How Mike Ditka Stole Super Bowl Glory From Walter Payton

Walter Payton was one of the greatest running backs in the history of the National Football League.  He retired after the 1987 season with the Chicago Bears.  Payton finished his career with 110 rushing TD’s, 15 receiving TD’s and 16,726 rushing yards.  He was also on one of the best bears teams ever, the 1985 Chicago Bears.  The Bears won Super Bowl XX and cemented Payton’s place in the Hall Of Fame as a Super Bowl winner.  There however is one thing missing from his career.  Payton never scored during the only Super Bowl appearance and you might be suprised to find out it was no fault of his own.

Walter Payton in Superbowl XX. (Getty Images)

Walter Payton in Superbowl XX. (Getty Images)

When the season began Head Coach Mike Ditka was very high on his 1st draft pick William “the refrigerator” Perry.  Perry came into camp very unimpressive and was overweight at 380lbs.  The Defensive coach Buddy Ryan was not impressed by Perry and did not want to play him.  During the early part of the season Ditka got the idea to use Perry in offensive plays to block for Walter Payton.  Perry sometimes even rushed with the ball himself.  He was later put into the defense and played well.  During the season Perry became an offensive gimmick.  He was the funny fat guy that the fans cheered for.  Perry almost overshadowed the rest of the team in popularity.

William Perry (Getty Images)

William Perry (Getty Images)

The Bears made it through the season with a 15-1 record.  They plowed through the divisional and championship games to make it to Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.  Their challengers were the Cinderella team of that season,  the New England Patriots.  Nobody expected the Pats to make it as far as they did.  They were the underdogs going into the title game.  The Bears dominated the Pats on the defensive side of the ball.  The Offense of the Bears was stifled a bit, although the score tells a different story.  The Patriots based their defense around stopping Walter Payton.  They did just that, Payton was held to 66 yards on 22 carries.  Even with the lack of success Payton was still the Bears leading rusher in the game.

Mike Ditka made two decisions during that game that haunt him to this day.  On the two opportunities where the Bears were close to the goal line and a rush for the touchdown seemed the best choice, Ditka chose William Perry and Quarterback Jim McMahon to make those TD’s.  The most disappointing TD for Walter Payton was the Perry rush for the TD.  Perry had been primarily a defensive player and a gimmicky running back.  For Payton not to be allowed to gain the glory of scoring a TD in the biggest game of his career is a complete disgrace.

Mike Ditka after Superbowl XX. (Getty Images)

Mike Ditka after Superbowl XX. (Getty Images)

Walter Payton was always a stand up man and until the day he died he never openly questioned Mike Ditka for not letting him run in a TD in the Super Bowl.  Ditka has come out in recent years an said if he could do it all over again he would have opted for Payton to get the Super Bowl glory.  While Ditka can own up to his mistakes he will never be able to give those moments to the great Walter Payton.

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6 responses to “How Mike Ditka Stole Super Bowl Glory From Walter Payton

  1. I actually saw that game and thought it was genius on the part of Mike Ditka never realizing that it ultimately took the glory of that game from the great Walter Payton.
    Nice article Justin!

  2. I watched the game and, for the most part, enjoyed it. However. In my personal opinion then, as well as now, Mr Mike Ditka was an absolute disgrace as a coach and a human being. His choice to have an obese, unskilled player (Wm. Perry) score on what was purely a novelty play, not only showed a lack of confidence and trust in the NFL’s premier running back, it publicly humiliated him. The game was never really in doubt and I never have and never will forgive Mike Ditka. Walter Payton was always too much of a gentleman to ever say so. The closest he ever came (that I know) was to once admit that he was disappointed. That just makes one more way that he was better than most people, myself included.

    • Well said, I watched this game and your comments are exactly as I feel…. Ditka is a total A$$hat during that game and ever since.

  3. I landed on this page after wondering about other bad Super Bowl calls having just gone through the Carroll/Lynch debacle. This gets my vote for all-time worst. Walter, in every possible way imaginable, you deserved that TD.

  4. i watched the game as well…and all you need to do is watch the few moments after the final whistle. look at footage, watch Payton. While the entire Chicago bears team celebrate and carry Ditka off the field Walter Payton, walks slowly, with his helmet in his hand and with his head down, walking several yards separated from his teammates. You can see him wearing his sense of betrayal and sadness in the midst of the chaos. To have one of the greatest ambassadors for the sport and one of the greatest athletes to ever play the game treated that way shocked me on that day and to this day. For Ditka to express regret now about his call not to give Payton the ball is to his credit but to say he “didnt think that it would matter to Payton” is ridiculous. Ditka’s lack of foresight to me is an act of needless cruelty dished out to a player who did nothing to deserve that type of treatment. I do hope that one day Ditka will take more time to acknowledge publicly what he did and how his choices blemished not only Payton’s Legacy but his own.

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