I received this email on Monday night and it
bought tears to my eyes.
Dear Bears Fans:
Chicago Bears Release
November 1, 1999
Walter Payton, a giant of a man at 5 feet 10 inches tall, died Monday at his
home in suburban Barrington following a lengthy illness brought on by a
liver ailment and subsequent complications.
He was 45 years old.
Called Sweetness, he was anything but that to opponents.
Payton played for the Chicago Bears for 13 years, 1975-87. On October 7,
1984, a gray, windy day at Soldier Field, he rushed the football for 154
yards against New Orleans, thereby surpassing Jim Brown's seemingly
unbreakable career rushing record of 12,312 yards. Walter played three more
seasons, finishing with 16,726 career rushing yards.
As remarkable as his ability was his endurance. Over a 13 year career, he
missed just one game and complained bitterly at the time that he could have
played. He was held out at Pittsburgh in 1975, his rookie season, with a
sprained ankle. In 1977, against Minnesota at Soldier Field, Walter set the
NFL single game rushing record, 275 yards. He had the flu when he did it.
Those two records still stand.
Mike Ditka, his coach for much of Payton's career, once said, I mean no
disrespect to any player, because there's been a lot of great players. I'll
just say he's the best I ever saw, and I believe the best there ever was.
Walter Jerry Payton was born July 25, 1954, in Columbia, Mississippi. He
didn't play football until his junior year in high school, then went on to
become the leading scorer in NCAA history, playing at Jackson State. He was
the Bears' first selection in the 1975 college player draft and the fourth
player chosen overall. He once said he became an elusive runner by playing
tag, where he hated to be it.
Payton set 10 NFL records and 21 team records, but statistics are silent to
his true worth. He was a total player - runner, blocker, kicker, passer,
receiver, tackler. He once said his secret ambition was to be a defensive
back. He played quarterback in a regular season game because the Bears
didn't have anyone else...he threw a touchdown pass. He was selected to
nine Pro Bowls and won a host of other football honors. On July 31, 1993,
he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the first man ever to be
presented for that honor by his son.
Walter retired following the 1987 season. Speaking to an adoring Soldier
Field crowd before his final home game, he said "I came into the game
because it was fun, and because I loved to play. It's still that way.
Thank you for being there ."
Payton balanced football fame against a private life he clung to
vigorously. The late Jim Finks, said about him that he answered the call
every Sunday for 13 years at a very demanding position. He handled
notoriety as professionally as anybody I've ever known, by being himself.
He let his work speak for itself.