On June 3, I will be representing my father, Walter Payton, at a Pro Football Hall of Fame dinner at The Glen Club in Glenview. I will be surrounded by 17 Hall of Famers, all of whom will be in town to raise money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Illinois and to promote the positive values of sports — values that were once instilled in me by my dad. When I was growing up, he constantly stressed the importance of hard work, studying the game and practicing until perfection.
These values have helped me immeasurably throughout my life — and to do something at age 12 that no child had done before me.
Twenty years ago this August, I inducted my father into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My dad told me what I was doing 2 ½ months before we were to go to Canton, Ohio, for the ceremony. I didn’t understand the magnitude of what he was asking.
The first time I understood was when the Hall sent books to our house that showed an aerial shot of the thousands of people who attend the ceremony. That’s when I realized that this was no joke. This was not getting up and speaking in front of your sixth-grade class.
The speech I ended up giving was written by Ms. Luna, our longtime housekeeper. I would sit at our kitchen island in our house on Mundhank in South Barrington and practice, practice and practice.
The week leading up to the big day was filled with activities. My dad was constantly being pulled in different directions, but he always made time for the two of us. One day, after signing hundreds of footballs, my dad and I drove around and found an arcade — no matter what city we were in, my dad and I would always find an arcade and lose ourselves in father-son time.
I still remember the actual ceremony to this day. When my dad reached the podium, he started to cry. It was the first time I ever saw him cry. He said it was because he was proud of me.
As I got older, my dad continued to teach me to study the game of football. People may think of him as a constant workout monster — he was known for running hills — but he actually watched more film than anything else. He would sit in our basement with old reels of film from either his games or an upcoming opponent, and he’d watch over and over again, studying every play.
In 1997, during my junior year at St. Viator, I finally started playing football. My dad would tape all of my games. He wouldn’t sit in the stands; he would take his own video camera and climb way up onto the top of the press box so he wouldn’t be distracted. It was pretty high up, and sometimes he would just sit by himself, through cold weather, rain or wind.
After he recorded the games, we’d sit on the floor in his basement office and watch them over and over again. We had a teacher-student relationship there; he would tell me, “The eye in the sky never lies.”
I know that the Hall of Famers coming to Chicago made it there by studying the game like my dad did. I can’t wait to shake hands with all of them, and to share stories about my dad.
As Father’s Day approaches, I think about that special week in Canton that we had together. I’m so honored to be representing him yet again, and I hope I have a chance to shed a tear one day to show how proud I am of my own young son.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame dinner and golf outing will be held Monday and Tuesday at The Glen Club, 2901 W. Lake, Glenview. For more information visit Profootballhof.com/chicago-salute-to-greatness.aspx.