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Columnist
Payton still idolized after all these years
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/31/2009 2:51 PM | Updated: 11/1/2009 12:02 AM

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Walter Payton wasn't big.

He wasn't fast, elusive or the most talented.

He was heart. Walter Payton was heart and nothing but heart.

Much like the city that worshipped him, Payton was full of energy, strength, creativity and desire, and for many of his 13 seasons he carried the Bears and Chicago on his massive shoulders, driven to be the best running back who ever lived.

When he died at the age of 45, 10 years ago Sunday, it was not his NFL records that fans remembered.

It was his enduring spirit and the style in which he attacked life on and off the football field that fans keep close to their hearts even 25 years after the prime of his career.

Passed on but still revered, missed to the point of tears, is how one could describe the overwhelming response to memories of Payton.

And, yet, you asked for more, so with Nov. 1 upon us, here are 34 Payton memories to last a lifetime:

• Valor is often the result of someone's neglect, and in his case Payton gained 13,300 yards the first 10 years of his career without a single Pro Bowl lineman.

• Payton once said he picked up an extra 3 inches every time he placed the ball forward after a tackle. Based on his career carries and catches, he gained an extra 1,082 yards with that little move.

• He played the 1981 season with a separated shoulder, and never missed a play.

• The block in Minnesota in 1985 that saved Jim McMahon from decapitation by a blitzing linebacker, and allowed the QB to hit Willie Gault in stride for a TD.

• The catch and run before the winning field goal in the 1977 "Ice Bowl."

• How he always asked for a "Reggie Bar" before a game when he passed our food stand under the North end zone.

• Benching more than any player on the team, and taking such enormous pleasure in it.

• The longest run of his career, an 84-yard TD sprint against the Eagles in the 1979 playoffs. The sweep right was called back because of a phantom illegal procedure penalty.

• Dallas great Randy White once called a Payton 1-yard loss the best run he ever saw in pro football, after it covered 60 yards side to side, and should have lost 5.

• Being helped off the field in tears in the 1976 season-ender after hurting his ankle and losing the rushing title to O.J. Simpson.

• Seeing him sitting alone and unrecognized at O'Hare Airport after an ugly Bears season (1980), eating a bowl of chili while he waited for a flight home to see his mom.

• The TD throw to Pat Dunsmore in Washington in the '84 playoff upset.

• The Kansas City run.

• In 1985, he ran 324 times for 1,551 yards - and his longest run was 40 yards.

• The stiff arm.

• Being held aloft by William Perry, waving to the fans and celebrating, as the Bears polished off the Rams in the NFC Championship.

• The limp leg.

• Sitting on the bench alone after his final game.

• Walter over the top.

• The punishment he put on cornerbacks and safeties.

• His arm around Jim McMahon on the sideline near the end of an anticlimactic Super Bowl XX.

• The Hill.

• The way he dropped the ball after scoring a touchdown.

• And how he learned to spin it.

• His record-breaking 1984 run, which was overshadowed by the Cubs' Game 5 NLCS loss in San Diego.

• How he wouldn't run out of bounds - ever.

• Waiting for him to get the corner and then turning up field to bury a defender.

• Dragging linebackers to the goal line.

• How his opponents never said a bad word about him, and the awesome respect they showed him before, during and after games.

• With the Bears getting blown out, he ran 70 yards to chase down a cornerback after an interception, knocking him out of bounds only inches from the end zone.

• The 1977 CBS highlight package set to the song, "Nobody Does it Better."

• How he always said, "Tomorrow is promised to no one."

• And how he played every play and lived every day like it could be his last.

• That he is gone, but lives on in every one of us who were fortunate enough to see him play, and to this day wish we could see him just one more time.

brozner@dailyherald.com