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Remembering Walter Payton's legacy

Editor's note: Decades co-host and reporter Kerry Sayers reflects on her conversation with Jarrett Payton, son of Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton.

The NFL’s career rushing record is one of those marks that sits up there on a pedestal, and Walter Payton was one of the greatest NFL athletes that ever played the game. The power he had for a player of his size is incredible. His death at the age of 45, of a rare liver disease and bile duct cancer, hit the sporting world hard, and prevented his children from growing up with their Hall of Fame father.

I have worked in Chicago for quite a while, and as a sportscaster in my “former” life, I have covered a number of events that Jarrett Payton attended too, but I had never met him. It was a pleasure to interview him for this story, and hear about the reverence with which he refers to his father.

Jarrett has studied the footage from every game in which his father played and has hundreds of old photos of his father both on and off the field. He told me he’s still in awe of the athlete his father was and what he accomplished all these years later. He also spoke of how difficult it was initially when Emmitt Smith approached — and eventually broke — his father’s career rushing record in 2002, because he thought everyone would forget about his Dad.

He said Smith, though, understood his apprehension, and actually became a friend and role model for him. And his fears were unfounded.

His Dad has been gone since 1999 and there isn’t a day that goes by when someone doesn’t approach Jarrett to talk about his father and what he meant to the city of Chicago. 

A fun side note — Jarrett said Walter’s competitive drive skipped a generation, and his son, Jaden, is a reincarnation of his father. He said his son has seen footage of his famous grandfather and says, “I want to be just like him.” But Jarrett is convinced Jaden’s best sport might be baseball, not football. He showed me video of his switch-hitting son on the baseball field, video he says he is going to save for the day when ESPN makes a 30 for 30 documentary about Jaden one day.

Follow Kerry Sayers at @KerrySayers.

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