A few days ago I threw up a poll on the WCG Twitter account asking if Walter Payton is the greatest football player of all time. I prefaced it by reminding voters to take all aspects of the sport into consideration, but I knew the results would be overwhelmingly in favor of Sweetness. We are a Chicago Bears account after-all, so it was no surprise that over 70% of the vote went to the Bears’ all-time leader in rushing yards, receptions, and touchdowns, that also excelled as a blocker, that threw for 8 TD passes, returned kicks early in his career, and even ripped off a punt during his thirteen years in Chicago, Walter Jerry Payton.
Picking the G.O.A.T. in a sport with so many different positions is tough, but the argument laid out by our resident historian, Jack M Silverstein, in another of his spectacular Twitter threads at @readjack is a must read.
Like I said: Football should not have a GOAT. The differences in positions are too great, both within a certain time (2019 WRs vs 2019 edge rushers, for instance) and within positions but across time (2019 WRs vs 1979 flankers vs 1939 ends).— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
But any way that we can think about a football GOAT, Walter Payton qualifies.— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
Let’s start here: physicality. pic.twitter.com/cznjqWwqbh
Football is defined by its physicality. Blocking and tackling. Hitting people. To me, if football GOAT is possible, it’s got to be someone for whom hitting is part of the game. I’m prone to running backs, linemen, linebackers, safeties. No QBs for me. pic.twitter.com/xZ7ja95OOm— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
Jack’s “no QBs” argument really takes shape a little further down the thread, so for all you Tom Brady or Joe Montana stans out there, stay tuned...
Football is also an intellectual game. That’s it’s beauty: the strategy mixed with the muscle. In that respect, quarterbacks for sure qualify, but so do many others, especially middle linebackers and centers.pic.twitter.com/3flsiPngNq https://t.co/Cy3K5SPcLp— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
I think the essence of a football player also requires speed, power and versatility. If GOAT is possible in football, the football GOAT must check those boxes. That gives us five categories so far:— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
For those scoring at home, Sweetness is 5 for 5 so far, but the qualifications don’t stop there...
I think the GOAT football player must be a great leader, respected by teammates, opponents and coaches.— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
Have you ever heard a teammate, or an opponent for that matter, say anything negative about Payton? The NFL Man of the Year Award was renamed in 1999 to the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, and it recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. Payton won the award after his third season as a pro, 1977, and that was also the year he was named Offensive Player of the Year and league MVP.
I think the GOAT football player (if that’s even possible) also has the basics of GOATness:— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
✔️Greatness across multiple seasons
✔️A sustained run as clear-cut best in the game at his position
✔️A legendary peak
Walter’s 1977 MVP season was that peak.pic.twitter.com/i9FjHc4Q6L
Now here is where this gets really interesting.— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
Again, I don’t think GOAT is possible in football. But if it is possible, shouldn’t it be someone with the greatest breadth of skills as possible? pic.twitter.com/G8CfC3i4Im
Yes, Payton did actually play some quarterback in an NFL game, and while his numbers didn’t pop as a passer that day, I have no doubt that if an offensive coordinator had to design a full game-plan around Sweetness as a QB, he’d be able to get the job done.
And speaking of quarterbacks, here’s where Jack puts the Brady or Montana argument out to pasture.
This is where I think we cut all quarterbacks out of the GOAT debate, plus even Jerry Rice:— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
A team of 11 Walter Paytons on either side of the ball beats a team of 11 of any other player ever.
And let’s add in Walter at kicker and punter.pic.twitter.com/LdcCG3VQBc
Jack goes on to throw some scenarios of 11 vs 11 all-time match-ups in a few Twitter polls, so make sure you peruse all of those so you don’t miss any of his thread.
He also presents some polls about Payton being able to be successful in any era of the National Football League. With his all around skill set he would definitely thrive in the iron-man era going both ways playing as a single wing tailback or quarterback on offense and as a defensive back or maybe even a linebacker on defense.
Now let’s account for time travel, since the AT in GOAT is pretty damn important.— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
Walter Payton could dominate in all 10 decades of the NFL. pic.twitter.com/A5bTVFhqtA
This is a great quote supplied by @gridironborn, and it raised an important nuance. Could 11 Nagurskis beat 11 Paytons in the 1930s? Maybe. But could 11 Nagurskis beat 11 Paytons in the 2010s? Or the 1970s? Or the 1920s? I would bet on Payton.https://t.co/tGL3jqwurR https://t.co/I2Y9ci7SBx— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
Bronko Nagurski is probably the only all-timer that would give Payton a run for his money in a hypothetical 11 on 11 match-up. Bronko could run, pass, block, kick, play defense, and while probably not as fast as Payton, he would have the size advantage at 6’2”, 226 to Payton’s 5’10, 200 pounds.
It’s hard to do these cross-era things but Bronko is compelling because he also played professionally two ways. Walter was insane but Bronko would have the upper hand on defense.— Sam Householder (@SamHouseholder) June 28, 2020
But back to Sweetness...
With his ability to block and catch, Payton’s greatness transcends time and scheme.
How about the current game? How would Walter Payton look in a dual-threat role like Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey? I’m going to say he’d still be great. pic.twitter.com/Jtwh6xV1fC— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
For me the most impressive thing Payton did was have so much success while being the only legit offensive weapon on the Bears for the majority of his career. Did you know the Bears didn’t have another Pro Bowl player on offense during Payton’s first 10 years in the league?
Again, I don’t think we should talk football GOAT. But I do think Walter Payton was a perfect football player.— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) June 28, 2020
✔️Power and speed
✔️Runner and receiver
✔️Pass, kick, punt, returner
✔️Smart and fearless
Answer: When the argument is so mic-droppingly perfect that there is no debate.