Cleat Geeks

Walter Payton Drafted 40 Years Ago

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With the NFL draft fast approaching, we remember a legend drafted 40 years ago. Walter Payton was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the fourth pick in the 1975 draft. He played at Jackson State University and was a two-time first-team All-American who set the NCAA scoring record with 464 points. He established nine school records and received many votes for the Heisman Trophy.

The Bears had endured several losing seasons after the retirement of the iconic Gale Sayers in 1972. Everyone seemed to know all about Walter Payton when he was drafted, 95591-004-36D62DDDbut no one expected him to be arguably the greatest player in Bears history. No one imagined him to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, either. The three players chosen before Payton were quarterback, Steven Bartkowsi (Atlanta Falcons), defensive tackle, Randy White (Dallas Cowboys), and guard, Ken Huff (Indianapolis Colts). “When I get through with Chicago, they’ll be loving me,” Payton said the day he was drafted.

He acquired the nickname “Sweetness” in college. The nickname’s origin is ambiguous: it is variously said to have stemmed from his personality, from his athletic grace, or as a sarcastic description of his aggressive playing style. He played for the Chicago Bears for 13 seasons and would go on to be a nine-time Pro Bowl Selectee. Walter also once held the league’s record for most career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, yards from scrimmage, all-purpose yards, and many other categories. His eight career touchdown passes are an NFL record for non-quarterbacks to this day.

Hall of Fame NFL player and coach, Mike Ditka described Payton as the greatest player he had ever seen, but even greater as a human being. Walter Payton proceeded to win two NFL Most Valuable Player Awards and won Super Bowl XX with the 1985 Chicago Bears. He retired after the 1987 season and was elected in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. Walter Payton died on November 1st, 1999 at the age of 45 from Cholangiocarcinoma.

The city of Chicago has honored Payton’s memory in several ways.Payton3 In 1999, the city created a special city sticker that featured Payton. The profits from the sales of these stickers along with the special license plate created by the State of Illinois are given to support organ-donor programs across Illinois. Also, the city named a high school, Walter Payton College Prep, in his honor. In September 2007, the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center opened the Walter Payton Liver Center after a generous donation from Payton’s family, who were pleased with the care he received there. Chicago Metra commuters have long been witness to a simple “#34 Sweetness”, painted on a bridge piling of the Air Line on the south end of the Chicago Union Station yards. The CBS sitcom Mike and Molly honored Payton in 2011 with “The Walter Payton Elementary School”. After Payton’s death, Nickol Knoll Hill, an old landfill site turned into a golf course in Arlington Heights, Illinois, was renamed “Payton’s Hill”. There are two plaques on the hill to remind visitors of the hill that it was where Payton used to train in the 1970s/80s. Payton did his morning run at the hill every day. Pictures and memorabilia of Payton cover the walls of the golf course club house.

His legacy includes the Walter Payton Award, which is awarded annually to the most outstanding offensive player in college football. And also the Walter Payton Man of The Year Award in the NFL which honors a player’s volunteer and charity work. Walter Payton forever lives on, not only in Chicago, but in the whole NFL organization.


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