As all die-hard Bears' fans know, Walter Payton was a blessing for the lives of many people. The number 34 is widely used in honor of one special player that changed football as we know it.
Any NFL fanatic is aware of how valuable the running back position has the potential to be. From grinding out 100+ yard games, to only being used to spice things up in a spread out offense, the tailback can change games.
Walter Payton wasn't either of those..no, with the help of his offensive line and his heart, he single handedly could win games.
The Chicago Bears drafted "Sweetness" in 1975 as a fourth overall pick. Chicago greatly needed another running back as they had endured losing seasons after the iconic Gale Sayers retired in 1972.
Payton needed some time to gradually mature into their dream running back, however. In his first game, Walter was held to zero net yards on eight rushing attempts. Payton then finished the season on a high note with a 134 yard game on 20 carries against the New Orleans Saints. Walter Payton ended his rookie season with 679 yards and seven touchdowns.
After being motivated to improve his performance the following season, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and 17 scores on his way to the 1976 Pro Bowl where he was named Pro Bowl MVP.
In his third season, Payton rushed for 1,852 yards and 16 touchdowns while earning the league's leading scorer of the season. Throughout that season, he earned numerous awards which included the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America's MVP awards.
His most memorable game that season, and quite possibly the highlight of his 13 year career, was on November 20, 1976 against the Minnesota Vikings. In that game, he rushed for a then-record 275 yards on 40 rushes while having a case of the flu.
The Bears had problems assembling winning seasons since Payton's arrival, despite his success, prompting Chicago to bring in Mike Ditka, a former tight end for the Bears and Hall of Famer, for the head coaching spot. After Ditka's arrival, Chicago thrived of Payton's 1,400 yards per season.
Walter led the Bears to a 8-8 season in 1983 and 10-6 in 1984, but there was much more to come.
In 1985, the Jackson State star rushed for over 1,500 yards and was a high-percentage contributor for the Bears' second ranked offense.
On the opposite side of the ball, Chicago's 46 defensive scheme led "Chi-Town" to their first ever Super Bowl and setting a record for points allowed on their way to becoming the best defense ever.
The Chicago Bears bowled over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX in a 46-10 victory. Walter Payton did not have any scores throughout the celebration for Chicago, but attracted more than two defensive players on each snap.
In a later interview, after the Super Bowl, Ditka stated that he regrets not getting Walter a score.
His Final Year's and Career
Payton, who was in his 12th year at the time, banged his way to gathering 1,333 yards in the 1986 season. Chicago won the NFC Central division, as it was labeled at the time, but fell short to the Washington Redskins 27-13 in the divisional playoffs.
Ending the 1986 season, Payton announced that he would retire following the 1987 season.
In his final year, Payton split carries with Neal Anderson and only earned 533 yards. Walter Payton's career ended with another loss to the Washington Redskins in the divisional round of the playoffs, losing 21-17 on January 10th, 1988.
In Walter Payton's 13 year career, he amassed 16,726 yards carrying the ball and scored 110 touchdowns. Also, he caught 492 passes for 4,538 yards and 15 scores. While setting many franchise records for the Chicago Bears, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. The single game he did not play throughout his 13 years of service was in his rookie season of 1975, in which an assistant coach held him out due to an ankle injury. Later, Payton said the miss rattled him for years afterwards.
In the month February of 1999, Payton announced he had autoimmune liver disease. A very rare and risky illness. The disease has been said to cause his bile duct cancer.
Walter spent his final months as an advocate for organ transplants while appearing in many commercials to encourage the cause.
In April, Payton made his final public appearance at a Cubs game that was filled with emotions. With him was Mike Ditka, where he threw the games first pitch. In his attempt to write an autobiography, author Don Yaeger worked with him to create the book Never Die Easy.
The End of Sweetness
On November 1, 1999, Walter "Sweetness" Payton was pronounced dead from the complications that arose in his illness. During that week, the NFL held ceremonies in honor of him in every game and the Chicago Bears wore No. 34 patches on their jerseys for the memory of Walter Payton.
In his public funeral service that was held in Soldier Field, there were a large variety of speakers, including: Jesse Jackson, Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliebue, former teammate Dan Hampton, his widow Connie Payton, and his children; Jarrett and Brittney Payton.
The mourners at Walter's private service were all but similar. This list included teammates Matt Suhey, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, and Roland Harper. Also, the Bears' equipment manager and building superintendent, John Madden, Illinois Governor George Ryan, Chicago's mayor Richard Daley, and many others were in attendance.
The charity in honor of Payton; The Walter and Connie Foundation, is still up and running to find causes to cure illnesses. Organ Donations are widely credited to Walter Payton's cause and are still growing today thanks to Sweetness himself.
All that has been carved as one of the Nation's most prolific stories in all of sports above gives enough reasoning to why Walter Payton's number should be retired from all of football. No other football player will come close to what Payton has done as a man, and as a football player.
Walter has revolutionized the running back position as we know it although nobody can recreate his style of running. Walter has changed the world and the sport of football. Being labeled as outspoken by his teammates, his actions spoke louder than any other words that have been said.
In honor of the best football player of all-time and an amazing man, the number 34 should be retired in all of the National Football League.
"I want to be remembered as the guy who gave his all whenever he was on the field." -Walter Payton