CHICAGO (Nov. 1, 1999) -- Walter Payton co-owner of Payton Coyne Racing and the NFL's greatest rusher whose aggressive style masked a playful temperament that earned him the nickname "Sweetness," died Monday at age 45. Payton died of bile...
CHICAGO (Nov. 1, 1999) -- Walter Payton co-owner of Payton Coyne Racing and the NFL's greatest rusher whose aggressive style masked a playful temperament that earned him the nickname "Sweetness," died Monday at age 45.
Payton died of bile duct cancer that was discovered during his treatment earlier this year for primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare liver disease. His physician, Dr. Greg Gores of the Mayo Clinic, said Payton was subsequently diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct, a vessel that carries digestive fluids from the liver to the small intestine.
"The malignancy was very advanced and progressed very rapidly," Gores said at a news conference. Because the cancer had spread so rapidly outside his liver, a transplant "was no longer tenable," the doctor said. Gores declined to say when the cancer was diagnosed.
The National Football League's all-time leading rusher, he established numerous other Chicago Bears team records during a playing career which spanned from 1975 to 1987. He earned NFL Most Valuable Player honors in 1977 and 1985 and is a member of the league's Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. A native of Columbia, Miss., Payton retired from football in 1987 and has now turned his attention to various charity interests and businesses, including FedEx Championship Series racing. Payton joined veteran team owner Dale Coyne in December of 1994 as co-owner of Payton/Coyne Racing.
Payton is not new to racing, however. Auto racing has been a love of his for several years. He began driving in the SCCA Sports 2000 series in preparation for his professional career in the SCCA Trans Am series in 1992-93.