JANS – They called him “Sweetness” for his graceful running style with the Chicago Bears. His name is Walter Payton, a record-setting running back for Jackson State University from 1971 to 1975.
Payton is among the slate of individuals who will be honored by the Southwestern Athletic Conference Alumni Association (Association) during its annual Legends Awards and Roast on Saturday, May 20, 2023, at 7 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Ridgeland at 200 Township Place. The event annually honors former student-athletes as well as former or current coaches, athletics administrators, and staff members who have had positive impacts on the historic conference. Payton will receive the Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award (posthumously) and it will be accepted by a member of the Payton Award.
A native of Columbia, Miss., Payton set numerous records while receiving many awards and honors. When he completed his playing career at Jackson State, he had set records for career rushing yards (3,600), average yards per carry (6.1), career rushing touchdowns (65), rushing touchdowns in a season (24), touchdowns scored in a single game (7), and most points scored in a career (464). He was named first-team All-SWAC in 1972, 1973, and 1974. He was named SWAC Offensive MVP in 1974 and he was named to several All-America teams. He also was a candidate for the Heisman Trophy his senior year.
In 1975, Payton was drafted in the first round (4th player picked) by the Chicago Bears and the first running back selected in the ‘75 draft. He went on to become an extraordinary running back for the Bears, once holding records for career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, yards from scrimmage, all-purpose yards, and many other categories.
Some of Payton’s NFL highlights during his 13-year career with the Bears include Super Bowl champion, NFL MVP (1977), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1977), five time All Pro, 110 rushing touchdowns, and most consecutive NFL starts by a running back (170).
Payton retired from the NFL after the 1987 season and in 1993, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Additional honors and awards he received include being named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1994 and the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2019. In 1999, the NFL renamed its Man of the Year Award the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in recognizing an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field.
Among Payton’s collegiate honors are inductions into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Jackson State Sports Hall of Fame, and the SWAC Hall of Fame. Payton died in 1999 after suffering from a rare liver disease at age 46.
Tickets for the Association’s Legends Awards and Roast are $75 each or $600 for a table of eight. For questions regarding ticket and table purchases, contact Alvin Moore at email@example.com or (205) 222-1044.
Proceeds from the Legends Awards and Roast benefit the SWAC Alumni Association Degree Completion Scholarship Fund, which provides financial support to student-athletes in the conference whose eligibility has expired and who are within 30 hours of graduating.