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"Uh-uh, no, absolutely not. This is business," says Payton when asked whether he'll light any bombs here in his office. "What's that saying—You don't poo-poo where you eat?"
He almost looks hurt. Almost.
"If a car backfires, everybody blames me. I was in an assistant coach's office one day, and all of a sudden—boom!—a firecracker went off in the locker room. Everybody's running around screaming, 'Walter, where are you!' And I said, 'Coach, I've been sitting here with you, and you know it wasn't me, but I'm gonna get blamed for this.' "
Couldn't he have used a delayed fuse?
"I don't know nothing about delayed fuses," says Payton. "Well, in high school and college maybe we did some of that. You know, get an M-80 or a cherry bomb, put a cigarette on it, tape it to the windshield of the car of somebody we didn't like....
"The ones I have now are M-80s," he says, nodding his head. "You can't get silver salutes or a lot of the other things anymore. But you can get M-80s through the government, for farm use only, for varmints. Just drop them in their hole and blow them out. Hey, I'm not gonna say where I get mine. Come on, I'll get in trouble...."
Likewise, there's something almost childishly perverse in the way Payton enjoys punishing tacklers, in blowing them out. "What about the pain they've dealt out to me?" he asks. "Pain is expected in this game." To that end, he has single-handedly reinvented the stiff arm and introduced it to a generation of safeties and cornerbacks. "It's a recoilless rifle," says Adamle. "There are a number of defensive backs in the league with fewer neck vertebrae because of it."
Of course, some tacklers get the whole Payton package. Recently retired Bear center Dan Neal remembers a play against the 49ers a few years ago when Payton ran into defensive end Tommy Hart so hard that the impact knocked the two apart as though they'd been shocked, after which Payton reversed his field and scored from 20 yards out. "And this was back when Hart was really cooking," says Neal. "Just the sound of the collision was something to hear."
To do such things a player must be incredibly strong, and Payton is. He can bench 390 pounds and does sets of leg presses with 700 pounds, and he can walk the width of a football field on his hands. "His strength is a little unusual," says O.J. Simpson, whose 11,236 yards puts him fourth on the rushing list. "In fact, it's amazing. He gets hit good a lot—I mean really tagged—but the next thing you know he's off and running. I broke my share of tackles, but I was never in that league."
There's one other thing about Payton: He won't run out-of-bounds. Running out-of-bounds is a hot issue in this rushing derby, and the reason is that Harris believes in it.