From Left to Right: Me, my mom, Walter Payton, my brother Danny, and my dad at Circuit City
My mom noticed a clip in the local paper back in 1997 or so that Payton was making an autograph signing at Circuit City. It was a Saturday I believe and we had nothing going, so we all made our way there. We brought with us a Chicago Bears VHS tape for him to sign.
When we got there, we figured we’d have to wait in a long line to even get a signature from the legend, but the entire store that morning sat nearly empty.
I remember walking the aisles looking around for him, and when I found him walking toward me, he towered over me like a giant. But his enormous smile is what struck me the most. He looked like he was genuinely happy to be there, and genuinely happy to see me.
We not only got our VHS tape signed, but we got our picture taken with him. I felt like he was our uncle. He held my brother on his lap, and tickled him for the photo. He was so down to earth that you wouldn’t even know that he was the greatest football player that ever lived. And that’s what was truly the ‘Sweetness’ about that day.
I met a number of athletes since and before that time, but none of them gave me as much joy as when I met Payton. I only wish that I was able to see him play live. I was one years old when he retired, so I only saw him from highlight reels and re-watching old games. But meeting someone like that in person was all the more special. I think that it’s important that public figures and athletes serve as good role models for kids.
I recall when I was young how a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher handed me a baseball from the visitor’s bullpen during a Chicago Cubs game. That was almost as cool as the Payton encounter. Almost. I hope other kids get a moment like that. With all of the talks of money and contracts in sports, it was good to see that athletes still cared about what’s important: the fans. Thank you, Walter.