Chicago Sun-Times

NFL Films president high on Bears

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NFL Films president Steve Sabol apparently has a lot of respect for the Bears.

As a guest columnist for Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King today, Sabol listed some superlatives, and prominent Bears were mentioned throughout his piece. And his opinion means something: he and his father Ed created and nurtured NFL Films into the ultimate documentarian of professional football.

When I visited the headquarters in January, I was impressed at the number of Emmys throughout the building. It seemed there were so many, people used them as door stops and paper weights.

Anyway, Sabol picked Dick Butkus as the game's greatest defensive player and Walter Payton as the game's greatest running back.

Of Butkus, Sabol wrote: "A force of unmanageable proportions, he was Moby Dick in a goldfish bowl.

"His career as the middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears stands as the most sustained work of devastation ever committed on a football field by anyone, anywhere, anytime."

On Payton: "Jim Brown was the greatest ball carrier, but no one ever played the position of running back as completely as Payton.

"He was a crushing blocker. I saw him lift blitzers off their feet. When it was required, he was an effective decoy who followed through convincingly on all his fakes. He once led the Bears in kickoff returns. He's Chicago's all-time leading receiver. When he threw passes, he completed most for touchdowns. The Bears threw enough interceptions for Payton's skill as a tackler to be noticed and, in addition to all of that, he missed only one game in his entire career. And when he retired in 1987, he had carried the ball more times for more yards than any player in history."

Sabol also named Gale Sayers the "most thrilled ball carrier" and Brian's Song as his favorite football movie.

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Payton was not the best RB ever, he was the best football player ever. Sayers was the most talented RB, just not the best.

You are exactly right Creighton about Walter. And can we also say that Walter was one of the finest men of character and integrity that ever walked the earth? He truly was a once in a lifetime individual, both on and off the field!!

Michael Jordan is Chicago's best athlete of all time, but Payton is Chicago's most loved. He played with so much heart... unbelievable that he played so long at such a high level on that crappy astroturf with, until his last 4 seasons, mediocre teams. The greatest!!!!!

Walter was by far the greatest RB ever. Was he the most talented? No, but talent doesn't necessarily translate into performance or greatness. There are several factors that people overlook when evaluating Walter Payton. And even the great Steve Sabol did it as well.
#1: Football {along with (believe it or not) Auto racing is the sport where your surrounding "help" most greatly infuences your individual success. And of all the top running backs of all time, Walter, by far had the least amount of help. You look at Emmitt Smith. He had a HOF QB, HOF WR, and eventually 1 of his O linemen will be in the HOF. In fact Nate Allen is regarded by some as one of the top 2 guards in the history iof the league. On top of that, you look at how many Pro Bowl teammates he had over his career. A TE that could stretch the middle of the field. A secondary WR that averaged over 20 yards per catch, and several O linemen that went to the Pro Bowl every yearl.
#2. They say the average life span of an NFL RB is 4 years. Walter played 2 "life spans" before he had his first Pro Bowl lineman in Covert (83). He never had a Pro Bowl QB. (I think McMahon went as an alternate one year.) And, although Gault could stretch a defense, he wasn't a consistent double coverage threat. The only position where Walter's help was comparable is at FB.
#3. The Bears, during the majority of Walter's career were usually coming from behind so his carries in the late 3rd and 4th quarter were significantly less than say a E. Smith, Bettis, Dorsett, or even Barry Sanders. Only later in his career, did the Bear's use Walter that way {some in 84, More in 85 & 86}.
#4. Even though Walter technically only missed 1 game in his career due to injury, he missed almost 3/4 of one in combined games missed due to work stoppages. He missed several games in 82 and then at least 4 or 5 games in 87. My mind is a little hazy, but I remember at least 3 or 4 scab games, plus the NFL cut the season by 1 game. The players of the past 2-3 football "generations" have not known a work stoppage, although this crop of players probably will.
When I look at Walter Payton, I see the greatest of all time based on the factors above, but if the Bears and their management had been better at talent evaluation and drafting {where have we heard that before?} I also see 'what might have been'. He might have had a career that could have been "Gretzky like". Anyway, hope to see some of you at camp in 10-12 days.

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Jensen published on July 19, 2010 9:03 AM.

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