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Putting Walter Payton’s accomplishments in perspective


Earlier today, MDS posted an item based on recent comments from Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas. Apart from remarks regarding the possibility that Falcons running back Michael Turner won’t be able to continue to absorb a pounding without help, Thomas suggested that he would have had a much better NFL career if he had played for the Cowboys, like Emmitt Smith, or the Lions, like Barry Sanders.

“I talk to Emmitt and Barry Sanders a lot too,” Thomas said. “I said you know what, you guys have about two or three thousand yards more than I do, but come December I was playing in ice. I was playing in snow. If I was playing in Dallas or inside like Barry I’d probably would have another 3,000 yards. I could have been the all-time leading rusher if I didn’t play on ice, sleet and snow.” (As MDS noted, Thomas was more than two or three thousand behind Smith’s all-time career high-water mark.)

There’s a name that Thomas didn’t mention -- and he arguably was the best of them all.

As Larry Mayer of told us via e-mail, “Walter Payton didn’t exactly compile his 16,726 career yards in the tropics!”

Then there’s the quality of the blocking that the elite tailbacks enjoyed. Mayer points out that, in the first 10 years of Payton’s career, none of his offensive linemen made it to the Pro Bowl. In contrast, six different Cowboys offensive linemen made it to Hawaii during Smith’s first 10 seasons, qualifying for a combined 22 Pro Bowls. And in Thomas’ first 10 seasons with the Bills, five different offensive linemen were voted to a combined 11 Pro Bowls.

That’s not to take anything away from Thomas, Smith, and/or Sanders. But if we’re going to start considering the numbers the all-time greats could have generated under different circumstances, it’s fair to consider the fact that Payton played in the elements, and he didn’t have a lot of help for most of his years in the league.