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Walter Payton Biography

Born In Columbia, Mississippi, Joins Track Team As Long Jumper, Chronology, Named Ncaa Leading Scorer Of All Time


American football player

Walter Payton, nicknamed "Sweetness" in college for his sweet and graceful moves on the football field, never lost that sweetness, even after he left the game. Never were Payton's qualities of grace and dignity more evident than in his final days, as he struggled unsuccessfully against a rare liver disease that progressed to the cancer of the bile duct that eventually took his life. Only 45 when he died in November 1999, Payton was, until the fall of 2002, the leading National Football League (NFL) rusher of all time, with a career total of 16,726 yards. Payton spent the final weekend of his life with former teammate Mike Singletary, who later told the Washington Times, "With all the greatest runs, the greatest moves I saw from him, what I experienced this weekend was by far the best of Walter Payton I've ever seen. As a person, he was a bright spot for any darkness that appeared." Payton's intensity and ferocity on the football field were balanced by a generosity of spirit and magnanimity off the field that were no less impressive. In his tribute to Payton, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue probably summed it up best: "Walter exemplified class, and all of us in sports should honor him by striving to perpetuate his standard of excellence. Walter was an inspiration in everything he did. The tremendous grace and dignity he displayed in his final months reminded us again why 'Sweetness' was the perfect nickname for Walter Payton."

Walter Payton

Sketch by Don Amerman

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Famous Sports StarsFootball