Profile: 6 x All Pro, 9 x Pro Bowler, 1977 NFL MVP, Super Bowl XX Champion, “Sweetness”, co-founder of Walter and Connie Payton Foundation
Game Changer on the field:
The late Walter Payton was one of the toughest and most instinctive football players to ever play in the NFL. He could run with power, catch, block and even play a little QB – perhaps the most complete football player in the history of the NFL. He held every major record for a RB when he retired in 1987. If it’s possible, he is somewhat under appreciated as the starting RB for one of the NFL’s greatest ever, and most flamboyant teams – the 1985 Bears. And while everyone remembers that great Bears team, it’s easy to forget the lean times. The Bears were really bad in the early part of a Payton’s career. Ever the team player, Payton managed to keep the Bears respectable and racked up big-time stats in the interim of the Bears’ ascendence. Any way you chop it up, Walter Payton is one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL.
Game Changer off the field:
The foundation has two primary missions:
Providing resources and opportunities to underprivileged youth in Illinois.
The annual Back to School Supply Drive makes sure kids in Illinois have the supplies and resources they need to be ready for school.
Even at the peak of his notoriety as a football player, and unprecedented accolades put upon an NFL star, Payton was ever giving and mindful of people in need. His line in the famous Super Bowl Shuffle:
“Now we’re not doing this because we’re greedy, the Bears are doing it to feed the needy”.
Awesome. Just awesome.
The second mission of the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation:
Creating awareness and fundraising for organ transplants.
Walter Payton was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease in February 1999. The disease was damaging Payton’s liver and required a transplant. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with a late stage, aggressive liver cancer. The severity of the cancer made a transplant “no longer tenable”.
Despite no longer needing a transplant, Walter Payton devoted most of his remaining time advocating for organ donorship.
The state of Illinois offers a commemorative license plate that honors Payton’s legacy and raises awareness for organ donorship. Proceeds from the plates go to the cause.
The signature achievement of the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation is the Walter Payton Liver Center at the University of Illinois Medical Center. The center opened in 2007 and features 34 best-in-class patient rooms – Payton’s number. A really heartfelt tribute.
His autobiography Never Die Easy chronicles Payton’s devotion to family and community. The book was published posthumously in 2000.
Walter Payton is so well thought of in the community and NFL circles that the NFL’s highest recognition for achievement in the community was named in his honor – the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Each year, players are nominated from all 32 teams. Those players are voted on by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former winners, Connie Payton and other former players. Past winners include Kurt Warner and Warrick Dunn – as featured on Pro Cause.
On a side note, there is a lot of terrific content on the award on NFL.com. But there is no dedicated landing page or featured site within NFL.com for the award. NFL – if you are listening, create a dedicated page that chronicles the achievements and legacy of this great award.
Walter Payton was the consummate pro – on and off the field.