|Walter Payton: 1954-1999|
|A man who has friends can never die, because he will live on in their hearts. He will live on in their soul. He will be passed on to other's through their love and words, so that his existence will bridge the gap between life and death. In doing so, he lives forever. David Levian|
|The following is a tribute in words and pictures to a man who touched so many lives, not only with his talents on a football field, but his generousity with his life.|
|Many people will say he was no more important than the average man. They are wrong. He did much more with his life than the average man. He always gave to his friends, family, and fans. On Saturday November 6, 1999 thousands of Walter's friends will fill Chicago's Soldier Field to say goodbye to their friend and hero. I think all of us who are fans of his consider ourselves his friends. When word of his death spread a sadness hit us like it was our brother. The people of Chicago adopted him as their own, and in losing him, we have lost more than an average person. We lost a great man. When the time comes to open up that checkbook and donate money, how about sending some Walter's way to the Walter Payton Foundation for Kids. Also, become an organ donor. It can save a life. In the month after Walter announced his illness, organ donor signup in Illinois went from a couple hundred a week to well over 40,000. That's the impact he had on us. We love you Sweetness and we will miss you, always.|
|Click on the picture to go to Walter's homepage and learn more about The Walter Payton Foundation and how to send letters of condolences to his family.|
|The following is taken from Carol Slezak of the Chicago Sun-Times.|
Twenty-four hours after his death, they gathered to celebrate Walter Payton's
life. Their feelings raw, their eyes bleary, their hearts sad, they
a little banquet room. And while it wasn't a party, it wasn't a wake, either. No,
it was about a man so special, with a heart so big, that even in death, he can
smiles, laughter and awe.
About 100 of Payton's fans convened at Carlucci's restaurant in Rosemont for the broadcast of "The Walter Payton Show" on WSCR-AM (1160). For two years, before he got sick, Payton talked Bears football weekly with hosts Mike North and Dan Jiggetts. On Tuesday, Payton's former teammate Doug Buffone joined North and Jiggetts. Despite their red-rimmed eyes, the trio was determined to be upbeat.
"Walter was about enjoying life," said Jiggetts, who also played with Payton.
Fred Caito, the Bears' former trainer, came by. So did former Bears tackle Jimbo Covert. Two other former Bears linemen, Keith Van Horne and Jay Hilgenberg, called in, as did many of Payton's fans. And everyone had a story about Payton. A personal story. How could this be? How could one person even have met so many people, let alone touched so many lives?
"[Walter] could walk with a CEO or a janitor," Buffone said. "It didn't make any difference to him."
How many times did Payton hug a stranger? How many times did he lift a child sky high? How many times did he make someone laugh? Whenever he could.
Caito told a story. The Bears were on a red-eye flight, and nearly everyone was asleep. Payton asked a flight attendant if he could borrow her lipstick. He put some on, then walked up and down the aisle of the plane, kissing all his teammates on the cheeks and then rubbing the lipstick into their shirts.
Bill from Aurora told a story. He was playing pickup basketball when Payton and a few other Bears showed up. A self-described "short, white kid who can't play," Bill walked to the sideline. Payton motioned him into the game. "I'm no good," Bill said. "Neither am I," Payton said. Bill joined the game. Afterward, Payton told him, "You're not as bad as you think you are." Then, as Bill turned to leave, Payton pulled his shorts down.
"I roomed with Matt Suhey for seven years," Covert told the crowd. "Walter was the only guy on the team with a single room, but he was in our room all the time anyway. I don't know why he had a single. . . ."
Van Horne couldn't tell one single story about a Payton prank. That's because there were too many times, countless times, he had his pants pulled down, his butt pinched and firecrackers thrown at him by Payton.
"I just remember all the laughter and fun he brought," Van Horne said.
A caller, a police officer, said Payton treated the police "like kings."
"He was God, I think," the officer said. "He was so good to people."
And he was smart, too, Jiggetts said. As fast as Payton drove, it behooved him to be nice to the police.
Like so many of us, Hilgenberg thought Payton could overcome anything. He was so tough, so strong, so determined. And, about some things, so stubborn.
"He used to use his head as a battering ram [on the field]," Hilgenberg said. "And he'd wear those old shoulder pads. . . ."
The stories could have continued for days. Forever. But the show ended in 90 minutes. Still, it was time enough to begin the healing process, according to those who were there.
"I feel better now," said Marvin Becker, 60, of Skokie. "Last night my wife and I were really shaken up. But this was uplifting."
"I woke up this morning and my heart was hurting," said Bob Ramirez, 37, of Chicago. "It's too early to know for sure, but I think I feel a little better now."
"He's larger than life on and off the field," said Chris Smith, 36, of Morton Grove. "I never met Walter, but I know these stories are true because my wife went on a golf outing with him. It was just three holes of golf, but he gave her a hat for me and he signed a football for my son. He's amazing."
