His nickname was “Sweetness” and there was nothing sweeter than watching the great Walter Payton run the ball. Don’t get it confused, within those lines, Payton’s running style was often rugged. He didn’t shy away from tacklers; instead he embraced the physicality. Payton would run over or around defenders on any carry. And sometimes over them at the goal line for the score. From a small college school to the NFL Hall of Fame, Walter Payton embodied what a complete running was. In 1977, Payton put together his best season as a pro.
Walter Payton, Bears Hot and Cold in First Half of Season
Payton started off his 1977 season with a bang. Against the Detroit Lions, he rushed for 160 yards and 2 TDs on 23 carries as the Bears won 30-20. After a tough game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Week 2 (36 yards rushing), Payton bounced back in Week 3 with 140 yards on the ground. It was the 1st of three straight 100 yards games for Sweetness, and he had 10 total in the 14-game season.
In Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers, Payton ran wild. The Bears won 26-0 and their star running back ran for 205 yards and 2 TDs on 23 carries. Although Payton put up good stats, the team wasn’t putting up the wins. They sat at 3-4 and for their season to turn around they needed a spark. If not they were not going to make the playoffs.
Payton Heats Up Down the Stretch
After a humiliating 47-0 loss in week 8 to the Houston Oilers, the Bears were two games under .500 with their season heading south. All they needed was something to get them pointed in the right direction, and that something was Walter Payton.
From weeks 9-13, Payton turned it on. He put up some monster games and as a result the Bears won all five of those games. The rushing stats for the five game stretch were:
- Week 9 – 33 carries, 192 yards, 3 TDs
- Week 10 – 40 carries, 275 yards (NFL Record at the time), 1 TD
- Week 11 – 20 carries, 137 yards, 2 TDs total (1 receiving TD)
- Week 12 – 33 carries, 101 yards, 1 TD
- Week 13 – 32 carries, 163 yards, 2 TDs
The Bears season was now a success due to Payton’s resurgence. They would win their last game of the season and extend their winning streak to six games even though Payton’s 100 yard game streak came to an end. He ended up with only 47 yards but the Bears were headed to the playoffs with a 9-5 record.
The Bears would lose to the eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs but it turned out to be a great season, especially for Sweetness. He finished the year with 1,852 yards. That set a franchise record and was the third highest total in NFL history at the time. For his efforts Payton won the 1977 NFL MVP Award, putting a exclamation mark on his sensational season.