The Chicago Bears' Walter Payton was once called an "insane" runner by O. J. Simpson. By "insane," Simpson explained, "I mean there often is no rhyme or reason to what the runner does, but it all works out. It's an instinct."
O.K., O.J., now move over and make room for Walter Payton in the NFL record book. Maybe you even ought to let Walter take your place in those Hertz commercials while you're recovering from your knee operation. Then again, maybe you shouldn't, because Payton says he "hates red lights" and has chosen " Mississippi Maniac" as his CB handdle. But the least you can do for Payton after what he did last Sunday, O.J., is arrange a screen test for him with some of your Hollywood friends.
What Walter Payton did against the Minnesota Vikings at Chicago's Soldier Field was rush, gallop, stomp, cut, dive and squirm for a total of 275 yards to break by two yards the NFL single-game rushing record that Simpson set last Thanksgiving Day against the Detroit Lions. What Payton also did was lead the Bears to a 10-7 win over the Fran Tarkenton-less Vikings, which narrowed first-place Minnesota's lead in the NFC Central Division over onrushing Chicago to just one game.
"He's the best back in football," said Viking Coach Bud Grant. "I can't say anything about him that hasn't been said before. If I were better with words, maybe I could, but I'm not."
Payton—they call him Sweetness—has never been much of a word man, either, preferring to express himself with his feet. Following his record-shattering performance he kept repeating the names of the Bears' young offensive linemen—Tackles Ted Albrecht and Dennis Lick, both 23; Guards Revie Sorey, 24, Noah Jackson, 26; and Center Dan Peiffer, 26.
"They opened the holes and I just ran," said the 23-year-old Payton. "We just kept running sweeps and stringing out the Minnesota defense. It paid off. By the end of the game it seemed like the Vikings were tired. But our guys are young, they eat the right things, they get the right sleep and they weren't tired."
Payton, though, was tired even before the game. He was suffering the effects of a flu attack that had kept him in bed all Thursday and most of Friday. "I didn't think I could do too much when I came out for the introductions," he said. Payton isn't much of a thought man, either.
On Chicago's first play Quarterback Bob Avellini handed Payton the ball, and off he darted to the right side behind Sorey's block. "When he gets around me," Sorey says, "I know he's gonna get at least five yards." Payton got around Sorey and rumbled for 29. The show was on. When the quarter ended, Payton had carried 13 times for 77 yards.
He passed the 100-yard mark—for the seventh time in Chicago's 10 games—on his 22nd carry, and at the half he had carried 26 times for 144 yards. There was nothing complicated about Payton's M.O. He attacked to his right again and again and again. In fact, Payton ran to his left only twice in the first half.
"I wish I had Payton's line in front of me," said Minnesota Running Back Chuck Foreman, who gained only 54 yards against the Bears. "There's no line that good, other than maybe St. Louis', and because the Chicago guys are so young, there's no limit to what Payton will be able to do."