SI Vault
Rick Telander
September 05, 1984
Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears is on target to become pro football's alltime leading rusher this season
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September 05, 1984

He's Aiming To Make History

Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears is on target to become pro football's alltime leading rusher this season

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Getting a negative response, Payton sighs, then rolls up his sweats and slowly wades after the arrow. As he does, one can see the two fresh surgical scars on his knees, marks that look small and unobtrusive amidst the other battle wounds—discoloration from cleatings and turf burns, the scar left from stitching needed to close a cut suffered in a 1978 ABC Superstars competition. Nobody is really worried about his knees, anyway. He ran a 4.5 40 last year, which is about the same as he ran as a rookie. ("I could make him a lot faster just by correcting his arm action," says teammate Willie Gault, a world-class sprinter and hurdler, "but it wouldn't make him a better runner.") And he gained more than 2,000 yards both rushing and receiving last season, for the second time in his career, on those knees. "I don't even think about them," Payton says. "Never."

Back on dry land, he walks off to the site of his house, climbs up on the 12-foot-high foundation and, bow still in hand, roams to and fro on the narrow ledge, pointing out where the bedrooms will be: one for him and Connie; one for son Jarrett, 3; one for the other child they plan to have; and two rooms for guests. Then he's down and charging back to the car.

"What I really wanted was to break Brown's record last year, to do it in nine seasons like he did," Payton says. "But the strike messed things up. Now I want to get there before Franco. Actually, I'd like it to be a battle all year—first him, then me, then him, then me. Franco's a good friend—he's coming to my football camp this summer.... But it'll always be Brown's record, no matter who breaks it."

And what about Tony Dorsett and Earl Campbell, the young guys back there around the 8,000-yard mark, cranking out 1,000-yard-plus seasons year after year?

"If I play three more years and get up near 16,000 yards, hey, let them come on," he says. "Nothing's etched in stone. I told you what I wanted. Not to be remembered as the best runner, but as a guy who gave all he had."

The very act of locomotion is fun for Payton, and he starts singing children's songs as he walks. "A frog went a-courtin', he did ride, uh-huh...." At the car, he takes off his sandals and puts on a pair of cowboy boots.

"These boots were worn by Bear Bryant," he says.

They were?

"No." And he's headed back down to the pond, singing again. "With a sword and a pistol by his side, uh-huh...."

He fires one arrow at a bird, and the arrow misses, hits a log and shatters. Then he takes his remaining arrow and shoots it a tenth of a mile out into the center of the pond. There's nothing calculated to this. He does it because he feels like it.

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