Family joins fans in honoring Walter Payton

November 1, 2009 (CHICAGO) VIDEO: Payton family addresses fans
PHOTOS: Tribute to Walter Payton at Soldier Field

It was 10 years ago that he died at the age of 45. The special ceremony at half-time honored his life and career.

Payton died of bile duct cancer, nine months after disclosing he had a rare liver disease. Sunday's ceremony featured former Bears players along with Payton's widow and children.

"Today is the day we can all celebrate my dad's life, and it's going to be special," son Jarrett Payton said.

Walter Payton's family joined fans at Soldier Field to commemorate his death, as the Chicago Bears paid tribute to the legendary running back.

"You never get over it. Ten years, 20 years, it will be the same as it was the first year," said Alyne Payton, Walter Payton's mother.

Both Walter Payton's 84-year-old mother and his sister flew in from his home state of Mississippi for the emotional day.

"My mom and I were in the room when Walter passed, and that is still engraved in my mind," sister Pam Payton-Curry said.

The Hall of Famer's family and close friends gathered at mid-field for a video tribute to Payton during Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.

"You better believe, Walter's smiling down on all of us right now. We love you," Walter Payon's widow Connie Payton-Strotter said to the fans.

To show respect, many of fans wore Payton's number 34 jersey while recalling what made the man we called "Sweetness' so great. It was actually in college where Walter Payton picked up his nickname for the smooth way he ran.

His performances on the field and his generosity off the field were what fans and his family remember Sunday.

"Growing up, he was my idol. I loved his passion for the game," Bears fan Javier DeLeon said.

"Walter was the best of the best. Every time he got the ball, we knew we were going to do something interesting, something good," said fan Samuel Girgis.

For example, Payton broke Jim Brown's career rushing record , and he also had a 275-yard rushing game to surpass O.J. Simpson's record.

Fellow former Bears player Dennis Gentry says, even with all the fame, Walter was always just Walter.

"He's the type of guy to walk by and "goose" you and all those things. A wonderful guy. I miss him, and I wish he was still here," said Gentry.

Although Walter Payton has passed away, his commitment to helping children continues through his foundation, as efforts grow to put a statue of Payton outside the stadium where he became a legend.

"The way Chicago loved my father and what he did for the Bears, I think it would be awesome to have a representation of him here," said daughter Brittney Payton, who was born the year the Bears won the Super Bowl. She was 14 years old when her father died.

Walter Payton's favorite day was Sunday. So, it is only fitting that Sunday was the tenth anniversary of his death.

Fans attending Sunday's game received a commemorative calendar featuring some candid photos of Sweetness, the man and the athlete.

Next week, the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation will sponsor a game-day toy drive at Soldier Field, as well as a fund-raiser to benefit the Walter Payton Liver Center at the University of Illinois hospital. The family is asking that fans bring toys to donate to next week's game.

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