"But at the opening when I saw the centerpiece photo of him on the gallery wall, I began to cry. I was completely overcome not only because I still miss him, but because so many people cared enough about his legacy to have created this display."
"Sweetness: The Walter Payton Story" is the first ever museum exhibit about the life and achievements of the Bears legend. It is a multi dimensional experience featuring some of Payton's jerseys, football equipment, trophies, and various other memorabilia from Payton's childhood through his years with the Bears.
Items were on display were loaned to the museum by the Chicago Bears organization, the Payton family, and by many of Walter's and Connie's friends. The highlight for Connie was a small room with a continuous video featuring #34 at home and at work.
"Some of it I knew well, other parts of the video were from times I had forgotten," Connie said. "It is wonderful for my children to have the opportunity to see their father playing in his prime. They were quite young when he was with the Bears. I also think this will give those who have heard about Walter but never saw him on the field a better idea of who he was and what he achieved during his lifetime."
For Connie, the most pleasant surprise was the number of children in attendance who were familiar with Walter's activities both on and off the field. When some of the youngsters enveloped her in hugs, she felt her tears starting once more.
"It's not that I'm sad," Connie said. "These are tears of joy. To think that Walter has touched so many lives over the years is beyond my imagination. Clearly, these children have heard about him from their parents. It is a legacy that is nationwide, not just in the Chicago area. That Walter's story is continuing through the next generation is truly gratifying."
For Payton's daughter Brittney, the exhibit offered a chance to revisit a favorite moments with her father.
"In the exhibit's photo gallery, I saw all these pictures of him playing football, but I also saw images of him just relaxing and fooling around. That's how I remember him best."
Brittney's favorite memory of her father centered on a long ago visit to the then newly opened Mall of America.
"We loved taking short trips from time to time, just the two of us," Brittney said. "Going to that mall was such a thrill for me. I appreciated the fact that this very busy person took the time and concentrated solely on me. Fans would come up to him while we were shopping and he's simply say ‘not now, this time is for my daughter.' They respected that and allowed us to have our privacy."
"He was a young player once, just like I am today. I like to think that I'm following in his footsteps and doing something that would make him proud. Being Walter Payton's son was definitely something to live up to. My dad taught me about the value of hard work and being of a good person. I've tried to take those lessons and use them in my life in a productive way. He set high standards but showed us that our goals were achievable."
The exhibit opens October 2 and will run through June 19,2005. Advance weekend tickets are recommended. For more information on ‘Sweetness: The Walter Payton Story' go to www.lakecountydiscoverymuseum.org or call the Museum at 847-968-3397.