Consignments Wanted. Immediate need for Game Worn Jerseys, Game Used Bats, Autographs, Memorabilia of all categories. Collections big and small. Please contact Troy R. Kinunen at (414) 828-9990 or email 

“When I get through with Chicago, they’ll be loving me.” This was the prophetic quote spoken by Walter Payton after being drafted by the Bears in January 1975. Boy was he right and this lot represents all that Payton would embody as a phenomenal player and even greater human being. 

With the fourth pick in the 1975 NFL draft, the Bears selected Walter Payton. Chicago’s running game hadn’t been the same since Gale Sayers’ retirement due to injuries in 1971. Payton’s illustrious career began with a less-than-stellar performance. The poor start was also more symbolic than any casual fan could realize. It epitomized Payton’s burning desire to succeed and to overcome obstacles. 

In his first NFL game, Walter carried the ball eight times for zero net yards. Although 1975 began with a performance that didn’t merit writing home about, the season finale did. At New Orleans, Payton ripped off perhaps the best touchdown run of his career, finishing with 134 yards on 20 carries, the Bears’ best rushing performance since Sayers resided in Chicago. Walter finished his rookie season with 679 yards and seven touchdowns, totals that would set the pace for him to retire as the greatest running back ever to have played the game. (Excerpt from the website, “Chicago Bears History”) 

1975 signified Payton’s successful arrival in the NFL, and the beginning of the greatest NFL career in Chicago Bears history. This is the jersey from the era that started it all. 

Upon his retirement, the records he held at the time included 16,726 total yards, 10 seasons with 1,000 or more yards rushing, 275 yards rushing in one game against Minnesota (1977), 77 games with more than 100 yards rushing, and 110 rushing touchdowns. Payton had 4,368 combined net attempts and accounted for 21,803 combined net yards. He also scored an impressive 750 points on 125 touchdowns. 

Payton won the NFC rushing title five straight years from 1976 to 1980. He also led the NFC with 96 points in 1977 and won the NFL kickoff return championship in his rookie 1975 campaign. He was named both All-Pro and All-NFC seven times and played in nine Pro Bowl games. Payton was selected as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1977 and 1985, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1977 and 1985 and the NFC Most Valuable Player in 1977. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, capping off a phenomenal career. (source: 

Fresh to the hobby, this jersey has been a well-kept secret. On Walter Payton’s back, to “Chicken” Willie, to our consignor, and now offered via MEARS Auctions, there is a direct lineage to document the history of this important pigskin artifact. Additionally, the physical manufacturing traits of the piece have been examined by MEARS football expert Troy R. Kinunen, who provides the following findings: 

Style: Starting in 1973, the Chicago Bears switched from the previous durene material and converted to the new mesh body shell. The jersey is manufactured from a navy blue body shell, crew neck, straight cut tail, and ¾ sleeves. Each sleeve is adorned with three orange and white stripes, applied via applique. 

The uniform number “34” appears on both the front and reverse in the same style applique as the sleeve stripes. The player’s name, “PAYTON” also is applied in block letter white on orange applique and affixed to a nameplate. 

Nameplate: Unlike later examples, the nameplate is a solid material, as opposed to the knit nameplates found on later examples, and this also helps date the jersey to the earlier time of issuance. 

MEARS provided the example of Gary Huff, a member of the Bears from 1973-75. The jersey we referenced contained the 1973-75 Wilson tag. You can note how the nameplate contained the solid, no mesh fabric nameplate, which is documented as having been used by Huff as late as 1975, and supports the 1975 dating of the MEARS Walter Payton jersey. (#313455) Additionally, MEARS examined the 1975 Bob Avellini Chicago Bears Home jersey, which also had the same solid fabric nameplate, again supporting the 1975 dating of this jersey. 

It is also documented that the Chicago Bears switched to mesh nameplates. Examples of the mesh, post 1975 nameplates examined by MEARS include: 1977-79 Buffone, 1977-78 Best. 

It is possible that this jersey could have been carried over for use in the 1976 season, but we have found no evidence to support that position. 

The nameplate was carefully examined for signs of restoration, change, or removal. The entire area including and surrounding the nameplate was examined with a digital microscope and subjected to black light. Per the MEARS evaluation, there was no evidence of removal, change, or restoration. The anchor stitching of the nameplate appears to be all original. It should be noted that available images show that Walter Payton’s nameplates came in various lengths, this is the shorter, closely cropped version. 

Manufacturers Tagging (Wilson): This jersey, #313455, contains the 1967-72 version of the Wilson manufacturers tag. Wilson changed the design of the tagging in 1973, removing the vertical line to the right of the wash instructions. In theory, 1975 Chicago Bears jerseys may have been issued with the new version of the tag, but it is acceptable for a 1972 version of the tag to be carried over on a 1975 body shell. 

