Walter Payton was born on July 25, 1953 in Columbia, Mississippi. He agreed to play high school football only if also allowed to play the drums in the school band. Payton was named an All-State player during high school, but received few scholarship offers from predominately white schools.
Instead, Payton chose to stay close to home and attend Jackson State University where his older brother Eddie played. Eddie would go on to play five seasons in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings where one of his teammates was Terry LeCount, a current employee of the College Football Hall of Fame. While at Jackson State, Payton was named a three-time Black College All-American, and a two-time FCS All-American. He led the nation in scoring three times in his college career as well. Walter went on to be named the Black College Player of the Year in 1975 after a legendary performance where he gained 3,600 yards rushing in one game scored seven touchdowns. In addition to his running back duties at State, Payton also punted, place kicked, returned kicks and even threw four TD passes.
In the 1975 draft, Payton was the first round selection the Chicago Bears where he played from 1975-until his retirement in 1987. In 1977, Payton set a single-game rushing record with a 275-yards and in 1984, he broke Jim Brown’s career rushing record of 12,312 yards. In 1986, the Bears would win Super Bowl XX beating the Patriots with the team widely believed to be one of the greatest professional football teams ever.
In 1999, it was discovered that Payton had a rare liver disease. On November 1, 1999, Walter passed away at the age of 46. His public funeral was held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.