Said Anton Person, 32, of Downers Grove: "I'm happy the mood was upbeat. That's how Walter would have wanted it."
And I wondered, who among us will leave behind enough love to fill a banquet room with strangers when we're gone? Who among us will be so respected, so cared for, so missed by so many? Then I laughed. A banquet room? They could fill Soldier Field 10 times over and still have people waiting in line to celebrate Payton's life.
Besides, there were no strangers in that room. One way or another, everyone knew Payton. And with each remembrance, they made one thing abundantly clear: To know him was to love him.
|"Walter exemplified class, and all of us in sports should honor him by striving to perpetuate his standard of excellence. The tremendous grace and dignity he displayed in his final months reminded us again why 'Sweetness' was the perfect nickname for Walter Payton.'' -- NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.|
|"He was the best football player I've ever seen, and probably one of the best people I've ever met.'' -- Mike Ditka, former Bears coach and current New Orleans coach.|
|"As far as I'm concerned, I thought he was the greatest. With the teams he played on, and what he did, missing only one to two games his whole career. And, on top of that, he was just a great guy.'' -- Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris.|
|"He broke all the rules -- that you've got to be big and powerful to be a power running back. He left as strong on his last run as he did when he first came into the league.'' -- Minnesota running back Leroy Hoard.|
|"Walter is a great man. He was heavily involved in charitable activities, came into Chicago from a small town, small school, not as well known and really always made a great contribution to the community.'' -- Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green.|
|"I remember a block he threw on me once, and I thought he opened a hole in my sternum, he hit me so hard," former Los Angeles Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood told the Los Angeles Times. "I said, `Walter, what are you doing?' He said, `You were in the way.' "|
|"I played against Jim Brown and Gale Sayers," former Bears coach Jack Pardee told the Houston Chronicle, "and Walter did everything they could do, but he did it for a longer time. He was the greatest running back of all time."|
|"Heroes don't last very long," former Vikings coach Bud Grant told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. "In my book, Walter Payton was the greatest running back in the league."|
|"You felt comfortable with him," Kathy Pierburg said. "He was just one of the crowd. It's too early for a good person to leave us. He's a Chicago icon. He's what we grew up watching. He's what we wanted to be like."|
|Not one second is promised to any person, even to the sweetest. ``My coach at Jackson State always said, `If you're going to die anyway, die hard,' '' Walter Payton said a decade or so ago, explaining why he never gave up on a play.|
A Personal Statement from Walter's Family,
Connie, Jarrett and Brittany Payton
These last 12 months have been extremely tough on our family, but through these difficult times we've learned a lot about life and love. We want to say thank you to the many, many people who have made life a little easier for us. From the day in February when Walter told the world of his liver disease, the outpouring of support in letters, cards and phone calls from around the world astounded even him. Many of those letters -- including one from a young successful liver transplant patient named Christopher -- were kept close, and read often.
We want to make a special point to thank the many doctors and nurses at the Mayo Clinic and Chicago area hospitals for the care they offered Walter and the hand-holding they offered us.
We also want to thank the management of the Chicago Bears for their support, which for 25 years made Walter feel special. They looked out for him and for us, his family, and we will not forget it.
Thanks too, to the Bears teammates that called and came by so regularly to boost Walter's spirit. They say it is tough to understand the "family" relationship that exists between teammates. I understand that more today than ever.
Finally, our greatest thanks goes out to the people of Chicago. You adopted Walter and made him yours. Walter loved you all. You have made this our home. We are proud to be among you.
A Personal Statement from Walter
To All of My Friends and Fans:
Although I have not been making public appearances or statements recently, I want you all to know that every day I have taken strength from your many prayers, kind wishes and messages of encouragement.
The walls of my office are lined with your cards and letters, and my e-mail inbox is always full! Thanks to so many of you who wrote and shared your own very personal struggles with illness, your stories are truly inspiring.
Although my family and I have chosen to deal with my illness in a private manner, we have never felt alone in this because we have felt your support.
As I said when I first made the announcement back in February, when something like this happens to you, you really get in touch with your spiritual side. And I now know what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when he said, "I just want to do God's will . . . So I'm happy tonight, I'm not worried about anything."
I pray that in trying to ease the suffering of needy children through the Walter Payton Foundation, and in trying to turn the negative of being afflicted with this illness into the positive of being able to raise awareness for organ donation, that I am indeed doing God's will.
Thank you for your love and support. May God be with you.
...And I will remember you...
...Will you remember me?...
...Don't let your life pass you by...
...Weep not for the memories...
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|This page created on November 4, 1999 for Walter Payton.|
|Last Update: November 5, 1999. 17:00 est.|