Size (44): Size 44: By comparison to other Walter Payton jerseys that have entered the hobby, it has been verified that this is the correct size for Walter Payton. Other examples include: 

1975 Walter Payton (size 44) 

1983 Walter Payton (size 44) 

1986 Walter Payton (size 44) 

1975-78 Walter Payton (size 44) MEARS #313561 

Walter Payton consistently wore size 44 throughout his career. Examination of the actual chest measurement confirms this jersey as a size 44 and is correct for Walter Payton. 

Game Wear: Jersey exhibits heavy, optimal game wear. I believe this jersey to have been laundered after a game, but not repaired, even though it was in need. The body shell contains many signs of Payton’s physical running style. 

Starting on the left shoulder, the fabric shows signs of compression. The shoulder yoke has separated from the crew neck ribbing. The left shoulder yoke seam where it attaches to the sleeve has also popped loose, leaving a 4” tear directly along the seam. The sleeve numeral shows heavy signs of wear on the applique, and some of the material has broken away. 

The right shoulder yoke shows similar signs of heavy wear, with deeper visible compressions to the shoulder mesh fabric, which in one instance actually create a tear. The right sleeve numeral shows heavy signs of wear on the applique, and some of the material has broken away. 

The front of the jersey also shows signs of compression from contact to the mesh body shell. Both the front numerals shows signs of wear and the applique has broken away on both numerals. The front seam connecting to the sleeve shows additional signs of heavy fabric wear, with some separation of the seam. 

When examining the reverse of the jersey, there are visible contact marks to the nameplate and the “PAYTON” applique. Due to contact, some of the applique of “PAYTON” has loosened. The reverse numerals show heavy wear with flaking of the applique. A 1” hole is found to the right of the “3” which remains unrepaired. There is visible bruising to both reverse numerals. 

Provenance: Our consignor obtained this jersey from the personal collection of long time Chicago White Sox clubhouse man, “Chicken” Willie Thompson. A large, jovial southern gentleman, Willie Thompson’s nickname came from his absolute love for fried chicken. A popular friend to many African American athletes, he was well known throughout the Chicago professional athlete circles. Although the exact circumstances have been
lost to time, at some point “Chicken” Willie obtained this jersey, most likely a personal gift from Walter Payton himself. The jersey was early, and its importance known, as “Chicken” Willie kept it with his other mementos from his days as a clubhouse manager. Willie referred to the jersey as a “rookie” whenever he mentioned it. 

In the Sarasota Journal, February 24th, 1981, the following quote appeared, documenting the clubhouse man’s love for chicken, “We’re here for just one thing, to win a pennant so I can buy me a chicken joint!, – “Chicken” Willie Thompson.” 

Another article, August 15th, 1989 appearing in the Chicago Tribune Sports section documents the fact that “Chicken” Willie Thompson was a collector of things. The article read, “The White Sox have spreads after every game, and clubhouse equipment manager Willie Thompson doubles as the team`s chef. Thompson, affectionately known as “Chicken Willie“ on the South Side, recently took us on a guided tour of what he calls his “Million Dollar Kitchen“, located between the dugout and the locker room. Photos of Carlton Fisk and Ron Kittle are featured in the cramped room, which also stores a variety of bizarre objects, such as a werewolf mask.” 

The article does not specifically mention an inventory of items with the exception of the werewolf mask, but it does support the fact he accumulated momentos. 

Our consignor, an avid collector of stuff from all genres, was introduced to “Chicken” Willie and was told of the 1975 Walter Payton rookie jersey. A meeting was set, and a deal to obtain the jersey was hatched. Our consignor, for the price of one bucket of chicken and relatively small amount of cash, traded the breasts and thighs for the Payton home jersey. 

Chicken Willie celebrated the trade, eating 10 pieces of chicken to our consignors 2. True story. 

A notarized, signed letter of authenticity from our consignor will accompany this lot detailing the provenance, exactly as stated here. 

Final Grade (MEARS A10): When comparing the jersey to the 5 categories of evaluation per the Official MEARS Grading Worksheet, 10 full points were assigned due to the jersey being consistent with respect to manufacturer, sizing, style, game wear, and provenance. After a thorough evaluation, MEARS found no reasons for a point deduction. 

Conclusion: In this author’s opinion, this is certainly one of the most iconic and historically significant NFL jersey to have ever entered the hobby. Embodying what is great about Chicago and Bears History, this jersey represents the essence of the man, simple “Sweetness”.

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