Mississippi. His father was a factory worker who had played semi-professional baseball. 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 and sang in the school choir. Outside of school, he played drums in jazz-rock groups.
His 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.
Once he began to play football, as a junior, he achieved instant success as a running back. 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. He then earned statewide honors as a member of Mississippi's all-state team, leading Columbia to an unexpected 8-2 season. His performance helped ease the local tensions surrounding desegregation.
Though Payton had established himself as one of Mississippi's best running back prospects, he received no invitations from Southeastern Conference colleges or universities, which were accepting only a few black players at the time. After originally committing to Kansas State University, he decided to pursue his collegiate career at the historically black, Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi, where his older brother Eddie played football (contrary to popular belief, he was never recruited by the University of Kansas, according to then coach Don Fambrough as Payton claimed in his autobiography).
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 scoring record by rushing for 65 touchdowns during his college career, although this is not an official NCAA record, as they do not recognize individual scoring records. In 1973, Payton was selected for the All-American Team. The following year he was named Black College Player of the Year. Payton graduated in 1975 with a Bachelor's degree in Communications.
He acquired the nickname "Sweetness" in college. The nickname's origin is ambiguous: it is variously said to have stemmed from his personality, from his athletic grace, or as a sarcastic description of his aggressive playing style. In 1996, Payton was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. 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.
On October 1, 1972 during Walter Payton’s sophomore year, he set a then-best SWAC scoring record by scoring 7 touchdowns and running two points after for 46 points as Jackson State crushed Lane College, 72-0. Payton scored on TD runs of 6, 8, 2, 3, 1, 2, and 31 yards in the blowout win.
The Chicago Bears drafted Walter 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. However, Payton led the league in yards per kickoff returns.
Payton was eager to improve his performance. During the 1976 NFL season, Payton rushed for 1,390 yards and scored 13 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. A memorable game of the 1977 NFL season was against the Minnesota Vikings on November 20. He rushed for a then-record 275 yards, breaking the previous record of 273 yards held by O. J. Simpson. In that record-setting game against the Vikings, Payton was suffering with a 101-degree fever and intense flu. His longest run was for 58 yards, and he caught one pass for 6 yards. His record stood for 23 years until Corey Dillon of the Cincinnati Bengals ran for 278 yards on October 22, 2000—a record that has since been broken by Jamal Lewis (295 yards) on September 14, 2003, and Adrian Peterson (296 yards) on November 4, 2007. By the end of the decade, Payton had received additional accolades for his exploits as a blocker, receiver, emergency punter, and quarterback.
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 against the New Orleans Saints, Payton broke Jim Brown's career rushing record of 12,312 yards. In 1985, Payton rushed for more than 1,500 yards, 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 defenders on every play, and others stated that Payton's mere presence allowed others to shine, given that at least 2 people were targeting Payton on every play. In a later interview, Ditka stated that one of his major regrets was Payton's lack of a touchdown in this game.
Payton, who was a 12-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, which broke the record for most rushing yards by any NFL player in history, and scored 110 touchdowns. He caught 492 passes for 4,538 yards and 15 touchdowns. Payton set several team records, including most career rushing yards, receptions, touchdowns, and touchdown passes by a running back. 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.
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.
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.
He re-invented the practice of stiff-arming his tacklers, which had gone out of favor among running backs in the 1970s. 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. 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.
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 teammates out in the cold while taking a long shower. Although Payton would have won the respect of his peers and coaches by his running alone, he made 492 receptions and over 4,000 yards over his career and was a consistent threat in the passing game.
Throughout his life Walter Payton had claimed his date of birth as July 25, 1954, a date which is cited in many of his early biographies. However, while researching his biography of Payton, Sports Illustrated's Jeff Pearlman discovered his actual date of birth to be July 25, 1953. Pearlman found Payton's earliest use of the later date during his pursuit of the Heisman Trophy at Jackson State.
Payton married Connie Norwood in 1976. During his rookie year he resided in a home on the north side of Arlington Heights, Illinois. The couple had two children, Jarrett Payton (born 1980) and Brittney (born December 26, 1985) and resided in South Barrington, Illinois.
A 2011 biography by Jeff Pearlman describes a tumultuous personal life very different from his positive public image. According to Pearlman's biography, Payton was a consistent adulterer, and a multiple drug user. His drug use began with painkillers provided to him by the Chicago Bears to cope with the punishment he absorbed during games, and continued after his football career ended. Payton did not cope well with life after his career, especially with issues of boredom and loneliness. His wife and family contend that the book is filled with factual misstatements, and paints too bleak a picture of his life. However, many reviewers of Pearlman's work have found it to have been "exhaustively" researched and documented by hundreds of interviews. The ghostwriter for Payton's autobiography called the book "an incredible, thoughtful, deep and profound read. It’s exceptional work."
In 1995, Payton, along with many other investors, sought to bring an NFL expansion team to St. Louis, Missouri, and Payton expressed his interest in becoming the first minority owner in NFL history. Although the NFL strongly favored a franchise in St. Louis, their efforts were thwarted because of internal dissension among the investment group members leading the NFL to award franchises to investment groups in Jacksonville, Florida (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Charlotte, North Carolina (Carolina Panthers). St. Louis eventually received a team when the Los Angeles Rams moved to the city in 1995.
