Walter Payton passed away 19 years ago Thursday, but the legendary Hall of Famer is still very much on the minds of Bears nation.
That was especially evident last week when Bears running backs Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham all picked Payton as their favorite former Bears player and were presented with Payton throwback jerseys.
"When you hear about the Chicago Bears, the first person everybody thinks about is Walter Payton," Howard said. "I've seen some films of the things he did and he was pretty amazing. He could run away from you, run through you, run around you, and he never ran out of bounds."
As part of throwback festivities in advance of last Sunday's game against the Jets, all Bears players were asked to identify their favorite ex-Bear. They were then presented with that player's throwback jersey at a Saturday night team meeting.
Payton played his entire 13-year NFL career with the Bears from 1975-87. He was voted to nine Pro Bowls, retired as the league's all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards and set 16 NFL and 27 Bears records. Sweetness was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 in his first year of eligibility.
In 1999, the NFL renamed its Man of the Year award after Payton as a tribute to his greatness both on and off the field. The legendary running back passed away on Nov. 1, 1999 at the age of 45 due to bile duct cancer.
Picking Payton as their favorite former Bears player was an easy choice for the team's three running backs.
"It was a no-brainer," Howard said.
"He's the greatest Bear ever," Cohen said. "His [running] style was just magnificent to watch. He could do it all; he could make you miss and he could lower his shoulder and run you over."
"He's the greatest running back to ever play this game," Cunningham said. "To have the opportunity to play for the same organization is just a privilege."