Walter Payton was one of the greatest running backs in pro football history, and got there by hard work and ignoring what the "experts" said about his abilities.
One of the best high school running backs in Mississippi, he was not recruited by any SEC schools. Payton ignored the snub and decided to follow his brother’s footsteps and go to Jackson State. After breaking a few records and being named to the All-America team, Payton was starting to get noticed.
The Chicago Bears drafted him in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft, as the fourth overall pick. Payton's first game was not particularly successful as he was held to zero net rushing yards on eight attempts. However he gave Bears’ fans reason to hope as he rushed for 134 yards on 20 carries in the final game of that season against the New Orleans Saints.
In 1976, Payton rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. He closed out the season by being named to the Pro Bowl, where he garnered MVP honors.
Thanks to Zolotkey from Flikr.com for this great picture of Walter Payton.
The next year, he rushed for 1,852 yards and scored 16 touchdowns, becoming the league’s leading scorer for the season. Postseason awards poured in as he was named as the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America Most Valuable Player. In that season, he broke O.J. Simpson’s single game rushing record by rushing for 275 yards against Minnesota. What many don’t know is he broke the record while battling the flu.
Payton was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, and at his retirement, held the League’s record for most career rushing yard, touchdowns, carries, and many other categories. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
Payton proceeded to win two NFL Player of the Year Awards, and won Super Bowl 20 with the 1985 Chicago Bears. In 1996, Payton was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and 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.
He acquired the nickname "Sweetness" in college. The nickname's origin was ambiguous: it is variously said to have stemmed from his personality, from his athletic grace, or as an ironic description of his aggressive playing style.
After struggling with the rare liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis for several months, Payton died on November 1, 1999.
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