Playing 11 questions and 11 answers with Jarrett Payton, son of Walter Payton He’s presented the Walter Payton Achievement Award to the winners since 2008
Jarrett Payton, who is now 35 and a sportscaster in Chicago, learned his father, Walter, was an extraordinary guy at the age of 4 when Walter broke Jim Brown’s all-time rushing record in 1984 at Soldier Field, the Chicago Bears’ home stadium.
And Payton was just 12 when he introduced his father, who went to Jackson State University, on the dais for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. Walter Payton died in 1999 of bile duct cancer at age 45.
On Sept. 4, Bethune-Cookman University will play Alcorn State University in the 2016 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)/Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Challenge in Daytona Beach, Florida. The game will be played at 1 p.m. EST at Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium and be televised on ESPN. There, the Walter Payton Achievement Award, which recognizes outstanding accomplishments in academics and football, will be given to one member from each of the two teams.
Voting for the 2016 Walter Payton Achievement Award has already begun and closes Aug. 19. The final two winners will be announced at the game’s welcome banquet on Sept. 2.
Now a broadcaster with WGN-TV and WGN Radio, Payton has presented the award that carries his father’s name since 2008.
Let’s go 11-on-11 with Jarrett Payton.
You didn’t play football until late in high school. What did you play before that and why the change to football?
I played soccer from the age of 4 through my sophomore year of high school. I had offers to play professionally overseas for soccer before my freshman year of high school. I turned them down because I wanted to be a high school student. I switched over to football because I didn’t think I could go through life without trying it just once.
At what age did you realize that your father was an extraordinary football player?
During my high school years, around age 17, I would watch VHS videos and then I understood how good he was. He could play any position — he was the best blocker I have ever seen, he was the best football player I have ever seen.
What do you remember most from the introduction speech that you gave for your father at the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony in 1993?
I remember being at the podium and looking out at the crowd, thinking this could be one of the biggest opportunities in my life and I get to share it with the world. My father choosing me to give his introduction speech was an honor. My dad wanted to be remembered as one of the best to ever play the game of football. The Hall of Fame induction cemented his legacy.
After four seasons (including a redshirt year) as a running back/fullback for the University of Miami, you gained more than 1,000 yards rushing your senior year. Did you feel a sense of relief or a sense of arrival? And you were named MVP of the Orange Bowl that season (2004).
First, you need to understand who I was playing with at The U — my running back role was crowded with guys like Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, etc. I worked hard my senior year and I got my opportunity and when it came, I took advantage of it. I wanted to finish off my final year at Miami strong. I wanted to cement my own name with all the other greats at the University of Miami.
Most of your pro football career was spent with NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League. Did you feel any pressure performing in those leagues in the shadow of your father’s NFL feats?
No, never once did I feel pressure. I really never felt the pressure. I was always taught to be my own person and to love what you do and enjoy it. Football is football to me no matter where you are or what league you play in.
I remember your father appearing in the “Soul Train Line” dance on the Soul Train TV show back in the 1970s. Did your father get you involved in dancing?
Dancing has been in my family for years, going back to that Soul Train show and my mom dancing at Jackson State. My whole family has good footwork that translates well on the dance floor.
What do you think of the evolution and progress exhibited with ESPN and the MEAC/SWAC Challenge?
I think ESPN has really helped grow and put an emphasis on growing this game. It’s opening weekend of the college football season and it highlights all the talent within the HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities].
You have a set of boxing gloves, personalized for you from the late Muhammad Ali. What does that gift mean?
I’m a sports historian and I love not only watching sports, but I appreciate sports and its history. When it comes to the greats, Ali is at the top. For me to receive autographed gloves from him was truly an honor and something I will keep for the rest of my life.
What quote or adage or maxim do you remember the most from your father?
“Never Die Easy.”
How is life in broadcast media, a new frontier for you?
Being on the media side of sports now has been a transition for me, but it’s something I have truly been working hard on. I blend my charisma and my knowledge to give people a perspective not often seen in the industry.
Let’s say you and your father were planning a dinner for three at a posh restaurant in Chicago. What is your favorite restaurant in Chicago? Who would you two invite as a third person to that dinner? And, of course, why that third person?
Joe’s Stone Crab is where we would eat. I don’t know if I could take just one person. I think I would tell my dad that I was inviting one more person to join us and I’d have a surprise party there with a whole bunch of people. There’s a lot of people in my life that haven’t gotten a chance to meet him.