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EXCERPT | Oct. 15, 1984
Up and Over
Sweetness leaped to No. 1 on the NFL's rushing list
October 11, 2009
Walter (Sweetness) Payton was 30 years old and making his 126th straight start when Rick Telander chronicled this historic game:
With 14:11 to go in the third quarter of the Bears' game with the Saints at Soldier Field, Walter Payton ran past Jim Brown and into a shimmering new realm. He gained six yards on a Toss-28-Weak—the 2-back, Payton, wide left through the 8-hole on the weak side—and thereby increased his career rushing total to 12,317 yards, five more than Brown gained in his nine seasons with the Browns. At that instant Payton, in the sixth game of his 10th NFL season, became the top runner in the history of pro football.
For weeks Payton had been trying to ignore the pressure building around him. Before the Dallas game the previous week, he had been so pumped up with anticipation that he'd nearly passed out. "I've never felt like that," he said. "It sort of scared me. I really couldn't see anybody unless they were two feet in front of me." Against the Cowboys, Payton had 155 yards, 67 short of what he needed to surpass Brown.
After his 154 yards on 32 carries against the Saints, Payton had a total of 12,400 yards. It was his fifth straight 100-yard-plus game and the 59th of his career, which broke another of Brown's records, and he leads the NFL in rushing this season with 775 yards. Payton is running wild. He says he's headed for 15,000 yards, and it's hard to believe he won't get there. "I had my 11,000-mile tune-up in the off-season [arthroscopic surgery on each knee], and I feel great," he says. "The way you think is the way you are. And I think I'm 23."
Payton, who died of liver disease in 1999, retired with 16,726 yards; Emmitt Smith passed that total in '02 and had 18,355.
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