Walter Payton, aka “Sweetness,” played with the Chicago Bears from 1975 to 1987 and missed only one game in his career. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and is remembered as one of the most prolific running backs in American football history. Hall of Fame NFL player and coach, Mike Ditka, described Payton as the greatest football player he had ever seen—and the greatest human being he had ever known. Payton’s incredible work ethic and humility earned him the respect of players and fans everywhere.
Payton had a 5-feet-10-inch, 200-pound frame and worked out every day, even in the off-season. He was acrobatic and quick but not fast, so he developed his signature “stutter-step” to help break runs and give him the edge on his opponents. He did not believe in running out of bounds and maintained a “never die easy” mentality. He played hard to win, and his determination led him to become the all-time leader in rushing with 16,726 yards and all-purpose yards until 2002, when Emmitt Smith broke his record. Payton also held the single game rushing record until 2000.
What gave Payton the will to achieve such great success? In the following excerpt from his autobiography, Never Die Easy, he attributes his work ethic to how his parents raised him:
“Competing in sports back then was everything. No matter what the game was or how much older and stronger the other kids were, we were taught to give it everything we had until it was over. Never give less than one hundred percent. If you start something, you shouldn’t quit, that is what we were taught. If you’re going to play, you might as well play to be your best.
My mother was a yard person and every summer to keep us out of trouble she’d have this guy to come in and dump this hundred pounds of topsoil in the driveway. She’d want us to spread the topsoil all over the yard. We had one shovel and a wheelbarrow… It was hard work and we were so small then, I was six, seven, eight, Eddie was a couple of years older. But there we were, trying to shovel and push all of this topsoil everywhere… If you want my opinion, there was no reason to spread all that topsoil except to keep us occupied and around the house.
I look back on it now, though and I think that yard work taught me a lot. I learned about working hard and staying with something even though the project seemed overwhelming… You have to imagine how big that huge pile of dirt appeared to a seven-year-old. I used to think we would never finish. We’d just try to make dents in it every day. Which is how you have to approach any kind of work. You have to take things one day at a time… You work as hard as you can for as long as you can and the small gains you make will eventually pay off. Eventually that mountain of dirt will be gone and you can go play baseball or go hunting.”
We can apply Payton’s simple yet powerful formula for success on our own work and lives: Work hard, persevere and commit to do and be our best.