Walter Payton Unisex T-Shirt
Finally, a way to show your respect for some of the greatest icons, legends and pioneers that paved the way past and present. Rock this gear in style and bring back the moments that made you, memories they gave you and/or lessons they taught you. Scroll down for a history lesson with some of our favorite clips.
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Walter Payton – Sweetness
Walter Jerry Payton (July 25, 1954 – November 1, 1999) was an American professional football player who was a running back for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) for 13 seasons. Payton was known around the NFL as “Sweetness“. A nine-time Pro Bowl selectee, Payton is remembered as a prolific rusher, once holding records for career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, yards from scrimmage, all-purpose yards, and many other categories. He was also versatile, and retired with the most receptions by a non-receiver, and had eight career touchdown passes. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame that same year, and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996. Hall of Fame NFL player and coach Mike Ditka described Payton as the greatest football player he had ever seen—but even greater as a human being.
Payton began his football career in Mississippi, and went on to have an outstanding collegiate football career at Jackson State University, where he was an All-American. He started his professional career with the Chicago Bears in 1975, who selected him with the 1975 Draft‘s fourth overall pick. Payton proceeded to win the 1977 AP NFL Most Valuable Player Award and won Super Bowl XX with the 1985 Chicago Bears. He retired from football at the end of the 1987 season having rushed for at least 1,200 yards in 10 of his 13 seasons in the NFL.
After struggling with the rare liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis for several months, Payton died on November 1, 1999, aged 45, from cholangiocarcinoma. His legacy includes being the namesake of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, Walter Payton Award, and a heightened awareness of the need for organ donations.
Payton’s legacy continues through the charitable Walter and Connie Payton Foundation. His own appeals—and after his death, his foundation’s—for greater awareness of the need for organ donations are widely credited with bringing national attention to the problem. After his appeals, donations in Illinois skyrocketed, and the regional organ bank of Illinois was overwhelmed with calls. In response, the City of Chicago inserted organ donation requests into city-vehicle-registration mailings in early 2000, and by August 2000, 13,000 people had signed on to the program. The foundation continues to run a program that Payton organized to donate toys to underprivileged children across the Chicago area each Christmas. The family established the Walter Payton Cancer Fund in 2002.
Many modern NFL running backs have cited Payton as a source of inspiration. Emmitt Smith tearfully paid homage to Payton after breaking Payton’s rushing record. LaDainian Tomlinson, who set numerous records during the 2006 NFL season, named Payton as one of his foremost mentors and inspirations. Ahman Green, a former player for the Bears’ rival Green Bay Packers, is said to have idolized Payton, viewing the highlight film “Pure Payton” before each game. Walter’s son, Jarrett Payton, was a running back for the Tennessee Titans, NFL Europe‘s Amsterdam Admirals, CFL‘s Montreal Alouettes, and IFL‘s Chicago Slaughter. During his tenure at the University of Miami, Jarrett wore a #34 jersey to honor his father’s memory. In 2009, Jarrett married on March 4 (3/4), which was intentionally set to coincide with Payton’s jersey number.
The city of Chicago has honored Payton’s memory in several ways. In 1999, the city created a special city sticker that featured Payton. The profits from the sales of these stickers along with the special license plate created by the State of Illinois are given to support organ-donor programs across Illinois. Also, the city named a high school, Walter Payton College Prep, in his honor. In September 2007, the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center opened the Walter Payton Liver Center after a generous donation from Payton’s family, who were pleased with the care he received there. Chicago Metra commuters have long been witness to a simple “#34 Sweetness”, painted on a bridge piling of the Air Line on the south end of the Chicago Union Station yards. The CBS sitcom Mike & Molly, which was set in Chicago, honored Payton in 2011 with “The Walter Payton Elementary School”.
Until its sale to Two Brothers Brewing in 2011, Walter Payton’s Roundhouse continued to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the Aurora, Illinois, site. A plaque now hangs on the building commemorating Payton. There are two athletic awards named after Payton. The NCAA gives the “Walter Payton Award” to the best offensive player from a Division I FCS (still often known by its former designation of Division I-AA) football team. The NFL hands out the “Walter Payton Man of the Year” award for player achievements in community service during a particular season. The wellness center at Jackson State University is also named in honor of him, known as “The Walter Payton Recreation and Wellness Center.”
The Chicago Bears honored Payton’s career and life on November 1, 2009, by airing a special tribute video during halftime. The video consisted of highlight clips from Payton’s career and interview segments from Mike Ditka, Virginia McCaskey, Richard Dent, and many other members of the Bears organization. Payton’s wife, daughter, son, and mother were present to watch the video, which aired on Soldier Field‘s Jumbotron.
After Payton’s death, Nickol Knoll Hill, an old landfill site turned into a golf course in Arlington Heights, Illinois, was renamed “Payton’s Hill”. There are two plaques on the hill to remind visitors of the hill that it was where Payton used to train in the 1970s and 1980s. Payton did his morning run at the hill every day. Pictures and memorabilia of Payton cover the walls of the golf course club house.
The asteroid 85386 Payton, discovered by the Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing observatory in 1996, is named in Payton’s memory. The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 20 May 2008 (M.P.C. 62930).
In September 2019, the Chicago Tribune named Payton the greatest Bears player of all time.
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