His (Nick)name is Sweetness, His Game is Football

By Lisa Welz

It’s an intense game of Neighborhood Charades, the finals, and your team just needs one more point to win bragging rights for the next year. Finally, you have the chance to wrestle the trophy from that team from the opposite block, the one that wins every year.
Reading the card, you turn back to face your team and a smile stretches from ear to ear. You pose in your best frozen-action stance, one knee raised and bent, an arm outstretched, and the other cradling an invisible ball. You give them the side eye and say, “They call me Sweetness.” Boom! Mic drop.
The other team groans, knowing it’s all over as your team erupts off the couch, yelling the name of football’s greatest player, Walter Payton. In that moment it’s as if an old reel started playing, and everyone can picture his graceful evasions and amazing jumps on another trip to the end zone. It’s ballet and the ballroom, coming together on the playing field.
Born in 1954, Walter Payton attended Jackson State University before being drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1975 NFL draft. At 5’10” and 200 pounds, he was shorter and slimmer than most running backs in the league, but he was quick, and agile.
According to ChicagoBears.com, “Payton literally rewrote the NFL record book with his ball-carrying feats. He rushed 3,838 times for 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns–all records. He also caught 492 passes for 4,538 yards and 15 more touchdowns. Altogether, he scored 125 touchdowns, second most ever, and he accounted for a record 21,803 combined net yards.”
Payton retired following the 1987 football season and was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. If there was one disappointment in his career, it was when his coach, Mike Ditka, chose not to allow Payton to rush for a touchdown during Super Bowl XX in 1985, instead choosing William “Refrigerator” Perry and Jim McMahon. Payton never openly questioned those decisions, but since that time, Ditka has said if he could do it over, he would give Payton the Super Bowl glory he deserved.
Payton’s motto was “Never die easy,” due to never deliberately running out-of-bounds, and he had a signature maneuver, the “stutter-step” that he said startled pursuers. He also used his experience as a field and track long-jumper to leap over opponents and stiff-armed his tacklers, a move that had fallen out of use by professional players.
Off the field, Payton married his wife Connie in 1976 and they later had two children, Jarrett and Brittney. He died at age 45 from bile duct cancer that followed on the heels of a rare liver disease, primary sclerosis cholangitis. Although his cancer was too advanced to benefit from one, Payton championed the cause of organ donation and sought to raise awareness of the need for donors.
His legacy continues through the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation. On their website, TeamSweetness.com, says, “Our foundation is about helping abused, neglected and underprivileged children in the State of Illinois. We strive to help boost these children’s self-esteem and give them a reason to believe that tomorrow can be different…