Payton was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft. He was the fourth overall selection that year.
Chicago wasn’t the ideal landing spot for anyone in the timeframe that Payton got there. The Bears were losing a lot of games and there weren’t a lot of positive things happening for them in the mid-70’s.
Walter was essentially the replacement for legend Gayle Sayers who had retired in 1972. It took them a little while to find someone to replace the legend and they hoped Payton would live up to the same standards and the same ability that the Kansas Comet had. At first it appeared as if the Bears might have “missed” with Payton but things would definitely get better.
Payton’s first game in a Bear’s uniform was a little bit rough. He didn’t gain any yards in the eight carries he had. It was not an indication of how is career would go.
He completed his first season with 679 yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers weren’t anything to brag about but one thing he could brag about was leading the NFL in yards per return on kickoffs.
His second year in Chicago was much better. Payton rushed for 1390 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was voted to the Pro Bowl and was the game’s MVP. Year three saw Payton rush for 1852 yards and 16 touchdowns. He led the league in scoring that season.
One of the most talked about games of Payton’s career came in the 1977 NFL season. Against the Bear’s division rival, the Minnesota Vikings, Payton rushed for a then NFL record 275 yards. The previous record had been held by OJ Simpson several seasons before. (This record has since been broken by Adrian Peterson, who holds the record, along with three other players). Interestingly enough, it is said that Payton played the game with a fever over 100 degrees as he was battling the flu. It’s a true testament to his ability and desire.