CHICAGO -- Walter Payton broke Jim Brown's NFL career rushing record with a 154-yard effort Sunday and dedicated the achievement to players who never got the chance to pass Brown.
Payton increased his career total to 12,400 yards with his effort, made in 32 carries against the New Orleans Saints in a 20-7 Chicago win. He needed just 67 yards to get past Brown's total of 12,312 yards.
Payton also broke Brown's mark of 58 career 100-yard plus games with his 59th effort over 100.
'I want to make a statement, and it will be my last. My motivation was for those who tried and failed,' said Payton, who also scored the go-ahead TD for the Bears with a 1-yard run. 'It was dedicated to the Overstreets, the Delaneys and Piccolos.'
Payton broke Brown's record on his second carry of the second half and 17th of the game, on a sweep around right end.
He gained 6 yards on the play with 14:03 left in the game, and took time to go over to New Orleans' Coach Bum Phillips to shake his hand. He was then mobbed by his teammates who joined the sellout Soldier Field crowd in paying tribute to Payton.
'I was so nervous, so very nervous that I was shaking,' Payton said. 'I'm just glad this whole thing with the cameras and mikes is over with. I'm also glad that we won the game.'
Payton received a call from President Ronald Reagan after the game from Air Force One, where Reagan was en route to a debate with Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale.
Payton said Reagan likened breaking the record to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's breaking Wilt Chamberlain's scoring mark, and to Hank Aaron eclipsing Babe Ruth's home run mark. At the end of the conversation, a relieved Payton said, 'Give my best to Nancy.'
His teammates also paid tribute to Payton.
'He just said when he came back to the huddle, 'Let's go on and win the game,'' said quarterback Jim McMahon.
Offensive lineman Jimbo Covert said Payton did not want to have the spotlight on his new record.
'Of course he wanted it, but he was more interested in winning the game,' Covert said.
New Orleans' Coach Bum Phillips credited Payton with 'having a heck of a day. But he'd have a heck of day with a lot of teams.'
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle issued a congratulatory statement from Buffalo.
'Walter has been a credit to the NFL both as a player and as a community minded citizen on and off the field,' said Rozelle.
Payton's record run came on the 2,795th attempt of his career. That is 436 more than Brown.
Payton has insisted that 15,000 yards rather than Brown's record has been his major goal.
'To me that's what I'm after. I want 15,000 yards. You set your goals high and that's how you benefit,' Payton said prior to breaking the mark. 'That 15,000 yard mark is it. Jim Brown's record just happens to fall in the path of it.'
Brown, in nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns, gained 12,312 yards in 2,359 carries. Entering Sunday's game with New Orleans, Payton had 12,246.
At the start of the season, there was the concern that Payton would have to bide his time and watch rival Franco Harris get past Brown, then pass Harris. But when Harris was involved in a contractual squabble with Pittsburgh, it became apparent Payton would surpass Harris and have Brown all to himself.
Payton got past Harris in a head-to-head situation Oct. 23 in Seattle. But even then Payton remained unimpressed with the attention toward Brown's record.
Brown has been outspokenly critical of Harris' attempt to surpass him, charging that the former Steeler back ran out of bounds to save his career. He has been less critical of Payton although he has pointed to the fact it took Payton more time -- and attempts -- to break his record.
Payton has refused to get into the controversy, saying Brown remains one of his idols.
'In my book for 1-2-3, Jim is still No. 1,' Payton said.
On the strength of a 155-yard performance in last Sunday's 23-14 loss to Dallas, Payton moved into striking distance of Brown's mark.
During the winter, Payton signed a reported $1 million a year pact with the Bears, making him the highest paid player in the NFL.
When he was drafted in 1975 as Chicago's No. 1 pick, the Jackson State star never thought about Brown or the attention chasing the former Browns' star would bring.
'I didn't start thinking about it until the media brought it up,' Payton said.
But it became apparent in his third year that Payton would be something special. He gained 1,852 yards in 1977 -- including an NFL record 277 yards against Minnesota -- and NFL observers began to notice that there was something special there.
There was another former Bear back who started as brilliantly, Gale Sayers, but he fell victim to bothersome knee problems and never was a threat to Brown.
Payton, blessed with a small waist, strong legs and an ability to avoid injury -- Sunday's start was his 131st consecutive -- has led the NFC in rushing five times. He had 58 100-yard plus games entering the New Orleans contest and has been a perennial all-pro.