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NFL's all time leading rusher (1954-1999)

Walter Payton, the great Chicago Bears running back, who carried succession of weak Bears teams to respectability, died of complications from a rare liver disease at the age of 45.  Number 34 was known as the finest all-around football player of his day, and as a man whose determination and bruising running style seemed at odds with the affectionate name of "Sweetness."  The City of Chicago was in a state of shock at his death, because although Payton was known to be ill, it was believed that liver transplants would treat the disease.  Payton played for the Bears from 1975 through 1987.  In his 13-year career, he missed exactly one game and that was in his rookie year.  He was NFL Player of the year and Most Valuable Player in both 1977 and 1985.  During his playing career, Payton rushed for 16,726 yards, becoming the NFL's all-time leading rusher, and scored 100 touchdowns. 

He holds the single game rushing record of 275 yards.  Although a running back, he was also exceptional for his ability to catch and throw the ball.  He made 495 pass receptions for 4,538 yards and 15 touchdowns, and passed 34 times for 331 yards and eight touchdowns.  Payton was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.  Walter Payton was a longtime supporter and fund-raiser for the Boys Club of Chicago.  After his retirement from pro football, he established the Walter Payton Foundation in 1989 to provide financial and motivational support to needy children.  It was revealed in February 1999, that Payton was suffering from Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC). 

Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis is a rare  disease of the bile ducts of the liver, in which the ducts become narrowed due to inflammation and scarring.  Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, fevers, chills, and itching.  The cause is unknown.  During examination and treatment for this condition, it was discovered, but not revealed, that Payton also had cancer of the liver.  Payton was born and grew up in Columbia, Mississippi, and attended Jackson State University.  He was the number four first round draft pick in 1975.  His wife, Connie, was his college sweetheart.  They had two children, Jarrett and Brittney.


Revised: July 18, 2013.