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.
In 1995, he and several partners purchased 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. The beers brewed at the Roundhouse received awards in the 2000s. Payton appeared on a 1987 episode of Saturday Night Live (co-hosting with fellow football player Joe Montana). In 1994, he made an appearance at Summerslam in the corner of Razor Ramon.
Illness and death
In February 1999, Payton announced that he had a rare autoimmune liver disease known as
NFL Career Rushing Yards Leader
O. J. Simpson
NFL single-game rushing record
November 20, 1977 – October 22, 2000
- Payton34.com, the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation
- Walter Payton Cancer Fund
- Walter Payton Liver Center at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago
- Walter Payton tribute page at the Chicago Bears
- Payton needs liver transplant, Sports Illustrated, February 2, 1999
- Biography at Bearshistory.com
- Walter Payton at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by or about Walter Payton in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Walter Payton collected news and commentary at The New York Times
- Walter Payton on the cover of Sports Illustrated (issues in 1976, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1999, and 2011)
- Career statistics and player information from NFL.com • Pro-Football-Reference
- "Walter Payton NFL Football Statistics". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- Pearlman, Jeff (2011). Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton. Penguin Books Ltd. p. 110.
- Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton. New York Times review of Never Die Easy (by Michael Lichtenstein), 2000
- Walter Payton profile.
- "AT A GLANCE - Payton, Walter".
- "Walter Payton, Extraordinary Running Back for Chicago Bears, Dies at 45". New York Times, November 2, 1999.
- Payton34.com, Walter Payton Biography, Retrieved on May 16, 2007.
- BearsHistory.com, Walter Payton, Bears RB, 1975–1987, retrieved May 16, 2007.
- Walter Payton Biography, retrieved May 16, 2007.
- "Walter Payton always at home in bronze sculpture". Chicago Tribune. September 11, 2009. Retrieved February 4, 2010.
- Walter Payton; Don Yaeger (2001). Never Die Easy.
- Walter Payton bio. PBS, 2002
- "Payton, Rice among 11 set for Black Hall".
- "SWAC round-up". Natchez News Leader (Natchez, Miss.). October 1, 1972. p. 3b. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
- "1970's Chicago Bears: Peaks & Valleys".
- A Football Life, "Walter Payton." Premiered on NFL Network, Oct. 13, 2011
- "Payton Runs All Over The Place".
- "34 Walter Payton".
- "R. Ryan Takes Baltimore Defense Back to '86 With the 46". Washington Post, June 14, 2005.
- "1985 Chicago Bears–World Champions Again".
- "Brown, Payton delivered the pain". Pro Football Weekly, 2007
- "Sweetness, Till the Bitter End". Washington Post, November 2, 1999
- Main ingredient in 'Sweetness' was heart Pro Football Weekly, August 1, 1993.
- "Walter Payton entry into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 2007". Profootballhof.com. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- Payton, Connie; Payton, Jarrett; Payton, Brittany (2005). Payton. Rugged Land.
- Towle, Mike (2005). Walter Payton: Football's Sweetest Superstar. Cumberland House Publishing.
- "Jarrett Payton".
- "Walter Payton Book Paints Disturbing Picture," Newbart, Dave & Potash, Mark, Post-Tribune, 28 September 2011
- Walter Payton's Widow Talks....ABC 7 Eyewitness News, 29 Sept 2011
- Atkin, Ross (3 February 2012). "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton Book Review". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
- Lubinger, Bill (27 December 2011). "'"Walter Payton's life more bittersweet than pure 'Sweetness. The Plain Dealer. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
- Wetzel, Dan (3 October 2011). "‘Sweetness’ excerpt does Payton an injustice". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
- "Q&A: Hall of Fame eve".
- Simers, T.J. (April 13, 1995). "NFL Owners OK Rams' Move to St. Louis".
- "SPORTS PEOPLE: AUTO RACING; Payton Escapes Serious Injury in Crash". New York Times. August 21, 1993. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- Robin Shepard (2003). The Best Breweries and Brewpubs of Illinois: Searching for the Perfect Pint.
- "America's Brewing Company -World Beer Cup and GABF Medal Winning Brewpub". Walter Payton's Roundhouse. Retrieved December 20, 2009.
- – Walter Peyton/Joe Montana guest hostsSaturday Night Live
- "Gallbladder & Bile Duct Cancer".
- "Payton dead at 45".
- "NFL's all-time leading rusher dies at 45".
- "Walter Payton (1954 - 1999) - Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- Chicagoans Bid Payton Fond Farewell At Soldier Field. New York Times, November 7, 1999
- Walter Payton, 1954 - 1999. Daily Herald, 1999
- "Levin Joins Senate Colleagues, NFL Players to Promote Organ and Tissue Donation". United States Senate, 2000
- "Jennings death puts lung cancer in the public eye". ABC, 2005
- Jesse White Unveils New Organ Donor License Plate. Illinois Secretary of State, August 2000
- "Walter Payton, Bears RB, 1975–1987".
