One of the best football players in NFL history, Payton destroyed opposing defenses for over a decade with the Chicago Bears, but Kansas City was the unfortunate party to experience one of Sweetness’ best runs of his career.
Walter Payton Run vs. Chiefs
Entering Week 9 with a record of 3-5, the Bears were in serious need of a win against the Kansas City Chiefs if they wanted to make the playoffs after a 13-season drought.
Payton entered the game at Soldier Field with 937 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. And though they desperately needed the win, Chicago got off to a slow start.
The Chiefs led 17-0 at halftime, but what re-energized the Bears was one of the best plays in the franchise’s history when Payton took the hand off and ran to the right.
Sweetness didn’t even make it back to the line of scrimmage before he was met by a defender. He spun back inside, though, sneaking away from multiple Chiefs and began his way up-field.
By the time Payton had gained one yard from the line of scrimmage, he had already broken five tackles. He did that by spinning, shaking, and just simply running guys over.
After 18 yards, Payton was dragged down from behind. Realistically, I don’t think anyone would have brought him down on this run if he had been able to see the defender — wrapping him up around the legs from behind apparently being the only way to actually get him down.
The reason this run embodies his career so well is because he made multiple defenders miss in a bunch of different ways. He showed his elusiveness and also trucked two players before coming up just short of the end zone.
The Payton run finished at the Kansas City four-yard line and would lead to a Chicago touchdown, making the score 17-7. The Bears would eventually win the game, 28-27.
This run not only sparked a comeback in this game, but also started a six-game winning streak that would put Chicago in the playoffs for the first time since 1963, when they won the league championship.
Walter Payton’s Best NFL Season
In that game, Payton finished with 192 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. The yardage would be the third-highest total of his career while three scores was tied for his career-best.
This game came during the best statistical season of the Hall-of-Famer’s career, too. Two weeks before the game against Kansas City, Payton rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers. A week after besting the Chiefs, he set a career-high for single-game rushing with 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings.
The game against KC began a winning-streak for Chicago, but also five-straight games of Payton rushing for over 100 yards and scoring a touchdown. During that five-game stretch against Kansas City, the Vikings, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Green Bay again, he rushed for 868 yards and eight touchdowns. He also cught six passes for 142 yards and a touchdown.
Payton finished the regular season with 1,852 yards and 14 touchdowns during the 1977 season — both his career highs. It earned him the AP NFL MVP, his second-straight season in the Pro Bowl as well as First-Team All-Pro honors. His rookie season in 1975 was the only time he didn’t make the Pro Bowl during his first six seasons.
By the end of the 1977 season, Payton was No. 55 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with Jim Brown sitting atop that list with 12,312 yards. In 1984, he passed all of those players to become the most prolific runner in league history.
No Touchdown? No Problem
As great of a play as this was against Kansas City, the only negative was the fact he wasn’t able to get into the end zone. One of the biggest notes of Payton’s career was the fact he didn’t score a touchdown in Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots during the Bears’ 1985 season.
He also didn’t score during the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams during that playoff run. He scored two touchdowns in nine career playoff games, both coming against the Philadelphia Eagles during the 1979 playoffs.
This may have been a precursor to that, but Sweetness is still easily one of the best running backs to ever play in the National Football League no matter what his playoff stats looked like. A player who held the NFL rushing record for close to two decades definitely showed how he was able to reach that with this run early in his career.
This post was originally published on October 16, 2019.