“I don’t perceive myself as being better than anyone. I shovel my driveway. I go to the grocery store. I pump my own gas. Some athletes don’t do that.”
-During a 1993 interview
Walter Jerry Payton, former running back for the Chicago Bears, was born on July 25, 1954 in Columbia, Mississippi. Walter was the youngest of Peter and Alyne Payton’s three children. Walter followed in his brother, Eddie’s, footsteps playing football in high school, but he continued to participate in the marching band as well. Walter would then attend Jackson State, graduating in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in special education. On January 28, 1975 Payton was drafted by the Chicago Bears as 4th overall pick in the 1st round draft.
Walter, better known as “Sweetness” during his football years, had a career total of 16,728 yards, 110 TDs rushing, and 3,838 carries. He was an All-Pro seven times, played in nine Pro Bowls, and had 77 games over 100 yards.
Walter was as great on the field as he was off. Walter enjoyed interacting with the fans, and made everyone he met feel special. He would take the time to not only sign an autograph but get to know them as well.
Walter also participated in fund-raising and charity work to better the community, specifically children in need. Walter created what is now known as the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation with the mission to provide for the youth of Illinois. Today the foundation hosts programs such as school supply drives, holiday giving, and veteran projects. The foundation also honors other pro football players that have contributed their time and efforts to charity work; this is known as the Walter Payton’s Man of the Year Award.
On November, 1, 1999, at the age of 45, Walter passed away from complications due to a rare liver disease. In his final months Walter become an advocate for organ transplants, which raised awareness on the shortage and long wait for transplants. Walter Payton will always be remembered for his sweetness both on and off the field. He created a legacy that will always be admired by all that he touched.
Johnson, Tom, and David Fantle. Sweetness: the courage and heart of Walter Payton. Chicago, IL: Triumph Books, 1999. Print.
Payton, Walter, and Don Yaeger. Never die easy: the autobiography of Walter Payton. New York: Villard, 2000. Print.
Payton, Walter, and Jerry B. Jenkins. Sweetness. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1978. Print.
Towle, Mike. I remember Walter Payton: personal memories of football's "sweetest" superstar by the people who knew him best. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland House, 2000. Print.