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American Thinker
American Thinker
11 Feb 2023
Jerry Jacover


NextImg:‘Sweetness’: Walter Payton and the 1985 Chicago Bears

With the Super Bowl tomorrow and my grade school knowledge of Roman numerals unable to calculate which number this one will be, my thoughts have turned, not to the Super Bowl yet to come, but to a Super Bowl of football past.

It was a time when there was less hype; less self-promotion, and less on-field braggadocio. It was also a time of more patriotism; more happiness and more fun. It was the time when Walter Payton played in Super Bowl XX.

In Chicago, there were always Cub fans and Sox fans, and though never those twain would meet, the city was always brought together by the Chicago Bears. Especially the 1985 version. Different men, from decidedly different backgrounds, who brought love of team, love of city and love of country to a lunch pail town that was even more of a smorgasbord of people than the team itself.

The 1985 Bears would, of course, rout the New England Patriots 46-10 in Superbowl XX. And though, sadly, Walter Payton didn’t score a touchdown that day, he did leave us with the Super Bowl Shuffle, a long list of records, and a nostalgic nickname: “Sweetness.”

“Sweetness” was an unusual nickname for a football player, yet Walter Payton was an unusual player. Here in Chicago we are more partial to earthier names for our football heroes. Names like “Bronco,” “Bulldog,” and, of course, “Iron Mike.” Indeed, our professional team is not just referred to as the Bears; they are the “Monsters of the Midway.”

Yet on the field, “Sweetness” was every bit a “Monster” as his more colorfully named predecessors. He punished would-be tacklers with a unique style of in-your-face running that had never been seen before, and has been poorly imitated since. Long before Michael Jordan came to town, Walter Payton would “fly” over a goal line defense as if he were shot out of a cannon. Rather than seek the sanctuary of the sideline, he would absorb a punishing hit from an opposing tackler just to gain an extra six inches. And even after a particularly bruising blow, that might have sent a more mortal athlete to the bench, Walter, would miraculously spring to his feet with a move so acrobatic, it would make an Olympic gymnast envious.

At the time he retired, Walter Payton had rushed for more yards than anyone who had ever played the game. He was the most durable running back in history. He is the Bears’ career receiving leader. He could pass, kick, and punt with the best in the league. When he had to, he blocked and tackled with flawless technique. Quite simply he was the finest football player there ever was.

But there was more to Walter Payton than unparalleled athletic ability. He trained harder off the field than anyone else. He never made a mental mistake. He rarely fumbled. He was the consummate team player. He consoled mistake-prone teammates. He pursued excellence. He didn’t make excuses. He never quit. And he did it all with such grace—such sportsmanship—such, well, such “Sweetness.”

This was a man who did not taunt his opponents, argue with referees, or quarrel with his teammates. There was no childish breast-beating after a good run, no orchestrated dancing after a touchdown, and no juvenile posturing after a victory.

I have three sons. When Walter Payton played for the Bears, I would shamelessly point to No. 34 and say, “if you want a role model look at him.” I think there were a lot of other fathers, who did the same. Perhaps that that is the highest tribute, one man can pay to another.

And then suddenly, he was gone, and with it an erstwhile love of team, city, and country that Walter Payton brought to millions of people.

I never knew “Sweetness” could be so sad. 

Photo credit: Korye Logan CC BY-SA 2.0 license