Bears To Honor Payton

The Chicago Bears will wear a football-shaped patch in Walter Payton's memory the rest of the season, and the team is discussing a way to permanently honor him.

The patch, with Payton's No. 34, will be worn on the upper left side of their uniforms, Bears president Ted Phillips said Wednesday. Phillips also met with the team before practice to discuss Payton.

Payton, the NFL's career leader in rushing yardage, died Monday of bile duct cancer. He was 45.

"We've got a very young team," Phillips said. "I just wanted to have them really understand from the club's perspective what a giant Walter Payton was."

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Payton gained all of his 16,726 yards rushing in a Bears uniform and joined the team's board of directors after he retired.

"He used to hang out a lot around Halas Hall," tight end Ryan Wetnight said. "He'd come to us and talk to us like he played with us, like he was your teammate."

Rookie defensive back Jerry Azumah never met Payton, but Payton was always his favorite player. Last year, Azumah won the Walter Payton Award honoring the top player in Division I-AA football.

Afterward, Azumah said he got a letter from Payton.

"I had it blown up and framed. It's something very special to me," said Azumah, who played running back for four seasons at New Hampshire. "He's in my prayers."

A private memorial service for Payton will be held Friday, with a public ceremony Saturday at Soldier Field. All current and some former Bears players, coaches and league dignitaries will attend.

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