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 wants ‘respect’
Originally published Aug. 23, 1985
Now that he has the NFL rushing record, Walter Payton would like the respect that should go with it.
“This is my 11th year,” Payton said at the Bears’ camp yesterday, “and nobody takes me seriously.
“I’ve been playing at the same level, and sometimes above, for at least nine years. I guess the people have come to expect that. Rain, sleet, snow, sprained ankle, broken leg or whatever, he’s going to be there. Sometimes you tend to – not knowingly – take things for granted.
“I guess I’ve been the Rodney Dangerfield of running backs.”
Then Payton lightened up and said, “But it doesn’t bother me. Rodney makes a lot of movies, drinks a lot of light beer.”
Still, the subject apparently has been on his mind. Payton came back to it. He may have his place in history as the No. 1 rusher, but he can’t help noticing he has never been the No. 1 hot shot running
back of his own time.
“Among the running backs that have been in the league,” Payton said, “you talk to them and ask them, `What about the running backs?’
“The first thing that pops into their minds is Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Curt Warner. Or Billy Sims. William Andrews. George Rogers. Every year, it’s on the back burner.”
Payton has led NFL rushers only one year, but he led the NFC five straight times. He has been in the NFL’s Top 10 eight of the last nine years.
Still, he entered the league in O.J. Simpson’s shadow. Then came Dorsett. Earl Campbell. Sims. Rogers. Dickerson. And Warner.
Campbell led the league three straight seasons. But Payton played three years before him and outrushed him last year by 1,216 yards. Where other running backs’ careers have been meteoric, Payton’s star rose and stayed.
“If you chart it, you see peaks and valleys,” Payton said. “Whereas my career, I like to think, has been like IBM or Xerox.”
Payton takes the attitude that every time he does something, he ought to do it better than the last. “Or else not do it,” he said. “Or let somebody else do it.”
So he said he’s “working harder” in this camp than in the previous 11. He says that every year. His teammates agree every year.
“Right now it’s not the physical thing, it’s the mental thing that you prepare yourself for,” Payton said.
He has been able to work in relative privacy this summer, compared to a year ago. Then the media stalked his approach on the record. Payton’s reluctance with the media might be one reason his recognition hasn’t kept pace with his accomplishments.
“I think it’s beautiful anytime I’m left alone,” he said.
He doesn’t mind company for his off-season workouts, but even at 31, he finds few who can keep up with him.
“He runs hills as if they’re level roads,” said backup halfback Dennis Gentry, who trained with Payton for a week.
How tough are Payton’s workouts? “Put down H, E, double L, and then put down a bunch of exclamation points,” Gentry said.
“He told me, `We must have run from Barrington to Lake Forest,'” Payton said.
That’s what he has to do to stay ahead of the other backs, he says.
“The thing that’s really going to tell is conditioning,” Payton said. “As long as you stay healthy, you have a chance to play and improve. If you get the nagging injuries that set you back, then when
you do come back you’ve got to start over.”
Payton hasn’t missed a game since his rookie year. He always picks up where he left off.
As fullback Matt Suhey said, “So far this year, he looks better than ever.”