1985 Bears Coverage: Payton the prankster stays busy off field

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Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

Payton the prankster stays busy off field

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Nov. 27, 1985

Walter Payton said he really did feel sore Monday. “I just never show it.”

It was hard to tell he felt any less than in the pink as he went through the locker room, throwing jerseys at players who needed them for a photo session. And making noises like a camera. And cheering the tape of Sunday’s victory on the TV.

And grabbing a chicken wing from Jay Hilgenberg’s lunch plate, eating half and putting half back. And catching Otis Wilson from behind to put him in a choke hold. And telling Keith Van Horne, apropos of nothing, “Your brother looks like you, but your nose is longer.” And pinching assorted behinds, with a skill that recalls a childhood booster shot.

The man never stops.

“Walter’s one of the main guys who keeps us loose,” Hilgenberg says. “He has the music going on in the locker room before the game. During the week, he’s always pulling pranks.”

Last week, he took advantage of a break in a meeting to change film reels. He went into the hall with Matt Suhey to practice his choke hold under live conditions. When the film was ready, Payton and Suhey were still wrestling.

Laughing matter

Offensive coordinator Ed Hughes went to investigate. Moments later, the players in the meeting room saw Hughes’ shoe fly through the door. Then Suhey came into the room, wearing Hughes’ glasses.

Payton is hardly the Bears’ only class cut-up. Jim McMahon’s the guy who wears sunglasses into the practice huddle. Dan Hampton’s the one who clears his Rodney Dangerfield throat if that huddle takes too long and says, “Hey, McMahon. While we’re


But Payton is the merriest prankster, the team’s constant off the field as well as on it.

When the film projector turns off in the middle of a play, everyone knows who did it. When a player finds his shoestrings cut up the tongue of his cleats, he doesn’t have to look for witnesses. There was only one suspect the time Thomas Sanders went to pull on his jersey and found his shoulder pads taped inside it.

No hiding evidence

It doesn’t take long for Payton to turn a stack of film cans into a trail of stepping stones down the hallway. If the

trainers leave boxes of adhesive tape in the hall too long, they aren’t surprised to find Payton behind them, using them as a fortress. His aim with wadded-up tape is uncanny.

The trainers have something called artificial fat tissue, which they use for padding linemen’s hands. It looks like cheese. It doesn’t taste like cheese, according to people who have found it in their sandwiches.

Paraffin wax is another training supply Payton has discovered. If you dip a donut into the wax, it looks, but does not taste, just like a glazed donut.

“If he’s not throwing an M-80 in the racquetball court,” Gary Fencik says, “he’s goosing you or putting something in your ear so you think it’s one of those bees on the practice field. He’s scared the living daylights out of me. I have an allergy to bee stings.”

History repeats

He always has put on a good show before practice, dating back to the days when he walked on his hands, caught punts behind his back and leapfrogged over a 6-5 assistant coach who was standing straight.

One of Payton’s acts this year is to stand 40 or 50 yards from the goalpost, on a line with both uprights, and throw a ball at the far one. He hits it more than he misses it.

Every year, he can find some new takers for the pass-throwing machine. He offers to operate it while the other guy goes out for a pass. The other guy doesn’t know Payton turns it on full-speed. After that, wadded-up tape hardly even stings.

Payton even does imitations. Besides camera shutters, they range from William Perry to Stevie Wonder to himself at the shooting range in his basement. “It helps to visualize people at the other end,” he says. “Chyoo! Chyoo! Chyoo! Chyoo! Take that, Hilgy!”

The only time he appears tranquil is during the lunch hour. He kicks the receptionist out of her station and answers phones. He has trouble with callers who ask for Walter Payton.

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