Breaks Single-game Rushing Record
Payton's breakthrough year came in 1977. In the opening game of the Bears' season, Payton gained 160 yards, and six weeks later he posted the first 200-yard game in his pro career. Three weeks later, Payton broke O.J. Simpson's single-game rushing record when he ran for 275 yards. Freezing rain during the Bears' final game of the season held down Payton's rushing yardage for the year to 1,852, just 151 yards short of Simpson's season rushing record of 2,003 yards.
As his performance on the football field grew steadily more impressive, armchair fans across the country became increasingly familiar with Payton's unique running style-running on his toes with short, stiff-legged strides. Payton also seemed to derive genuine pleasure from blocking for other running backs and protecting the Bears quarterback against blitzing linebackers. Interviewed by Esquire, legendary Bears running back Gale Sayers commented on this side of Payton's game: "That's what sets him head and shoulders above other running backs, the maximum effort he puts into other phases of the game." Payton also showed his appreciation to the offensive linemen who blocked for him by handing the football to one of them after he had scored a touchdown.
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