THE PINEY WOODS 193 PHOTOS COURTESY OF JACKSON STATE UNIVERSITY, DEPARTMENT OF ATHLETICS WALTER PAYTON Famed Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton was born on July 25, 1954 in Columbia to parents Peter and Alyne Payton. After attending John Jefferson High School and Columbia High School, Walter Payton began his football career at Jackson State University, where he majored in Communications and was fourth in line for the Heisman Trophy in 1974. A highly successful running back, Payton completed 3,563 yards and scored sixty-five touchdowns during his college career. In 1975, Payton became the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft when he was chosen by the Chicago Bears. During his first two years with the Bears, Payton earned the nickname “Sweetness” for his humility, and quickly developed a reputation for his speed, agility, and fortitude on the field. In the off-season, Payton was known for his intense training workouts on the sand banks back home in Columbia. In 1977, the football star was chosen as NFL Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player. Eight years later, his hard work paid off when he helped lead the team to a Super Bowl win under Coach Mike Ditka. During his thirteen years with the Bears, Payton completed an impressive 16,726 rushing yards—a league record he held until 2002. He played in the Pro Bowl nine times, and showed his diverse athletic ability for catching passes, for 4,538 yards and fifteen touchdowns. Payton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. Following his retirement, Payton involved himself in several different professional fields and pastimes—including real estate, the restaurant business, and construction. After developing liver disease during his late thirties and early forties, Walter Payton tragically passed away from complications due to bile duct cancer on November 1, 1999 at the young age of forty five. Today, Payton’s legacy lives on through the charitable efforts of the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation.