Walter Payton played for the Chicago Bears from 1975 – 1987. Nicknamed “Sweetness,” Payton is considered one of the best running backs in NFL History. Additionally, many running backs who would come after Payton would wear the number 34 as a way of showing their love and respect for him. Having been such a good player and having a large impact on other people’s lives is an important reason why he is on this list.
His career numbers were outstanding. At the time of his retirement, Payton held the record for most rushing attempts with 3,838, rushing yards with 16,726 and touchdowns with 110. In 1977, Payton was named the MVP as he had a career year, leading the league in attempts, yards, touchdowns and average yards per attempt. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, a member of the 1970s and 1980s All-Decade Teams and is a member of the Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fames.
Those who had the great fortune of watching Payton run got to see a combination of speed, agility and power. He would wear down defenses on a weekly basis and was a team leader due to his play on the field. That’s why it was so heartbreaking for Payton to not have been given the opportunity to score a touchdown in Super Bowl XX, a decision that head coach Mike Ditka regrets.
Payton died in 1999 and after his passing, the NFL Man of the Year Award was renamed after Walter Payton, who won the award in 1977. Players like J.J. Watt, Eli Manning and Drew Brees are a few of the many who have continued Payton’s legacy be receiving the award. Walter Payton was the type of player that young fans could look up to on and off the field. Sadly we lost him too soon, but thankfully, his legacy lives on.