Walter Payton aka “Sweetness”
Walter Payton played running back for the Chicago Bears for 13 seasons, and is regarded by many as the best running back of all-time. He was born in Columbia, Mississippi and attended Jackson State University for college. Payton was drafted 4th overall in the 1975 NFL Draft to the Bears, and spent his whole career with the franchise.
His nickname “Sweetness” originates from the feeling he gave fans and viewers around the globe. Sweetness is amongst the few words descriptive enough to describe his playing style; Payton would glide beautifully across the turf with the smoothest of moves.
He is by almost any metric the Bears’ best player of all-time. By the time he retired in 1987, he owned nearly all of the significant Chicago and NFL rushing records. Payton has been one of the go-to film studies for up and coming running backs in the past few decades as well, being several all-time greats’ favorite player, including LaDainian Tomlinson. His running style paved the way for many popular moves and tactics still used today.
Unfortunately, Payton passed away in 1999 at only 45 years of age from cancer. He made the utmost of his life, leaving a truly honorable legacy and impact that will be remembered forever. Not only was he one of the greatest athletes of all-time, he was one of the most kind-hearted and wonderful people off of the field. His wife Connie Payton still plays a huge role in their charity, the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation, which they established in order to help fund causes and cures for different diseases.
Payton has a lengthy achievement list, as he accomplished a ton during his pro football career. He is a 9-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl Champion, and he won a Most Valuable Player award. He finished on the NFL All-Pro First Team 7-times, won the NFC Offensive Player of the Year award twice, and won NFL Offensive Player of the Year once.
In his 3rd NFL season, in 1977 at the age of 23, Payton put up one of the most legendary seasons the running back position has ever seen. Payton rushed for 1852 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 132 yards per game. Including his receiving stats, his total yardage from scrimmage was 2121. He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, rushing yards, and won several awards: NFC Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and the Most Valuable Player award.
In total, Payton rushed for a 1,000+ yards in a season 10-different times. At one point in his career, Payton played in 186 straight games. He was the face of the offense for the 1986 Super Bowl-winning Bears team, considered one of the best teams of all time.
In fact, Payton was such a model athlete, the NFL named the Man of the Year award after him. Every year, a player who has made a significant off the field impact through volunteering and charity work takes home the honor. This past season, defensive lineman Calais Campbell of the Jacksonville Jaguars won it for his charitable and philanthropic work. During the 2019 season, Campbell implemented a program where he would donate to charity for a variety of different team and individual stats. He is also active in the Jacksonville community, hosting multiple youth mentorship camps.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Payton in 1993, just 6 years after he retired in what was surely one of the most no-brainer inductions of all-time. Payton was a legend on and off the field, making him the ideal NFL Hall of Famer.
Where does Sweetness rank on your all-time running back list?