Signed To 3-year, $2 Million Contract
In advance of the 1982 season, Payton negotiated a three-year contract worth $2 million with the Bears. To beef up its chances, the Bears' owners brought in Mike Ditka as coach. But the season as marred by a players' strike, and the Bears finished the shortened season with a disappointing record of 3-6. In 1983 the Bears brought in Jim McMahon as quarterback. Thus strengthened, the team finished with an 8-8 record. Payton alone accounted for more than a third of the Bears' offense, running for 1,421 yards and catching 53 passes for 607 yards. Payton's performance in 1984 was electrifying. Early in the season, he broke Jim Brown's 19-year-old NFL career rushing record of 12,312 yards and ended the year with a season total of 1,684 yards. The Bears ended the regular season with a record of 10-6. In the first game of the playoffs, Chicago defeated the Washington Redskins by a score of 23-19 but fell to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game.
Payton's dream of making it to the Super Bowl finally came true in 1985. The Bears compiled a stunning record of 15-1 in the regular season and handily polished off its two playoff opponents in home games to power its way into Super Bowl XX. It was a storybook finish for the Bears as they demolished the New England Patriots, 46-10,
in the big game. The following year, the Bears finished the season with a blazing 14-2 record but stumbled in its first playoff game, losing to the Redskins, 27-13. In 1987, the season was once again marred by a player strike. However, the Bears performed strongly in the regular season, finishing with a record of 11-4 and making it into the playoffs again. Paired off against the Redskins, the Bears' post-season march was stopped in its tracks. Not long after the end of the season, Payton, now 33, decided it was time to call it quits and announced his retirement from pro football.
After his retirement, Payton focused most of his attention to the operations of Walter Payton Inc., his personal holding company with investments in restaurants, timber, and real estate. He managed, however, to find time to race cars and boats. In July 1993, Payton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In making the presentation to his father, Payton's son, Jarrett, said: "Not only is my dad an exceptional athlete, he's a role model; he's my biggest role model and best friend. We do a lot of things together…. I'm sure my sister willendorse this statement: we have a super dad."
In February 1999 Payton called a press conference to reveal that he was suffering from a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) that causes the bile ducts to close, backing up bile, and permanently damaging the liver. Only three months later, he learned that he had developed bile duct cancer as a result of the PSC. On November 1, 1999, surrounded by his family and close friends, he died at his home in South Barrington, Illinois.
Records are made to be broken, and so it was with Payton's career rushing record. In late October 2002, Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys amassed a total of 16,743 career yards to surpass Payton's 16,726. But Payton was so much more than just a rushing record. In the hearts of his fellow players, coaches, and football fans everywhere, he lives on as one of the game's greatest players. Former teammate Dan Hampton probably said it best: "No one on this football team and no one in the NFL is actually in Walter Payton's league."
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