AP images
AP images

Over the past three months, thousands of fans voted in our "Team For the Ages" contest to construct the best imaginable 50-man roster from the NFL’s modern era, which began in 1967. The votes have been counted, and we’re unveiling one player each weekday between now and the kickoff of the 2018 NFL season.

Bears RB Walter Payton

There is no question that Walter Payton is one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL, but what is often debated about the man we called “Sweetness” is whether his greatest impact as an NFL player was made on or off the football field.

Payton's impact as a role model to children and adults for the way he played the game and the way he conducted himself in the community caused the NFL to rename its Man of the Year Award — given to the player who each year exhibits extraordinary accomplishment both on and off the field — the Walter Payton Man of the Year after his tragic death from cancer at the all-too-young age of 45 in 1999, just 12 years after he retired from the NFL.

For all of those reasons, Payton was the leading vote-getter at the running back position and is the first running back to be named to Pro Football Weekly's greatest team of the modern era.

They Said It

“The toughest and most competitive teammate I ever had.” — Payton's former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Dan Hampton

Key stat

Payton's 16,726 career rushing yards shattered the NFL record previously held by Jim Brown and stood for 17 seasons until he was passed by Emmitt Smith, who totaled 18,355 yards but needed 15 seasons to Payton's 13 to establish the record. Payton is still second all time.

Did you know?

Payton also caught 492 passes for 4,538 yards, but perhaps his most remarkable accomplishment was starting 165 straight games over his final 12 seasons before missing four starts his final year in the league.

He was also the Bears' backup punter and placekicker and threw eight touchdowns during his 13-year career in Chicago.

Signature game

In a career full of remarkable achievements, Payton's greatest moment arguably was at Soldier Field against the Vikings on November 20, 1977.

After battling the flu all week long and waking nauseated the day of the game, Payton rushed for 144 yards on 26 carries in the first half, and finished with 40 carries for 275 yards, including four yards on his 40th attempt to break O.J. Simpson's NFL record of 273 yards in a single game.

Previous "Team for the Ages" player unveils

Tom Brady

Reggie White

Jerry Rice