This is about denial.
Walter Payton was denied the opportunity to score a touchdown in Super Bowl XX in 1986 as the Chicago Bears flattened the New England Patriots, 46-10.
The memory of William "The Refrigerator" Perry, the 308-pound rookie lineman, scoring from the one in the third quarter, the last Bears touchdown, is still vivid. Because Walter Payton should have been the ball carrier.
They called him "Sweetness." Payton was the Bears' best ball carrier, the best in the National Football League. The Super Bowl was a once-in-a-lifetime game. Scoring a touchdown would be the culmination.
Jim McMahon, the quirky quarterback, scored twice on runs of two yards and one yard. Matt Suhey scored from the 11. Reggie Phillips, a reserve, had a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown. Kevin Butler added three field goals.
When I entered the dressing room there was whooping and hollering befitting the conquering heroes. Payton was frowning. Payton was angry. He told me and the other reporters clustered around: "Yes, I'm mad. Why shouldn't I be? I wanted the ball."
That's what I remember most about the runaway game in the New Orleans Superdome. Winning was tarnished by denying Payton.
Mike Ditka, the fiery Da Coach, says this in a new book, "The '85 Bears," written with Rick Telander: "I realized after the game that Walter Payton didn't score. It bothered him and because it bothered him, it bothered me.
"I asked Walter and he said it didn't bother him. I regret not giving him that honor. But we had a game plan, and he was the whole reason it worked, because wherever he went, the Patriots defense went. Later, I explained this to him. I don't think he ever accepted it totally."
Payton broke the National football League record with his eighth straight 100-yard game during the Bears' only loss, 38-24 to the Miami Dolphins, leading Ditka to say: "Walter Payton is the greatest football player to ever play the game. Other people who call themselves running backs can't carry his jersey."
I was always a Payton fan. I covered Bears home games during the 1970s and much of the 1980s.I was there when Payton set the single- game rushing record of 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings. His last season was 1987. He wound up with a then NFL record 16,726 rushing yards and 110 touchdowns. The touchdown he wanted the most was denied.
Payton died in 1999 after battling a rare liver cancer.