MEARS Online is offering a Walter Payton rookie jersey as part of its June auction.
The current owner of the #34 home mesh Chicago Bears shirt originally obtained it from the personal collection of long time Chicago White Sox clubhouse man, “Chicken” Willie Thompson in the early 1980’s, according to MEARS. It is now being offered to collectors for the first time. It’s the earliest known Payton jersey ever offered.
The size-44 Wilson model is correct for Payton. It shows numerous signs of wear including unrepaired tears and matches the style worn by the Bears in the mid-1970’s, according to a MEARS evaluation. It's been rated A10.
After setting records at Jackson State, Payton was the Bears’ first round pick in 1975. He spent his rookie season not only carrying the ball but also returning kicks. His career took off in the fall of 1976, however, when he won the first of five straight NFC rushing titles en route to the Hall of Fame.
Thompson, whose fondness for chicken resulted in his nickname, had accumulated numerous collectibles which he kept on display in what he called his “million dollar kitchen” at Comiskey Park. He was a friend to many African-American Chicago athletes during his tenure with the Sox and referred to the Payton jersey as being from his rookie year when he mentioned it to friends who knew of his memorabilia collection.
MEARS’ Troy Kinunen calls it “one of the most iconic and historically significant” NFL jerseys ever to be offered at auction.
The story of the jersey’s acquisition, as told in the listing, is one that harkens back to far simpler times for collectors. The consignor was introduced to Thompson and was told of the jersey from Payton’s rookie year. A meeting was set and “for the price of one bucket of chicken and a relatively small amount of cash”, the jersey changed hands and so did the chicken, with Thompson out-eating the new owner ten pieces to two.
A notarized, signed letter of authenticity from the consignor will be included with the jersey.
The current high bid is over $9,000 with bidding set to continue through Saturday June 28 at MEARSOnlineAuctions.com.