Chicago Sun-Times

Sabol not giving Payton enough credit?

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As Sean Jensen mentioned in an earlier post, Steve Sabol of NFL Films believes Walter Payton is the best all-around running back in NFL history.

Like many of you, I watched every game Payton played in during his Hall of Fame career. While I may not have Sabol's credentials as an NFL historian, I agree that while Payton may not be the best pure runner in league history he was the best all-around back.

But that's not all.

When you consider his skill as a runner, receiver, blocker, passer and tackler (he may have been the surest tackler on the team behind Gary Fencik), you could build a case for Payton as the best all-around FOOTBALL PLAYER in league history.

Frankly, I can't think of another candidate with his all-around skills.

Thoughts?

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15 Comments

Neil, you're absolutely right. He blocked like the 45th man on the roster and in a team game did it almost alone. No disrespect intended to his offensive teammates, but when Walter broke Jim Brown's record in Oct of '84 he had not had a single offensive teammate that had even made the Pro Bowl.

Payton's ability as a blocker is legendary and without question he was the best blocking back in NFL history. I challenge anyone to name a better one. Three games/blocks come to mind; the crunching forearms to the face hit he put on the blitzing Vikings LB in the 1985 Monday night game that allowed Jim McMahon to throw the first TD to Wille Gault, the rolling block he put on a Packers CB that picked the man up and blew the guy ten yards downfield to allow Matt Suhey to walk into the endzone, and my personal favorite, the multiple blocks he put Lawerence Taylor in the 85 playoff game that kept LT out of the Bears backfielfd the whole game. Did LT ever have a sack against the Bears? Walter and I were born in the same year, two weeks apart so I will always have a kinship with this great man.

I think that Walter Payton was the greatest football player of all time without a doubt!

As mentioned above Payton didn't have any help until late in his career. Could you see what kind of numbers he would have had if he played behind the line Emitt Smith and the other offensive weapons to boot for the most part of his. I still don't like the fact that he has the record now, as a pure back I don't think he could have help Paytons jock. As for a back just running only not all around I would have to go Barry Sanders that guy was just stupid. He also played like Payton without much supporting cast. I wouldn't have minded him breaking Sweetness's record.

Neil:

I posted the comments below on Sean's report. I think it was yesterday morning {20th} when I did so. Let me know what you think. I was not born when Kennedy was killed. My two "Kennedy" moments are when George Offman came on the air and reported that Walter had died, and when Dale Earnhardt died at Daytona. Anyway, hope to see you at Camp. Take care.

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.

I have to agree that Sweetness was the greatest all around football player to ever play the game. Let's not forget his 8 td passes, Walter could do it all. Payton also suffered through two strike shortened seassons which reduced his production along with playing in a 14 game season for a good portion of his career. Jim Brown was great, Gale Sayers was Great, berry Sanders was great, but none of them could do all that Sweetness did--the complete running back.

Sorry Tom but I have to disagree with you on Sanders. Sayers was the best pure runner ever. Sanders was great but he had his problems on the goaline and struggle at times with short yardage up the middle. Not much in the way of flaws. All backs have them but Sanders did not run behind a bad line. He had Lomas Brown for 7 years, Kevin Glover his entire career, he also had Eric Sanders who was decent for a few years. He also had Herman Moore stretching the field who was a really good reciever, he also played for a time with guys like Bill Fralik and Rodney Holman, Scott Mitchell who as strange as it may sound had a couple of big years as his QB, and Jeff Hartings. Intresting enough Sanders retired after he lost the three guys who had anchored his offensive line for most of his career.

It would have taken Sanders 2-3 good years at the end of his career to beat Paytons yards from scrimage, not an easy feat in your 30's behind what had become a bad offensive line. Sanders was probably the better pure runner but Payton did everything else better. Sanders career 5.0 yards per attempt rushing is insane. But Payton's 132 yards per game rushing in 77 was just freakish, Payton also went over 2000 yards from scrimage 4 different times in his career, Sanders only did that twice. Payton also lost 7 games to the strike season or his numbers would have been a little higher across the board. Not to mention Sanders spent his entire career in a 16 game season, Payton lost another 4 over a two year period do to a shorter season.

Payton also had 331 yards passing to Sanders 11 yards and had 8 TD's passing as well.

Sanders may have been the better pure runner but it was not by much. What he was great at was he almost never fumbled.

Smith Should never, ever, be mentioned. ever.

As pure runners go OJ Simpson deserves a nod.

Can't forget Eric Dickerson or Dorsett as far as great backs go.

I think running backs today are a bit overrated, with defenses trying to defend these spread style offenses and amazing passing attacks RB's are getting a lot of room to rush. Every guy I listed basically played against run oriented defenses his whole career.

