It can be hard to pin down "the best there ever was" in any given field, but that doesn't stop anyone from trying. Obviously, some claims are more defensible than others. If I say that Chef Boyardee is the supreme master of Chinese cuisine, you'll probably find that information at least somewhat suspect. If I remind you that our own Poe Ghostal is history's greatest belly dancer, well, everyone knows that's true. The subject of this review has a legitimate claim to being the best football player ever.
In 13 seasons with the Chicago Bears from 1975 to 1987, Walter Payton literally rewrote the NFL record book with his ball-carrying feats. He rushed 3,838 times for 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns - all records. He also caught 492 passes for 4,538 yards and 15 more touchdowns.
Altogether, he scored 125 touchdowns, second most ever, and he accounted for a record 21,803 combined net yards. He was the League MVP two years after his debut and two years before his retirement. He went to nine Pro Bowls, and although his record for career rushing yards has been broken now, he still holds three other rushing records. His nickname, "Sweetness," referred not to his playing style, but to his personality off the field, where he was a jovial, good-natured prankster. He was a hard-hitter on the field, but only missed one game in his career: a bruised thigh sidelined him in his rookie year, but he went on to play in 186 consecutive games after that.
Sweetness is part of McFarlane's second series of NFL Legends, the football equivalent of the Cooperstown Collection, which gave us guys like Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken. Following the trend of McToys' other Bears figures, he was the hardest to find in this series. Never underestimate the appeal of the Monsters of the Midway.
Payton was known for his distinctive high-stepping gait, which wasn't just for show. Instead of running on his heels, like most people, he stayed up on his toes and the balls of his feet; that way, if he was hit in the legs, the chances of injury were much lower. The strength required to run like this also made him more mobile and pretty agile - which is why this figure is leaping a good 4" in the air.
The pose is taken directly from a game against Detroit
- week 10 in the '87 season is the most likely suspect, according to the fine folks at BearsHistory.com. He's got a hurdler's stance, with his left leg out in front and his right leg bent. The ball is tucked into his right elbow and his left arm is up for balance. His eyes show determination, and his face mask is sculpted as a curved piece - the early NFL Sports Picks had flat masks wrapped around the head, and they didn't work too well.
Now, just because Payton ran oddly to avoid getting hurt, that doesn't mean he was afraid to take a hit. Where most running backs will head for the sidelines if it looks like they're about to get creamed by a defender, Sweetness took the hit to them. He'd lean into the tackle, which not only threw off the timing of the hit, but would often help him gain an extra yard or two -
the hit would stand him right back up again, instead of knocking him down. Often, it was the defender who ended up on the turf, watching Payton high-step away down the field.
The sculpt is good, but we wouldn't expect any less from McFarlane. There's actually more detail on the figure than on the source photo - you can assume that Todd's sculptors, knowing how cloth should wrinkle and bunch given the pose, extrapolated (or exaggerated) what was there. He moves at the sleeves and the neck, but since this is intended to capture a specific moment, you don't need a lot of range.
There is a surprising amount of movement in one area:
the stand that hold him in the air. Rather than just a plain metal rod, the stand is capped by a large plastic plug that allows the figure to rotate a bit, and is also hinged. This is a really nice, sturdy stand, and it plugs into the 5½" x 3½" turf base tightly.
Though Walter Payton is best known for his running, he was an all-around star. There was almost no position he couldn't play. He made nearly 500 receptions in his career, and on a few occassions served as quarterback, throwing beautiful, accurate passes. He could punt and kick, and was proud of his ability to block the rush, giving his quarterback more time to find an opening. He was a star for one skill, but he certainly didn't lack the rest. The one achievement he missed in his career was a biggie, though: he never scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Payton and the Bears won the 1985 championship, but when they were down on the goal line, Coach Mike Ditka gave the ball to William "The Refrigerator" Perry
instead, counting on the surprise to throw off the defense. It worked, but Ditka says not giving Sweetness the score is one of his biggest regrets.
The paint on the figure is good, particularly the small details: check out the "GSH" on his sleeve, the tiny 34s on his gloves and "Sweetness" printed on the towel at his waist. The 11/22/87 game against Detroit (which the Bears won 30-10) was at Soldier Field, so Payton is in his home colors: a blue jersey and white pants. There was a variant available in a white jersey and blue pants, but considering how hard it was to find the regular Walter, hunting down the variant seems an impossible task.
In February 1999, Walter Payton showed his mettle in another area: his private life. He announced that he had a rare liver disease which soon spawned a tumor. Just like when he was playing, he leaned into the hit, using his fame as a means to increase awareness of the need for organ donors. Proving that he was a real man, when he was offered the chance to move to the top of the recipient list, he declined - he didn't want someone else to die because of him. When Sweetness died on November 1, 1999, the entire Chicagoland area felt it. The guy was a hero on and off the field - like Ditka said, "he's the best football player ever, period."
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