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HBCU Black History Month

Source: iOne Creative Services / Urban One

Well, they call me Sweetness

And I like to dance

Runnin’ the ball is like makin’ romance

Those lyrics come from Walter “Sweetness” Payton famous verse from the Super Bowl Shuffle. Payton and the Chicago Bears went on to defeat the New England Patriots 46-10 in front of a capacity crowd at the New Orleans Superdome, but before he ran with the Bears, he was an alum of Jackson State University.

Payton originally committed to Kansas State University but ultimately decided to attend JSU and play for the Tigers where his older brother Eddie played. Payton rushed for more than 3,500 yards and set the school record for career rushing touchdowns with 65 during his time with the Tigers. Payton also won the coveted Black College Player of the Year twice.

In 1975, The Chicago Bears would pick Payton with the fourth pick of the NFL Draft and while he struggling his rookie season, the legend of Sweetness was on his way impact the Windy City in a way a black athlete had never done.

In 1976, his second season, Payton rushed for 1,390 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. Year three Payton won the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America’s Most Valuable Player awards. In a game versus the Minnesota Vikings, Payton rushed for 275 yards (With the Flu!), breaking the single-game record held by O.J. Simpson. Payton continued to put a pounding on the NFL and on October 7, 1984, he passed legendary running back Jim Brown to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Then in 1985, Payton along with Jim McMahon and a defense led by fellow HBCU athlete Richard Dent (Tennessee State) lead the Bears to a 15-1 regular-season record and a victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl 20.

Payton’s career achievements after his career include: 

  • Super Bowl champion (XX)
  • 9× Pro Bowl (1976–1980, 1983–1986)
  • 7× First-team All-Pro (1976–1980, 1984, 1985)
  • Second-team All-Pro (1986)
  • AP NFL Most Valuable Player (1977)
  • Bert Bell Award (1985)
  • 2× NFC Offensive Player of the Year (1977, 1985)
  • NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1977)
  • NFL Man of the Year (1977)
  • Football Digest NFL Running Back of the Year (1977)
  • NFL rushing yards leader (1977)
  • NFL rushing touchdowns leader (1977)
  • 4× NFL rushing attempts leader (1976–1979)
  • First-team NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
  • First-team NFL 1980s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • Chicago Bears No. 34 retired

Also, the Man of the Year award, presented annually by the NFLhonoring a player’s volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field, was named in his honor.

In November of 1999, Payton passed away from a rare liver disease. His legacy lives on with his wife Connie, his children Jarrett and Brittney, grandchildren and a multitude of fans who still wear the number 34 on their backs to NFL games. Payton is one of the most beloved NFL players of all time: And an HBCU grad.

RELATED: Black History Month HBCU Athlete Spotlight: Doug Williams [Video]

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Black History Month HBCU Athlete Spotlight: Walter Payton  was originally published on