It’s been almost 20 years since the world lost Walter Payton to a rare liver disease and bile duct cancer when he was just 45.
The fourth overall pick in 1975, Payton was phenomenal: he played for 13 seasons, all with the Chicago Bears, running for over 1,200 yards in 10 of those; when he retired in 1987, after nine Pro Bowls, five first-team All-Pro nods, one MVP and one Super Bowl title, he was also the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
A member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary all-time team, Payton was also chosen as Man of the Year in 1977 for his charitable deeds; the award now bears his name.
Before his death on Nov. 1, 1999, Payton spoke out about organ donation. He had been on the list for a liver transplant but wasn’t able to get one before doctors discovered his cancer, a rare side effect of the liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis. Once he was diagnosed with cancer, Payton was no longer eligible for a transplant.
Despite that, he filmed public service announcements asking the public to consider organ donation for others. The number of donors in Illinois spiked, and remain high, a wonderful tribute to Payton.
The man known as Sweetness was born on July 25, 1954, meaning Thursday would have been his 65th birthday. As noted by his son, Jarrett, on Twitter, it’s fitting that the Bears opened training camp on this day.
In appreciation of Sweetness:
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