The problem when rating players is you can't measure "Heart"!! Walter Payton gave 110% every play, every game! He is the greatest ATHLETE of all time, any sport!!!

With all due respect to MJ, the pounding over the course of a career makes me respect Walter all the more. I agree with Tripper.

Creighton, nice post, I agree with everything you said, even the part about Emmitt Smith.

My top three are Walter Payton at #1, Barry Sanders at #2, and Jim Brown at #3, as far as all-time backs go. Some of the other names you threw out there are good also, even O.J. But I think a forgotten man is Curtis Martin. The guy went over a 1000 yards for 10 straight seasons, 1995-2004, and in the NFL, thats no easy feat. The only other guys to ever do that are Barry Sanders 1989-1998, and Emmitt Smith 1991-2001. Martin finished up his career with 14,101 yards rushing (4th all-time behind Smith, Payton, and Sanders) with a 4.0 yard avg. Can you imagine the kind of numbers Martin would have put up had he played on those Dallas teams Smith played on, especially behind that line Smith got to run behind, just a thought now GO BEARS!!

For the record, Walter only played 3 of his 13 years with a 14 game schedule {75-77}. 10 years it was 16.
And please, for the love of the game, don't be foolish and mention Barry Sanders. The "run and shoot" offense was ideal for a back like him. All you ever heard about was how Sanders didn't have a TE to block for him. Come on, are you serious? The run and shoot was ingenious from the standpoint that it created horrible mismatches in the running game. Hmm, what did the offense force the defense to do? It forced them to remove 2 linebackers and replace them with back up DB's. So, at the snap of the ball, the defensive backfield is in an almost full sprint backward and you hand the ball off to a 5'8" shifty running back with tree trunks for thighs. Now instead of a 230-250# linebacker trying to stop Sanders, it's 185# DB's. I remember Cousins, Lemule, "Lemon head" Stinson, Veste Jackson, and the rest of the Bear's secondary running down the sideline with Sanders trying to get him out of bounds. Remember this interesting fact about Sanders. He lead the league almost every year in 2 categories. Runs over 20 yards and runs that were stopped behind the line of scrimmage. Basically, if your DL didn't get him behind the line of scrimmage, then he was out in the secondary shifting from one lane to the other while a 6'4" 220# Hermann Moore was out there throwing blocks for him. Fontes was an idiot, but he was no dummy. People used to criticize him for taking sanders out in goal line situations, but when the field was shortened, you could bring your LB's back in and it made Sanders less effective.
And in my opinion, the most talented back of all time might have been Bo Jackson. What a specimen.

You know what Kevin I did forget Martin, he was a stud.

Yeah Gearheadboy lots of people forget about Herman Moore and the fact that Sanders actually had some pretty good talent around him. What he never really had was a QB, outside of Mitchell having a couple of great years. But it was a running team to begin with anyway.

Gearheadboy, you make some nice points about the run and shoot, but Barry Sanders didn't spend his entire career in this offense. From 1989 to 93, but from 1994 on, Detroit used a lot of 3 receiver sets with a tight end as their base offense. In fact, in 1995 Detroit's offensive coordinator was Tom Moore (you probably know him from his days in Indy), and like Indy, Detroit useds a lot of 3 receiver sets with a tight end. As far as when Sanders played in a classic 2 receiver set with a tight end and a fullback going against 3 linebackers in 1997, all he did was rush for over 2000 yards (his best season rushing as a pro), oh yeah, that was in his 9th season. So I don't know if I would say the run and shoot made Sanders, or that its foolish to mention Sanders as a great back, which he was. If the guy could put up 2000 in his 9th season with a lead blocker, he had fullbacks Tommy Vardell & Corey Schlesinger that season, think what he could have done as a younger back had he had a lead blocker vs running in the run and shoot where he was left wide open a lot of the time GO BEARS!!

In league history is going back a long way. Jim Thorpe? Bronko Nagurski? Red Grange? Maybe some of the old timers couldn't get on the field now. But if the prima donnas now were on the field back then, a lot of them wouldn't last long regardless of skills or ability - they're not anywhere near tough enough. Payton was a truly great player all the way around, and a great guy on top of it. But somebody must have another serious nomination for Greatest NFL Player Ever.

Kevin:

You're right, I did forget about the mid to late 90's. I do consider him a great back, but not in the mention of the greatest of all time. And it's funny how O.J. wasn't really mentioned. And all kidding aside, he was a great complete back. Creighton you're correct too about the QB thing at Detroit. Or lest we forget an Erik Kramer..lol. Any of you gentlemen going to be in Bourbonais? Take care.

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