A Personal Walter Payton Story on his Birthday
I just wanted to share a personal Walter Payton story on what would have been his 68th birthday.
Let’s wind the clock all the way back to the late 1980s. I was a young kid, who played several different youth sports, including baseball. I played little league in Barrington, our games were at Langendorf Park. There were several different ball fields and games going on all over the park. One of those kids that played in those games was Jarrett Payton, former Miami Hurricanes RB and of course, the son of the late, great Walter Payton.
Walter would make it out to the park to see his son play. He would sit unassumingly in the bleachers with sunglasses on quietly watching Jarrett play. With dozens of kids between the ages of 8 and 13, autographs were inevitable.
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It’s a tough spot for parents. There is one of the greatest players in NFL history and almost certainly the greatest Chicago Bear sitting in the bleachers, but he’s not at a public event and just wants to watch his son play ball. But when one kid asks for an autograph, it’s tough not to tell your kid he can’t either.
As one can imagine, the line always queued up with kids with anything they could find: mitts, napkins, a t-shirt, anything they might have had to get a signature from Walter Payton.
Payton would continue to sit there quietly watching his kid play, but he never said no to an autograph (although kids would have to wait when Jarrett was at the plate). He would patiently sign each autograph even though I’m sure he would rather be left alone to watch his son.
It didn’t matter if there were 4 kids or 40 kids, Walter would sign. Of course, I was one of those kids once, and I too got in line. When it was my turn, I was definitely nervous, I handed him a piece of paper my parents found in the car and a pen my mom had in her purse. Walter signed it while keeping an eye on the game.
After he handed it back, I mustered up the courage to say, “Thank you, Mr. Payton.” He glanced over, smiled, and said, “Any time, hey, you might be on the Bears one day (I wasn’t a small child).” I smiled back and didn’t have enough in me to say anything else and wandered away grinning ear-to-ear. It may not have been the biggest encounter, but it was enough to make my day as an 11-year-old and something I remember almost 30 years later.
Not many athletes would be that gracious with their time, especially when they are just trying to watch their son play baseball. For Walter Payton, he would never say no to a kid. He was all class, and taken too soon. Happy Birthday, Sweetness.