Payton lets emotions run wild

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Changing directions as he did so well on the field, Walter Payton faked himself out Saturday by turning his Hall of Fame induction into the emotional, introspective event he had vowed to avoid.

Instead of running away from his feelings, the NFL's all-time leading rusher smacked head-on into the middle of a whole lineup of memories. After bouncing off several potential stumbling blocks, he scored, as usual, drawing huge cheers from a crowd gathered at the steps of the Hall, including Virginia McCaskey, owner of the Bears.

Payton followed Dan Fouts, Larry Little and Chuck Noll and preceded Bill Walsh. None of them drew as warm a response as Jarrett Payton, 12, Walter's son and presenter who brought the fans to their feet just by appearing at the podium as the youngest presenter ever. He immediately and frantically waved them down, pleading, "I'm trying to get this thing over with."

In a two-minute speech, briefest and most welcome of the day, Jarrett emphasized the father he knows rather than the player he hardly remembers.

"My dad played 13 years, only missing one game and breaking all running-back records," Jarrett said. "Not only is my dad an exceptional athlete, he's a role model. He's my biggest role model and best friend. We do a lot of things together-playing basketball, golf, going to movies to name a few. I'm sure my sister will endorse this statement: We have a super dad."

Jarrett also called his dad a "philanthropist," perhaps remembering the quick handoff Walter made to Jarrett on Friday of a royalty check for the weekend's commemorative Hall of Fame sweatshirts.

Payton, wearing sunglasses to hide his eyes more than protect them from the brilliant sunshine, acknowledged the chants of "Walter, Walter, Walter!" He had made friendly wagers that he would not cry, including one for the right to wear the Super Bowl rings of Little and NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw for a year.

Payton had been confronted by Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke and criticized by fellow Bears legend Gale Sayers for displaying a blase attitude in the months leading up to his induction.

"I was the first one to say how strong I was," Payton said. "As it goes to show, when you're amongst your peers such as these great athletes, you try to be something you're not. After hearing my son get up here and talk, I don't care if I lose the bet."

Payton's voice cracked. He didn't break down, but neither did anybody else on a day that might require instant replay to settle wagers.

Payton paid tribute to his high school and college coaches and to all his teammates. He thanked older brother Eddie and sister Pamela for chasing him around their Columbia, Miss., house with a broom and dishrag. "That's the reason I had the moves I did," he said.

He honored his mother, Alyne, "who instilled what you see here today-some of it good. Everything bad I earned on my own."

Payton paid tribute to former Bears General Manager Jim Finks, who was supposed to be his presenter but is battling lung cancer.

Saving his most heartfelt thoughts for last, Payton turned to Jarrett, daughter Brittney, 8, and wife Connie. He had said that getting to the Hall of Fame "doesn't belong to me alone but to everyone I played with and every coach." But the family brought it all home to an intensely personal level that few inductees can escape.

"The thing I'm most proud of and the thing I'm most ashamed of, they coincide with each other," Payton said. "You saw my son up here and, believe me, I had a lump in my throat so big, it was unbelievable. I also have a little daughter, and I think about her also.

"Their mom was with me those 13 years and, believe me, they were not good because I was not the easiest person to get along with. Because of my wanting to give so much to other people, you tend to neglect the people you truly love the most.

"I want to stand up and say at this point in my life . . . Jarrett, Brittney and your mom . . . you guys will never have to worry about anything in your life no matter what the situation or how it ends, because just as running up that hill and trying to catch runners such as Jim Brown and Gale Sayers motivated me to do all I possibly could do, you three will motivate me to make sure your lives are happy and fulfilled."

Payton, who claimed he had no idea what Jarrett's speech might include, said "everyone" is a role model. He contrasted Michael Jordan and Pete Rose as role models, saying he drew from Rose "because he hustled every play. Just because he had one mistake in his life, am I supposed to throw back everything I gained from him? You can't do that. I'm talking to the kids. Everybody you meet, you can learn something from."

Earlier, Payton admitted Canton's extravagant parade was "awesome, it really was. Little almost broke down and started crying. You know what's going to happen when he gets to the podium. We have a little wager going, and he's going to lose."

Payton also provided insight into his legendary pranks that made him a locker room terror.

"I was remembering when our center, Dan Neal, was lying on a training table," Payton said. "We had just come out with electrotherapy. He was all wired up, and I turned the juice as high as it could go. All his muscles were contracting."

Something about Payton always was electrifying.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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  • Walter Payton's Hall of Fame speech

    Thank you. Thank you. You know when I first got here, we made a wager who would be the first one to break down in tears and I was the first one to say that I wouldn't and I was the first one to say how strong I was and everything else. As it goes to show that a lot of times when you are...

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