Friday, November 19, 2010

Reading the following got a good laugh out of me, and then got me interested in learning some more about Walter Payton.

Sure, Leaf and Russell were bigger busts. [Rusty] Lisch, after all, was a fourth-round pick who had backed up Joe Montana at Notre Dame. But if you have one game you need to lose, and you require a quarterback to take you there, Lisch is -- hands down -- the man you want. In 115 career attempts he threw one touchdown and 11 interceptions. That one touchdown came in St. Louis on Oct. 9, 1983. The pass traveled a single yard, to tight end Doug Marsh. With Neil O'Donoghue's extra point, the Redskins' lead was cut to 31-14 -- late in the contest.

One year later, with Jim McMahon and Steve Fuller hurt, Lisch started a game for the Bears against Green Bay. He played so poorly that Mike Ditka pulled him. For Walter Payton.
I don't think I saw that game, but I remember hearing about it, and you can see Payton playing quarterback in this game on YouTube. He tosses one in for a touchdown around the eight minute mark, although that contest turned out to be a losing effort.

More worthwhile is the below highlight reel. I recommend muting once you reach the start of the "Super Bowl Shuffle" and advancing to the one minute mark for the football.

As I've noted before, lots of work goes into making something this demanding look easy, and Payton's running was no exception:
One part of Payton's conditioning regimen took on mythic proportions in the football world. For several months before the start of each N.F.L. season, he would run up a steep hill near his Illinois home about 20 times a day. Sometimes he would bring along teammates or local college players. "I enjoy seeing them try it once or twice, and then vomit," he said.
And Payton brought his mind to bear on the game as well:
One of Payton's signature maneuvers was the "stutter-step," a high-stepping, irregularly paced run. He developed this as a way to distract his pursuers during long runs, saying that it startled them into thinking and gave him some advantage over players who were actually faster runners. In his autobiography, he likened the stutter step to a kind of "option play": when he was stutter-stepping, defenders would have to commit to a pursuit angle based upon whether they thought he would accelerate after the stutter-step, or cut[. H]e would read this angle and do the opposite of what the defender had committed to.
In my reading, I was surprised to learn that, despite his impressive contracts as a player, and his untimely demise, Payton made far more money as a businessman after his playing career came to a close.
To millions of fans in Chicago and around the world he was known affectionately as "Sweetness," the name he earned for the way he both played on the field and carried himself off it. Payton was successful in business as well as sports; he had interests in restaurants, real estate, banking, construction, and, particularly, auto racing.
Wikipedia elaborates more on the nickname:
The nickname's origin was ambiguous: it is variously said to have stemmed from his personality, from his athletic grace, or as an ironic description of his aggressive playing style.
Regarding this aggressiveness, New York Times states more than once that Payton was unapologetic for it.
The sparks flew when Payton carried the ball. He was aggressive rather than graceful. He ran with power and would never go out of bounds if he could pound out an extra yard or two. He excused the way he punished tacklers by saying: "What about the pain they've dealt out to me? Pain is expected in this game."
What a refreshing thing to hear by contrast to some of the choir-boys who take the field today!

All I knew about Walter Payton as I was growing up was his prowess as a football player, but even that I didn't fully appreciate back then. So I'm glad I took out a few extra minutes this morning to learn more about the man. The sports media pay lots of misguided lip-service to the idea of sacrifice, so I naturally grow leery when I hear great athletes such as Payton lauded as great human beings. In this case, though, I think some more time down the road learning about Walter Payton will be well spent.

-- CAV


Kevin McAllister said...

Thanks for the article. In my life I've watched hours of the various NFL films produced shows, and one of my favorites that I never tire of watching is the one on Walter Payton. He absolutely punished tacklers or would-be-tacklers at the end of his runs.

Gus Van Horn said...

Sure thing! I hadn't seen highlights of his in ages, and didn't watch much football when I was younger. (Not that I really get to see that much now, either...)