I remember how old I was and where I was living when I first heard about Walter Payton. I was pretty young, about 12 years old and had been listening about this guy on the Bears that was one of the best running backs in the NFL. At that time, I had just started to become a Bears fan and really hadn’t realized the full extent of what he meant to the Bears. I don’t think that too many people did either back then.
When Chicago went to the Super Bowl back in the 1985-1986 season, I really started to take notice of Payton and the Bears. Watching him play was like watching someone work hard on something and really care about what they were doing. It was like watching an artist paint his best painting or a carpenter building his best home. It was wonderful and really inspired me to watch football even more.
I shared the pain of watching as Payton was shut out of getting a touchdown in the Super Bowl. How could they not hand it off to the guy that got them there on his legs, hard work and determination? It seemed like a crime to me and to many other Bears fans.
Walter continued to play hard each and every game until his retirement in 1987. Many of us will remember when he announced he would retire. It was a sad time and it seemed as if he didn’t need to retire. He showed no signs of slowing down and it appeared as if he could run forever. But he inevitably made the right decision and retired leaving the team as the leading rusher in team history as well as the leading rusher in NFL history.
Payton enjoyed his time out of football. He got involved in some interesting activities such as owning a race car in the IndyCar series races. He even raced cars on his own and was even involved in a wreck, but did no suffer any life threatening injuries in the crash. Payton also attempted to help bring a team to St. Louis, but lost out to Carolina and Jacksonville. He also got into the restaurant business (as so many Athletes do) and started Walter Payton’s Roundhouse.
Peyton let the world know about the disease that eventually took his life, primary sclerosing cholangitis a disease of the liver, in February 1999. He developed bile duct cancer as a result. Peyton succumbed to the effects of the disease on November 1st, 1999.
It’s nice to be able to sit back and remember the things that Payton did well with the Chicago Bears. It’s nice to remember how hard he ran and how he would deliver a blow to the defender before he was tackled. I can still see those games where he went over the type of the pile instead of running through it. I can still see him throwing a touchdown pass and still see his disappointment in the Super Bowl.
For a person that grew up watching Walter Payton, this day 11 years ago is a very sad day. To think how young Payton was too young to be taken by the disease that killed him is difficult. He had so many more years left ahead of him. What is nice is that we have the memories of Payton to help us remember him, the player and man that he was and what he meant to the Chicago Bears.
Please share your favorite memory (or memories of Payton)!