Mike Ditka once called Payton the greatest all-around football player of all time. His athleticism and work ethic are legendary. He didn't really consider his workout a success until he was puking. To me, the question isn't whether he could win Olympic gold, it's in what sport.
Payton once competed in a Soul Train dance competition, and he flipped into the end zone on more than one occasion, so he had the grace and strength to be a gymnast. I often saw his relatively tiny 5'10" frame hop over linebackers, and his speed was incredible, so he could have been a hurdler. He clearly had the power, flexibility and body control to be a wrestler.
But no, if Sweetness wanted to be an Olympian, he would have won gold as a decathlete. The football player who could run, catch, block, kick and pass would be attracted to the sport where he would run, jump, throw and hurdle. When at Jackson State, he ran a 4.2 40 yard dash which could translate to a low 10 second time in the 100m. I could not find definitive numbers on his vertical leap, but it would be enough to leap the six feet most of the U.S. decathletes did at the Olympic Trials.
Selfishly, I am happy that Walter Payton decided to stick with football, and that he became a Chicago Bear. Still, it is nice to think what could have been, and that's undoubtedly Sweetness with a gold medal hanging from his neck.
- Walter Payton
- Mike Ditka