"In the days of me-me-me attitudes and one player dismantling a Super Bowl-bound team makes me realize what we as Bear fans really had in the days of Walter. He never complained about anything, always was there for teammates and always showed up on game day, no matter what was going on in his personal life. He ran for a record 275 yards against the Vikings in 1977 while stricken with the flu. If that doesn't show the amount of heart he had for the game maybe this will - out of 187 games, Walter started 186 consecutive. A feat not matched by many RBs since. The one game he missed was in his rookie season where he left with a bruised thigh.
"He ran for over 1,000 yards in all but 3 years of his illustrious career (1975-1987), racking up a total of 16,726 yards and 110 TDs. Walter also was known to pass the rock on occasion, and while looking up the stats for this, I was surprised to see how good he actually was for a RB. He passed 34 (seems fitting) times for 331 yards and 8 TDs, one being to his own QB, (Jim) McMahon.
"Sweetness never was a showboat like these kids today. He always handed the ball to the ref or another player to spike it. His only show of gratification was his high-step, which he said he learned playing tag with his friends as a kid. It helped him get up speed and get away from the other kids. Another amazing trait of his was he always carried the ball with one hand and away from his body but rarely fumbled the ball. According to other teammates (and I saw this with my own eyes when he shook my hand), his hands were enormous and powerful. People would swat at the ball, and it would stick in those vices. A fundamental error to most RBs, but Payton never worried about that.
"If the ball was on the one yard line, we as fans were treated to Air Sweetness. I remember before the Jordan days, Walter would seem like he defied gravity. He was a thing of beauty in the air, and it was a given he would score.
"Walter was known as a prankster and always was having fun on the sidelines and in practice. I read somewhere that he used to put black-jacks in the tackling dummies with an extended wick that would go off when teammates would be practicing. In the locker room and on the sideline, teammates looked to him for leadership, and when things didn't look good on the field, he would have the right things to say to them.
"What I really like about him was he never let the big game get to his head. Always down to earth and available for fans. I had the pleasure of meeting him in `86 and `87 at a hotel in Florida where the team stayed when playing Tampa. Walter shook everyone's hand and signed what ever we had to sign. He stayed after on both occasions when the rest of the team went to their rooms to answer questions and just hang out. Growing up, all I wanted to do was play football because I wanted to be like Payton. That didn't work out for me, but I still have that feeling every once in a while when I toss the pill around with some buds on game day.
"Walter passed away November 1st, 1999 from Bile Duct Cancer at the age of 45. That was the darkest day in my life next to my grandfather passing. I was shocked to say the least. Walter will live on through articles like this and fans thoughts and prayers. They broke the mold when Sweetness was born, and sports will never be the same without him suiting up.
"An interesting story I heard when I recently went back to visit my mom in Florida. I was talking to a woman on the beach in St. Petersburg. She was from Chicago and was telling me about a couch she was given by someone from the Payton family. When the movers came over to drop the couch off, they tilted the couch up to get it in the doorway, and Walter's Super Bowl Ring fell out of the couch and onto the floor. Apparently, it was lost for a while, and she immediately called who she received the couch from and they were ecstatic that she found it and were so happy she returned it to them. Could you imagine if that was lost forever?
"I will always miss the days watching Sweetness as a Bear, but that doesn't compare to the loss of not having him with us today. I really wished they handed over the team to him. He would have been a great owner of the Bears.
"If Payton lived in the gladiator days back in Rome, there would have been myths written about him for centuries, and he would have been compared to Achilles or other gladiators that were considered gods to common people. Well in my mind, he is all of what myths are written about and a modern day gladiator. He fought each Sunday for the common people and brought joy and hope into not only Bear fans but to people that didn't even follow the game. They all had respect for him, and you will never find anyone that doesn't know who Walter Payton aka: Sweetness was.
"Payton when asked how he would like to be remembered said:
"'I want to be remembered as the guy who gave his all whenever I was on the field.'
"Well I think he can rest knowing that he did that and more.
"Thanks for the memories!!!"