Story of the Week
Between 1975 and 1987, there were three givens in Chicago; the wind was blowing strongly off Lake Michigan, the Cubs were not in the World Series, and Walter Payton was in the backfield for the Bears. In his 13-year NFL career, Payton missed only one game. In 1984, he proved more durable than the entire Bears depth chart at quarterback; when they all turned up injured, he took snaps.
Payton carried the ball more often (3,838 attempts) and for more yards (16,726) than any running back in NFL history at the time. The most amazing part of Payton’s records is that for a large part of his playing days, the Bears were not a good football team. For most of his career, Payton ostensibly took on the NFL without the benefit of an offensive line.
Payton earned a Super Bowl ring following the 1985 season, but during the first nine years of his career, the Bears were a less-than-mediocre 61-70. In those days, the opposing strategy was simple; stop Walter Payton and you stop the Bears. He took a ferocious pounding in those days. For eight of his first 10 seasons, he averaged more than 20 carries-per-game.
Not that the relatively small (5-10, 202) Payton was defenseless. He actually was quite a rough, tough football player. He didn’t give straight-arms. He actually punched would-be tacklers, or he used his shoulder and basically jumped into the opposition at the same time. Payton was strong.
Some, including legendary running back Jim Brown, felt that the only quality Payton lacked was a "passing gear" for those long, long runs. But there were other so-called game experts who felt Payton could have been a speed back had he not been called upon to run inside so much.
It hardly matters. Payton simply did whatever he was asked, including exemplary blocking. He was more than willing to pick off a blitzer, or catch a pass. His 492 pass receptions were a record among running backs when he retired. His string of 2,000 total yards from scrimmage was another NFL standard.
Still, Walter Payton was best at taking the ball and running with it. Against Minnesota in 1977, he carried 40 times for 275 yards. That year, after rushing for 1,852 yards, he was named the league MVP. Walter Payton retired with a total of 125 touchdowns.
Matt Millen once said of Payton, "He was one of those backs where, in the middle of the game, you’d come to the sideline with a great respect for what you just saw him do. Even though you were playing against his team, it was a pleasure watching him perform. I’ll go a step further; I always felt honored to tackle Walter Payton."
To risk understatement, Walter Payton was one of the greatest running backs in the history of the National Football League.
Last Week’s Trivia
Who holds the career record for hitting the most home runs in World Series competition? Mickey Mantle at 18.
Trivia Question of the Week
The Red Sox recently equaled the American League record for runs in the first inning with 14 against the Florida Marlins. What is the major league record for same, set by what team and when? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.