- Walter Payton Cancer Fund: Research
- Emmitt Smith. ESPN, 2007.
- "IS LT the best ever?".
- Green Bay Packers Player Profile: Ahman Green
- "Jarrett Payton on his dad, Walter: 'He would be so proud' - Chicago Tribune". Articles.chicagotribune.com. 2009-06-21. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- Secretary of State White Joins City Clerk Laski to Increase Organ Donor Participation Illinois
- "Walter Payton Liver Center opens at UIC". ABC7Chicago.com, September 5, 2007
- Mayer, Larry (2009-11-02). "Emotional video tribute highlights Payton ceremony". chicagobears.com. Retrieved November 2, 2009.
- NFL Rushing Records. NFL Record and Fact Book, Updated Through 2006 Season.
- "Payton's interception record". Pro-football-reference.com. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
Reiss, Mike (September 16, 2007). "ETC.". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson has thrown seven career touchdown passes, leaving him one shy of tying Walter Payton's NFL record for non-quarterbacks.– via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
- Dudley, John (November 2, 2005). "The throwback running back". coldhardfootballfacts.com. Archived from the original on November 13, 2012.
- "George Enterprises: Legendary Football Career". Eddiegeorge.com. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
Touchdown passes, non-quarterback, career: 8
- Tied by Barry Sanders
Games with 150 or more all-purpose yards gained, career: 46
All-purpose yards gained, career: 21,803
All-purpose yards gained
All-purpose attempts, season: 400 (1979)
- Broken by Emmitt Smith
All-purpose attempts, career: 4,368
Games with 100 or more yards from scrimmage gained, career: 108
- Broken by Jerry Rice
Yards from scrimmage gained, career: 21,264
Yards from scrimmage gained
- First broken by Marcus Allen; record now held by Emmitt Smith
Rushing touchdowns, career: 110
- Broken by Barry Sanders
Consecutive games with 100 or more yards rushing: 9, from October 13, 1985 to December 8, 1985
Games with 100 or more yards rushing, career: 77
- Record first broken by Corey Dillon on October 22, 2000
Rushing yards gained, game: 275 (on 40 carries), Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings, November 20, 1977
- Payton played in only nine games during the 1982 season due to the player's strike.
- Broken by Emmitt Smith
- Broken by Emmitt Smith
Rushing yards gained, career: 16,726
Rushing yards gained
- Payton missed only one game in his career due to a coach's decision, despite being eligible.
Consecutive regular season starts by a running back: 170, from December 7, 1975 to September 20, 1987
Statistics by season
|Yards from Scrimmage||21,264*||810|
(does not include passing yards)
|*||Former NFL record|
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 2013, he is the NFL's second all-time leading rusher, and is ranked fourth in rushing touchdowns scored. Along with Frank Gifford, Payton threw six interceptions, more than any other non-quarterback position in NFL history. He also passed for eight touchdowns, which is second to Gifford(14) for non-quarterbacks.
After Payton's death, Nickol Knoll Hill, an old landfill site turned into a golf course in Arlington Heights, Illinois, was renamed "Payton's Hill". There are two plaques on the hill to remind visitors of the hill that it was where Payton used to train in the 1970s/80s. Payton did his morning run at the hill every day. Pictures and memorabilia of Payton cover the walls of the golf course club house.
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 Soldier Field's Jumbotron.
Until its sale to Two Brothers Brewing in 2011, Walter Payton's Roundhouse continued 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 wellness center at Jackson State University is also named in honor of him, known as "The Walter Payton Recreation and Wellness Center."
honored Payton in 2011 with "The Walter Payton Elementary School". Mike and Molly 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. The CBS sitcom Metra Chicago  Medical Center opened the Walter Payton Liver Center after a generous donation from Payton's family, who were pleased with the care he received there.University of Illinois at Chicago, in his honor. In September 2007, the Walter Payton College Prep Also, the city named a high school,  The city of
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. LaDainian Tomlinson, who set numerous records during the 2006 NFL season, named Payton as one of his foremost mentors and inspirations. Ahman Green, a former player for the Bears' rival Green Bay Packers, is said to have idolized Payton, viewing the highlight film "Pure Payton" before each game. Walter's son, Jarrett Payton, was a running back for the Tennessee Titans, NFL Europe's Amsterdam Admirals, CFL's Montreal Alouettes and IFL's Chicago Slaughter. During his tenure at the University of Miami, Jarrett wore a #34 jersey to honor his father's memory. In 2009, Jarrett married on March 4, which was intentionally set to coincide with Payton's jersey number.
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 Christmas. The family established the Walter Payton Cancer Fund in 2002.
Speakers at Payton's public funeral service, held in 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 social, political, and economic spectrum.
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. His body was cremated after his death.
.Never Die Easy Author Don Yaeger worked with him during the last weeks of his life to create his autobiography, , where he threw the game's ceremonial first pitch.Mike Ditka game with Chicago Cubs In April of that year, Payton made a final public appearance at a