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Sweetness ran and ran

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Sweet victory
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

Signature Game
Nov. 20, 1977 - Suffering the effects of a flu attack, Payton stayed in bed Thursday and most of Friday. By game time, Payton felt well enough to play against Minnesota, though not 100 percent.

By the time the contest at Chicago's Soldier Field was over, it was the vaunted Vikings defense that was feeling sick as Payton tore through it to set an NFL rushing record.

He ran for 77 yards in the first quarter and by halftime had 144 on 26 carries, including a one-yard touchdown run. Forty-eight more yards in the third period brought him to 192. He tied his and Gale Sayers' team record of 205 yards in the fourth quarter.

With less than five minutes left and Payton still 64 yards from breaking O.J. Simpson's single-game record of 273, it looked like O.J.'s mark would withstand Payton's assault. But then, on Payton's 38th carry, he burst over right tackle, cut to the right and raced down the sideline until he went out of bounds at the Vikings' nine. The 58-yard run was his longest of the day.

A sweep gained him three yards and then, on fourth-and-goal at the Minnesota six, he wiped out O.J.'s record by going four yards, bringing his total to 275 on 40 carries.

Payton single-handedly outgained the Vikings by 92 yards in the Bears' 10-7 victory. Chicago quarterback Bob Avellini threw only seven passes.

"The holes were there, and I just ran," Payton said. "This was a day when everything went right."

Payton's record would last 23 years, until the Cincinnati Benglas' Corey Dillon broke it by rushing for 278 yards in 2000.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • As a freshman and sophomore at all-black Jefferson (Mississippi) High School, Payton was a drummer in the school band while his brother Eddie was a star on the football team.

  • Two of Payton's relatives -- Eddie and uncle Rickey Young -- also played in the NFL.

  • Payton was a pre-med student at Jackson State.

  • Besides making it to the national finals of a "Soul Train" dance contest in 1971, Payton prided himself in the way he made music. "My cymbal playing is one thing I'll brag about," he said. "Man, I was good."

  • Early in his NFL career, Payton had to be treated for hyperventilation during games. "It was like stage fright, coming from a small school and a small town and being thrust into the limelight in a big city like Chicago," said Dr. Theodore Fox, the Bears' orthopedic surgeon. "He was nervous, fatigued, hot and a little scared."

  • Payton led the NFL in carries four consecutive seasons (1976-79).

  • Payton averaged more than five yards a carry only once -- 5.5 in 1977 when he led the NFL with 1,852 yards.

  • His longest run with the Bears was 76 yards in 1978.

  • In December 1978, Payton's father Edward died in a Mississippi jail after he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving following an incident at a gas station. In jail, he developed breathing problems, passed out and never recovered. While an autopsy revealed no alcohol in his blood, police were cleared of any wrongdoing.

  • Payton ran, caught and threw for a touchdown in a 30-27 loss to Minnesota on Oct. 21, 1979. It would not be until 2001 that another NFL player (New Englandís David Patten) would be involved in scoring in these three ways in the same game.

  • When Payton broke Jim Brown's career record of 12,312 rushing yards against New Orleans on Oct. 7, 1984, he also snapped a mark he shared with Brown, as this was his 59th game of running for at least 100 yards.

  • After the game, Payton received a call from President Ronald Reagan, who offered his congratulations from aboard Air Force One, flying him to Louisville for that night's debate with Walter Mondale.

  • Though the Bears' leading runner with 1,551 yards and nine rushing touchdowns in 1985 - running for at least 100 yards in nine consecutive games - Payton did not score a touchdown in Super Bowl XX. When the Bears drove to the New England one late in their 46-10 victory, coach Mike Ditka gave the ball to defensive lineman-turned-running back William "Refrigerator" Perry.

  • Payton ran for 61 yards on 22 carries in the Super Bowl.

  • In the postseason, Payton rushed for 632 yards on 180 carries (3.5 average) and two touchdowns.

  • In his career, Payton attempted 34 passes, but completed only 11. However, eight went for touchdowns. Five were intercepted.

  • He created the Walter Payton Foundation in 1989 to provide assistance to inner-city children.

  • Payton hoped to become the first African-American owner of an NFL franchise, but his group's bid to bring an expansion franchise for St. Louis was turned down in 1993.

  • The Walter Payton Award was established in 1987 to annually honor the best player in Division I-AA. Payton's alma mater, Jackson State, was Division II when he played but since has upgraded to Division I-AA.

  • In 1999, the NFL renamed its Community Service award the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

  • Payton and his wife Connie were married 21 years. They had two children, Jarrett and Brittany.

  • Jarrett, 12 at the time, gave the induction speech when Payton went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 31, 1993.

  • Payton first began complaining of fatigue in the summer of 1998. In December, he went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and was diagnosed with his rare liver disease.

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