34 Days Until Chicago Bears 2017 Season Kicks Off: Walter Payton Profile

CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 01: Brittany and Jarrett Payton, daughter and son of Chicago Bears player Walter Payton, participate in pre-game ceremonies on the 10th anniversary of their father's death before a game between the Bears and the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field on November 1, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Browns 30-6. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 01: Brittany and Jarrett Payton, daughter and son of Chicago Bears player Walter Payton, participate in pre-game ceremonies on the 10th anniversary of their father's death before a game between the Bears and the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field on November 1, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Browns 30-6. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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The Bear Goggles On Countdown to Kickoff series is now underway for the second season in a row. With 34 days to go until the Bears’ season kicks off, we will highlight the Bears’ player that “owns” the number 34 for the Chicago Bears, Walter Payton.

6 Nov 1999: Brother Eddie Payton talks during Walter Payton’s Memorial Service at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
6 Nov 1999: Brother Eddie Payton talks during Walter Payton’s Memorial Service at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport /

The Start

Payton came from humble beginnings just like almost every other football player who has ever played the game. He had his simple start in Columbia, Mississippi where he quietly made a name for himself. Payton went to Jackson State where no one thought he would get noticed. But, he made such a big impact that he was able to raise the eyebrows of the Chicago Bears front office. Jim Finks, then the General Manager of the Chicago Bears, at the time, took Payton with their first pick in the 1975 NFL Draft.

The rest is history.

His NFL Career

The start of Payton’s career was not a strong one. He did not gain a single yard in his first game with the Bears. But that was not indicative of the way things would be with him. While his numbers weren’t spectacular in his first professional season in the NFL, they would get better. In his second season, he had his first 1000 yard season. Payton would go on to have nine more 1000 yard seasons.

Payton did a lot during his NFL career. On October 7, 1984, he broke the NFL’s rushing record which was held by Jim Brown. He would break the mark for the number of yards rushing in a game while suffering from the flu. In fact, during his career, Payton missed just one game. What an amazing feat.

He was a big part of Chicago’s run to the Super Bowl during the 1985 to 1986 season. He helped lead the offense on a team that was dominated by defense. Although he received many accolades for what he did, he didn’t seek out credit personally. He wasn’t one to seek attention or glory. Payton did his job in a workmanlike manner. His well-deserved praise came naturally.

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears /

Chicago Bears

Payton’s career, as well as that of the Chicago Bears, would be short lived following their Super Bowl victory. He continued to put up great numbers in 1986 and looked like he wasn’t slowing down. But after a 1,333-yard season, Payton decided to play one more year and be done with football. His last season in the league was not his best by any means as he rushed for just 533 yards. But he went out with class and dignity. He also went out quietly.

The Honors

Payton received many honors and awards during and after his playing career. He was the NFL’s rushing leader for a quite some time. His record was broken by Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith in October of 2002. In 1993, he was given the ultimate honor as he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Chicago Bears retired his number 34. And there have been many other honors bestowed upon Payton.

During his time with the Bears, he was named the Sporting News NFC Player of the Year (1976), the NFL Player of the Year (1977, 1985) and the NFL’s offensive player of the Year in 1977. Payton was selected to the Pro Bowl from 1978 to 1981 and from 1984 to 1987.

After Football

Payton got into a little bit of everything after his football career ended. He worked with a group of investors to get an NFL team in St. Louis. Unfortunately, that project did not work out. He worked with the IndyCar World Series. Payton raced cars in the Tran-Am Series and was lucky enough to escape an accident during one of the races without serious injury.

He got involved in the restaurant business and owned a place called Walter Payton’s Roadhouse. Payton made a few guest appearances on television and was active in several charities.

Next: Johnthan Banks profile

The End

In February of 1999, Payton told the world that he a liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis. Despite the fact he was very sick, Payton did not sit idly by and let the illness take him down. Instead, he did something positive. He endorsed organ transplants and put his name behind them. He made it known that organ transplants were important even though a transplant could not save him.

More from Chicago Bears News

Walter Payton died on November 1st, 1999. The Chicago Bears and the NFL came forward to remember Payton and the remarkable career he had. All around the league, fans and players paused to remember the many considered to be the greatest NFL player of all time.

The Role Model and The Legend

When you think of football players that epitomize greatness, the names that come up often include Jim Thorpe, Joe Montana and of course, Walter Payton. You can argue with anyone out there about who the best NFL player has been, and it’s hard to argue against Payton not being the best. Sure, his records have been broken meaning his name is no longer at the top of the record books. But there is much more to greatness than statics and records.

Payton was the embodiment of heart and soul in professional football. He was the definition of hard work and dedication. He gave his all 100% of the time all the time and never let anyone down. If you had the pleasure of watching him play as I did, you could easily see that he gave everything he had on every play and didn’t quit. He was the perfect example of hard work.

If you have seen interviews with some of the more prominent NFL running backs both past and present, you will hear a common theme. They state that they emulated Walter Payton and wanted to be just like him. He has been a role model for scores of young football players. He has been a hero to many and is idolized today by thousands.

His legend and his spirit live on in many ways today. The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is given out every year to the NFL player who exemplifies excellence on the field as well as off of it. The Walter and Connie Payton Foundation continues to help make people aware of the importance of organ donations.

Just like Payton in life, his spirit and his legend do not die. They keep on going and will not be stopped.