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1985 Bears Coverage: Bears’ Payton, Perry make season merry

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.

Bears’ Payton, Perry make season merry

Sun-Times Staff

Originally published Nov. 5, 1985

William Perry may be the most versatile appliance since Veg-O-Matic, but Walter Payton still is the switch that turns the Bears on.

The question is not whether Payton is as good as ever. It is: How much better will he get?

“I haven’t seen Payton at his best yet because his best is yet to come,” coach Mike Ditka said after the Bears’ 16-10 victory Sunday at Green Bay. Payton’s 192 rushing yards were his highest total in eight years.

Payton has set NFL records in rushing yards, 100-yard games and yards from scrimmage. He has missed just one game in 11 years. Through all that, he has never come even close to getting the attention, adoration and exaltation being heaped on Perry, his roundly renowned goal-line running mate.

“In a sense, it’s a travesty because he is the greatest player ever and William’s more or less an oddity,” defensive lineman Dan Hampton said yesterday. He wasn’t taking anything away from Perry, either.

“I don’t think you can have enough of William,” Hampton said of Perry’s publicity, “because there’s so much of him to go around. He’s a 300-pound good guy and I’m proud of him.”

Perry is the Bears’ Baby Huey. He’s a lovable lug of a cartoon character whose value as the team pet almost equals his value as team bulldozer, at either fullback or defensive tackle.

His teammates would love him even if he hadn’t been trampling opponents and stereotypes for touchdowns on a run and a pass in the last two weeks.

Payton, at the other extreme, is the Bears’ Sir Laurence Olivier. He is the essence of dignity and superiority, the man his teammates want to be when they grow up.

“You don’t say Payton’s a leader,” Hampton said. “Payton’s beyond a leader. It’s hard to put into words what he does for this team. He’s irreplaceable. It’s going to be a sad day when he leaves Chicago.”

Where Perry is a happening, Payton is an eternal verity. Perry, like Halley’s Comet, is a sensation so rare he is a magnet to the eyes. Payton, like a sunrise, is a spectacle so dependable he is taken for granted.

“I think Walter’s going to be one of those guys you really don’t appreciate until he’s gone,” Hampton said.

“That guy is unbelievable. We owe him a lot. He singlehandedly carried us to victory yesterday.

“If it wasn’t for Walter, yesterday would have been a fiasco. My mouth would have written a check my butt couldn’t cash.”

Hampton referred to the unflattering remarks he had made about the Packers, which led to more late hits than a ninth-inning rally. The same way Perry has knocked pro football off its high horse with a needed dash of color, Payton lifted Sunday’s game off the low road with a needed touch of class.

Set up TD

Hampton recalled Payton’s run on the play before Perry’s touchdown. It gained no yards, but Hampton said, “He avoided four people to get back to the line of scrimmage. I turned around to Steve McMichael and said, `That’s the greatest run I’ve ever seen in football.’”

After nine games, Payton has crept to within 101 yards of the NFL rushing lead. He trailed only the Jets’ Freeman McNeil and Atlanta’s Gerald Riggs, leading Tony Dorsett by 97 yards before Dorsett’s game last night.

On the all-time list, where Payton’s 14,153 yards are nearly 2,000 ahead of Jim Brown, Dorsett is his closest realistic pursuer. Payton not only leads him by more than three 1,200-yard seasons, he has pulled away from Dorsett the last 2 1/2 years.

Walter the best

“He’s easily the best player in my lifetime,” Hampton said.

“The very best I’ve ever seen, period, at any position,” said Ditka.

But listen to what they’re saying about Payton around the country.

“I just read Larry King said the best running back in the NFL is McNeil,” Ditka said, his tongue finding his cheek. “Larry King! How can you dispute that?”

Payton is even more versatile than Perry. He has punted, returned kickoffs and thrown touchdown passes, although he hasn’t played defense.

“Defense is too hard anyway,” Ditka said, with a wink toward defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan’s assertion that offense must be easy if Perry can do so well there.

Perry brings out the snickers in everybody. Most of all, in Payton. “You can’t help but like a guy with his personality and sense of humor,” Payton says.

Payton is known for an equally likable personality and sense of humor. But he has overshadowed them with performance. “A lot of people can’t identify with Walter,” Hampton says, “because he’s done things no one can do.”

Practically anyone can identify with Perry. Certainly anyone who has had to slide his belt buckle out a notch.

“Nobody here – myself included – would have ever imagined what happened with William,” Ditka said. “The publicity and success he’s had is unbelievable.

“The one thing that shows above all other things is the kid is one heck of an athlete. You know, he can throw the ball, too.”