25/7/1954 - 1/11/1999
Record updated 23-Jun-08
An American Football great and though a slightly odd inclusion here...Walter Payton was truly a great and inspirational sportsman who, in the mid 1990s, co-owned an Champ Car Team with Dale Coyne.
Walter Payton spent his entire 13-year career (1975-1987) with the Chicago Bears. Nicknamed "Sweetness," Payton was quiet, humble, and generous off the field, but a relentless, hard-nosed competitor on it. He earned numerous accomplishments, including his crowning achievement: breaking Jim Brown's NFL career rushing record on October 7, 1984, against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field in Chicago. He also broke another Jim Brown record in this game with his 59th career 100-yard performance. His career rushing record would stand for 18 years until surpassed by Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith in 2002.
Payton also scored 125 career touchdowns, fifth on the all-time scoring list. In addition to being a running back, Payton was assigned many plays as a receiver and blocker, and, later in his career, was also an emergency quarterback and punter. In one game against the Vikings on October 21, 1979, he ran for, passed for, and caught a touchdown, a feat that has only been done by six other players.
Known as a figure of resilience, Payton missed only one game in his 13 year career with the Bears. The consistency and toughness Walter exhibited was later chronicled in his autobiography, Never Die Easy.
After retirement, Payton dabbled in auto racing, co-owning a team with Dale Coyne which competed in ChampCars. The team's best result under Walter was 3rd in the 1996 US 500, driven by former Formula One driver Roberto Moreno, although none of its drivers ever finished in the championship top 10. For many years he was the only African-American team owner in what remains a white-dominated sport.
He was part of a group of investors that sought to bring an NFL team back to St. Louis. This effort, however, proved unsuccessful; the NFL instead awarded expansion franchises to Jacksonville, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina in 1995 (although the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995). A college preparatory high school in Chicago is named after him. He also opened a restaurant and brewery in Aurora, Illinois called Walter Payton's Roundhouse Complex, which contains a museum dedicated to Walter and his football career.
In February 1999, Payton announced that he had a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis. Living with unbearable pain, Walter continued to live his life the way he wanted to live it. He still conducted many motivational speeches and appeared on TV encouraging organ donation. Unable to receive a liver transplant because of bile duct cancer, Payton died in his home in South Barrington, Illinois, on November 1, 1999. After breaking Payton's career rushing record in 2002, Emmitt Smith tearfully paid tribute to Walter, saying that Payton had taught him how to conduct himself on and off the field. Payton was survived by his wife Connie, son Jarrett, and daughter Brittany. His son, Jarrett, is currently an NFL running back. During his tenure at the University of Miami, Jarrett wore his father's number, 34.