HBCU Athlete Profile: Walter Payton, Jackson State University

On this edition of the HBCU Athlete Profile, we highlight College and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton a.k.a. Sweetness who played for the Tigers of Jackson State University from 1971-1974.

Walter Payton’s breakout performance with the Tigers came in his sophomore season against Lane College in which he scored a SWAC single game record seven touchdowns and ran for a Jackson State school record 279 rushing yards a game in which they won by a score of 72-0.

Payton had a very accomplished college career with Jackson State as he was named a Black College All-American three times and a FCS All-American twice. In addition, he was named the SWAC Player of the Year in 1973 and Black College Player of the Year in his junior and senior seasons.

Jackson State won a share of the SWAC championship three times with Walter Payton finishing with a 31-11 overall record and an 18-6 SWAC conference record. Walter Payton ended his college career amassing 3,500 rushing yards averaging 6.1 yards per carry and scoring 65 rushing touchdowns.

In 1996, Payton was named to the College Football Hall of Fame and was named to the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

At the end of his college career, Walter Payton would make the transition to the NFL as he was selected fourth overall in the 1975 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He would go on to play his entire 13-year with the Bears.

In the five seasons, following rookie season, Payton rushed for over 1,300 yards in each season and scoring over 10 rushing touchdowns four times. This led to him making the Pro Bowl each season while being named a first-team All-Pro three times .

The 1977 season would prove to be Walter Payton’s best at the professional ranks as he would be named league MVP and AP Offensive Player of the Year. This season, Payton led the league in rushing yards (1,852), rushing touchdowns (14), yards from scrimmage (2,121), and all-purpose yards (2,216).

Walter Payton winning league MVP made him the first HBCU alum to win the AP NFL MVP award. Beyond the amazing stats posted by Walter Payton in the 1977 season, his most impressive accomplishment from that season was leading the Bears back to the playoffs for the first time since 1963 despite being one of only two pro bowlers and the only All-Pro player on the team.

It was in the 1985 season where Walter Payton would win the Super Bowl alongside a Bears defense widely regarded as one of the greatest defenses the NFL has ever seen. Payton posted 61 rushing yards on 22 carries in the Super Bowl victory.

For his career, Walter Payton was named to nine Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro teams, the 1970s and 1980s All-Decade teams, the 75th and 100th All-Time Anniversary teams.

Payton ranks second in NFL history in career rushing yards (16,726) in NFL history, third in career yards from scrimmage (21,264), and fifth in career rushing touchdowns in NFL history (110).

In 2019, he was named the number one Chicago Bear of all-time by the team on their list of the 100 Greatest Chicago Bears players of all-time and was named a member of the Bears’ all-time team. In 1993, Walter Payton was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Following his unfortunate passing in 1999, the NFL named its NFL Man of the Year award after him officially named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.


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