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Walter Payton Made History 37 Years Ago Today

By Chuck Sudo in News on Nov 20, 2014 4:30PM

The 2014 Chicago Bears are demanding our attention these days for their quality of play and not in a good way. While the cries for Marc Trestman's job and Jay Cutler's head grow, let's look back to a happier time.

In 1977 a young running back from Jackson State University named Walter Payton was in his third season with the Bears. Payton rushed for 1,390 yards and scored 13 touchdowns the previous year but 1977 was his breakout season. He rushed for 1,852 yards, scored 16 touchdowns, led the NFL in scoring and won MVP awards from the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America.

But Payton's best game of the season came on a rainy day Nov. 20, 1977 when he rushed for a then-record 275 yards in a 10-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field. Payton amassed that total on 40 carries (a 6.875 yards per carry average) and had a long run of 58 yards. Payton, as he did throughout his career, didn't run past defenders as he did through them. Tribune reporter Don Pierson, reflecting on Payton's accomplishment a decade later, wrote that Payton could have broken OJ Simpson's single game record earlier in the season against Green Bay but coach Jack Pardee pulled him with the Bears leading 26-0. Payton was on pace to not only break Simpson's record in that game, but Gale Sayers' team record.

"Payton was upset," Pierson wrote. "He thought the Bears were protecting Sayers. He let the Bears know he was not happy about it."

Adding to the legendary stature of Payton's accomplishment was the fact he was suffering from the flu—a "flu game" in Chicago sports lore 20 years before Michael Jordan had to be assisted off the court by Scottie Pippen during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.

"I had hot and cold flashes on Wednesday and felt weak," Payton said.

"I didn`t even think I was going to play. You put your faith in God and he`ll take care of you. I was hoping he would do so today, and he did."

Payton, of course, went on to become the Bears' all-time leading rusher. His 16,726 career rushing yards are good for second all-time in the NFL behind Emmitt Smith.