Biography of Walter Payton

Walter Jerry Payton was born on July 25, 1954 in Columbia, Mississippi to Peter and Alyne Payton. As a child, Walter spent a lot of time outdoors and playing sports with his siblings Eddie and Pam Payton. He attended John Jefferson High School and later Columbia High School, where he played football for three years. After graduation, Walter decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Eddie and enrolled at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississipi. He majored in communication and excelled on the football field as a running back, finishing fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1974. He completed his NCAA career with 3,563 yards and 65 touchdowns.

With the fourth overall pick in the 1975 NFL entry draft, the Chicago Bears selected Walter Payton. After getting off to a slow start, Walter finished his rookie season rushing for 679 yards and scoring 7 touchdowns while playing in 13 games. Nicknamed "Sweetness" for his humility; he stood at 5' 10" and 200 pounds and was a powerful runner with deceptive quickness. His second season saw him double his rookie numbers by rushing for 1,390 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. That was also the year of his first of nine Pro-Bown appearances. Walter's on field toughness was best shown in a game against the Minnesota Vikings on November 20, 1977. While sick with the flu, Walter Payton rushed for 275 yards on 40 carries - a record that was only broken by running back Corey Dillon of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2001. He was the NFL's Player of the Year and its Most Valuable Player in 1977 finishing the year with 1852 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Payton was also a fitness nut and trained hard in the off-season. His legendary workouts occured on the hottest days, on a sandbank in Columbia, Mississippi where he ran sprints in the sand to come with with a pair of very strong legs that helped him churn out massive yardage on the football field.

After years of carrying the mediocre to average Chicago Bears, the 1985 edition of the football team was something special. The team went 15-1 under the tuteledge of coach Mike Ditka and won the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots. It was an accomplishment that had solidified Walter's place in NFL history. At the end of the 1987 regular season, Walter Payton announced his retirement from the game. His 13 year career with the Chicago Bears yielded 16,726 rushing yards; a record that stood until 2002 until Emmitt Smith bettered it. In the latter half of his career, Payton also became a very good pass catcher out of the backfield finishing his career with 4,538 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

Walter Payton had many interests that he began pursuing after his retirement form professional football. He dabbled in successful real estate, restaurant, construction and NASCAR racing ventures. He was also involved in numerous philanthropic works through his Walter Payton Foundation. But by late 1990s it was becoming clear that something was wrong with his health. In 1998 Payton announced that he was suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare liver disease that caused him to lose weight and turned his sclera (white portion of the eye) yellow. By 1999 a tumor was discovered in his liver leading to bile duct cancer. Walter Payton was 45 years old when he died on November 1, 1999, at his home in South Barrington, Illinois. He was survived by his wife Connie, daughter Brittany and son Jarrett Payton.