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The Untimely Death of a Chicago Bears Legend Mr. Walter Payton
Walter Payton was the epitome of greatness. On and off the field, the renowned Chicago Carries running back known as “Sweetness” exemplified class, which is why the NFL Man of the Year Trophy now bears his name.
Walter Payton, who was born in Columbia, Mississippi, took some time to find his way into football.
He was a good athlete, but he didn’t join the high school football team until his older brother Eddie, who subsequently played five seasons in the NFL, was off the squad because he didn’t want to compete with him.
Payton finally joined the squad as a junior and quickly became a fan favorite.
During his two years at Columbia High, he scored in every game he played and was named All-State his senior year.
Despite his accomplishment, no SEC colleges approached him since some still did not offer many scholarships to black players.
He had originally committed to play at Kansas State but changed his mind and enrolled at Jackson State, a historically black college.
It was here that Walter Payton truly established himself, proving to all the colleges who had passed him over that they had made a tremendous mistake.
Walter Payton was a monster at Jackson State
Walter Payton began his career at Jackson State in 1971, rushing for 651 yards and averaging 6.9 yards per carrying.
He not only scored five touchdowns, but he also assisted with kicking responsibilities, making 13 extra points and three field goals.
He was given a larger role in the offense in his second season and improved his numbers, rushing for 781 yards and 15 touchdowns while also kicking 21 extra points.
Payton carried for 279 yards and seven touchdowns in one game, a 72-0 thrashing of Lane College.
Walter Payton carried for 1,139 yards and 24 touchdowns in 1973, setting yet another school record.
He was selected Black College Player of the Year, an honor he repeated his senior year.
Payton was awarded an All-American in 1974 after rushing for 1,029 yards and 19 touchdowns.
He finished his collegiate career with 3,600 yards rushing, 63 touchdowns, 53 extra points, and five field goals.
‘Sweetness’s’ NFL career
Walter Payton was taken fourth overall by the Chicago Bears in the 1975 NFL Draft.
His NFL career got off to a difficult start when he gained exactly 0 yards on eight carries against the Baltimore Colts in his debut.
But he persisted in working and improving week after week.
He carried for a then-career-high 134 yards in the Bears’ final game of the 1975 season, finishing the season with 679 yards and seven touchdowns.
However, Walter Payton’s career took off.
He was named to his first Pro Bowl in 1976 after rushing for 1,390 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In 1977, he earned the NFL’s youngest MVP, leading the Bears to their first playoff appearance in 14 years. Payton, who was also awarded NFL Man of the Year that year, carried for 1,852 yards and 14 touchdowns, both league highs.
“Sweetness” also set a single-game rushing record that year, gaining 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings, a mark that remained for 23 years.
Walter Payton dominated the NFL for the following ten years.
In 1984, he became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, and in 1985, he led the Bears to their first and only Super Bowl triumph, despite failing to score a touchdown in Chicago’s 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots.
Former Bears head coach Mike Ditka still regrets the choice.
Walter Payton announced his retirement after the 1987 season.
In 13 seasons in Chicago, he carried for 16,726 yards, a record that remained until Emmitt Smith broke it in 2002.
Payton was a nine-time Pro Bowler, seven-time First-Team All-Pro pick, Bert Bell Award recipient, and All-Decade Team selection in both the 1970s and 1980s.
His 125 career touchdowns rank 11th on the all-time list. Walter Payton has only missed one game in his career, and it was in his first season.
In 1993, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Walter Payton, unfortunately, died in 1999
An emotional incident occurred in February 1999.
Walter Payton said that he was suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare liver illness that also affects the gallbladder.
Although he was not a suitable candidate for a transplant due to the advanced stage of his disease, he spent the final months of his life advocating for organ donation.
Even if he couldn’t assist himself, he wanted to help others, demonstrating the type of man he was.
On November 1, 1999, Walter Payton died at the age of 45.
Soon after his death, the NFL added Walter Payton’s name to its annual Man of the Year Award, which is awarded to a player who has a substantial impact on his community, as Payton did in his life.
Following his request for organ donation, contact centers across Illinois were inundated with inquiries about how to join up.
But even before that, Payton was one of the world’s most generous athletes.
He organized toy drives for children and became engaged in numerous charities in the Chicago region, eventually forming the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting those in need, guaranteeing Walter Payton’s legacy will live on for a long time.