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Walter Payton (True) Rookie Cards

With their 1st Round Pick of the 1975 NFL Draft the Chicago Bears selected Walter Payton, from Jackson State College. Walter Payton has one true rookie card.

Walter Payton the Warrior

Chicago’s biggest sports icons are Michael Jordan and Walter Payton. Similar to Michael, Walter was determined to be the best. He wasn’t the biggest by football standards, coming in at 5′ 10″ tall and weighing 200 lbs.

But he’s considered by many, the most complete football player in the history of the game. When I say “complete” I’m referring to more than his assigned running back position.

Walter was an excellent pass receiver, blocked like a 300 pound offensive lineman, and even passed for 8 career touch downs!

If that doesn’t impress you, perhaps his unquenchable thirst for hitting opposing defenders will. He enjoyed the contact. He wanted to inflict the most pain. Look at any clip of him, and you will see his determination to run over defenders by plowing right into them.

Walter Payton was tough, and powerful. Defenders knew that they too, were going to get hit.

Did I mention his leaping ability? If it were 1st and goal within the two-yard line Walter had a leaping ability that mimic’d the The Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

On the field Walter was a warrior, and off the field he carried himself with class and dignity.

Walter Payton Breaks Jim Brown’s Record

Walter Payton’s relentless pursuit of greatness eventually found him with an opportunity to break Jim Brown’s All-Time Rushing Record. On October 7, 1984, he did just that. At the time, many believed it was equivalent to Hank Aaron breaking Ruth’s home run record.

This record was essential to Walter, and one of his biggest cheerleaders was Jim Brown himself, who has nothing but admiration for Walter Payton.

Jim Brown recalls the first time he saw Walter Payton run,

I don’t know the game, but I can tell you the moment. The first time I saw him was on television. I didn’t know who he was, and I saw him make this one run. He fought for every inch. He twisted and knocked 3 or 4 guys over, spun around, and accelerated. I said, oh my goodness! What kind of animal is this? Who is this guy?!

Why the Nickname Sweetness?

Walter Payton earned the nickname Sweetness but there was no sugar coating his dominance on the field. Was it his sweet running style or his personality?

The nickname came in college just before entering the NFL. The urban slang term “Sweet” was trending at that time. The term was short for “how sweet it is.” During practice for a bowl game, a couple of teammates referred to his running style as sweet.

The term stuck and evolved to Sweetness. But what were they referring to? Well, it’s what I consider Walter Payton’s secret weapon or Super Hero ability.

His secret weapon was a stutter step that he would do. When running at high speed and he would notice a defender was coming at him, he would do this stutter-step with a slight cut.

This move forced the defender to adjust too but by that time Payton was gone! He goes on to explain it this way,

Football is a game of angles and seconds, and if you can change the angles then you’ve got the edge.

Walter Payton died on November 1, 1999 of a rare liver disease. He was only 45 years old.

Career Stats & Accomplishments

According to Walter Payton career stats are:

Games 190 | Rushed 3,838 | Yards 16,726 | Touch Downs 110


  • 9x Pro-Bowler
  • 5x All-Pro
  • 1x Super Bowl Champion (1985)
  • 1977 MVP
  • 1977 All-Pro Offensive Player of the Year
  • 1985 Bert Bell Award
  • Hall of Fame All-1970s Team
  • Hall of Fame All-1980s Team
  • 1993 Hall of Fame Induction

1976 Topps, #148

The lone true rookie card of Walter Payton can be found in the 1976 Topps set, card number 148. It’s a 528 card set released in a single series.

A fantastic portrait photo of Walter Payton was used, in which the smirk gives it a Mona Lisa type feel to it.

I love the football with team name but must admit it reminds me of one of those chocolate Easter eggs due to that green color.

The card back is divided up into three sections: player name and bio, excellent commentary pertaining to Sweetness, and an unrelated trivia question. Personally, I like the card number inside the helmet.

Oddly enough the Topps logo is not on the card front instead it’s on the back upper right corner. Of all the Topps logo designs this one is my favorite.

1976 Disc Walter Payton

Although released in 1976 it would be a stretch to call these rookie cards. In fact, we would error in doing so. A more realistic identifier would be Rookie-Year Cards. These are food and beverage issues released for Crane Potato Chips, Coca-Cola, and a regional issue for the Philadelphia School District – SAGA.

1977 Topps, #3

There aren’t many options for early Walter Payton cards. His true rookie card featured above is the very first image of him on card board.

There are no postcards, nor O-Pee-Chee brands for mid ’70s football but we do have this very nice 2nd year card or should I say Post-Rookie Theme card.

For cards before 1981, or should I say, for vintage, these types of cards have become a legit viable option. They have become a collecting niche, especially when the rookie card gets out of reach monetarily. The reason? Because they still capture the player early on in their careers.

This is a very unique card because it shows the 1976 Rushing Leaders. It’s unique due to the love-hate relationship “the hobby” has with any cards of O.J. Simpson.

For those who don’t know O.J. Simpson was arrested and charged with murdering his girlfriend but was found NOT guilty due to a high profile trial in the early ’90s.

1977 Topps, #360

The 1977 Topps Football set is also a 528 card set released in a single series.

Another great option features Walter Payton by himself celebrating his All-Pro selection due to his 1,390 rushing yards in the 1976 season. Great card design giving us plenty of color and the card back has lots of great commentary.

1977 Topps Mexican, #360

If rarity and oddball cards are your cup of tea you’re in luck. This 528 card set mimics the 1977 Topps brand entirely with only one exception, it’s written entirely in Spanish with zero English translation.

“This was a one-off set printed in New Mexico City and distributed only in Mexico” says, Jim Ragsdale, long time PSA Set Registry Collector of 1977 Topps Mexican.

The printing quality is very crude. Low-quality paper stock, and perforated, it’s believed these were hand torn and inserted into packs that were horribly correlated. Therefore, making some cards hard to find. Overall these were printed in a much smaller supply.

Please note there is also card #3 that features Payton and O.J. Simpson.

Currently, PSA Population reports show only 79 of these Topps Mexican cards have been graded. Really interesting and a viable option for any Walter Payton or Hall of Fame collector.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.