Sweet memories

Sweet memories

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance Company honored the late Walter Payton on Tuesday as a "Hometown Hall of Famer™" in his hometown of Columbia, Miss. The afternoon ceremony took place at his alma mater Columbia High School. The legacy and memory of "Sweetness" as he was nicknamed were recognized not only by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate, but also by more than 40 family members and hundreds of other guests including friends, former teammates and coaches as well as the East and West Marion High School and Columbia High School football teams.

Payton's wife Connie, and son Jarrett represented the record-setting running back and Super Bowl XX champion as his "Hometown Hall of Famer™" plaque was unveiled. An emotional Connie stood alongside Jarrett as he spoke to the crowd on the legacy of his father. Tuesday's dedication came on the 12th anniversary of Walter's death on Nov. 1, 1999.

"I have not been back to Columbia since I was a baby in diapers and to have the chance to present this plaque to this community, who were so instrumental helping my father be the hero he is to me, made this a very special day and I am thankful to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate," said Jarrett Payton.

Eddie Payton, brother of Walter Payton and a former NFL player, formally unveiled the plaque surrounded by members of their immediate family. The plaque will be permanently displayed at Columbia High School and serve as an inspiration to students in the community. In addition to the plaque, three commemorative Walter Payton "Hometown Hall of Famer™" road signs will be displayed in the Columbia community to honor the roots of Payton's legacy.

"To be part of a program that brings the prestige and tradition of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to communities like Columbia is an honor for Allstate, our agents and employees," said Mark LaNeve, Allstate executive vice president, marketing and sales operations.

Payton joined the Columbia High School football team his junior year and immediately cemented his place at the running back position where he earned statewide honors as a member of Mississippi's All-State Team his senior year.

Following high school, Payton played for Jackson State University where he rushed for more than 3,500 yards and acquired his famous nickname, "Sweetness." Payton broke the NCAA scoring record by rushing for 65 touchdowns during his college career. In 1996, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and in 2010, Payton was one of 11 members of the inaugural class inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

The Chicago Bears selected Payton in the first round of the 1975 NFL draft as the fourth pick overall. Payton rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 17 touchdowns during the 1976 NFL season, earning him a spot in the Pro Bowl where he was named Most Valuable Player. In 1985, with the support of a dominant defense, Payton led the Bears to a 15-1 record and an impressive 46-10 victory against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. That season, Payton performed alongside his teammates in the widely popular music video for "The Super Bowl Shuffle."

Payton retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards and scored 110 rushing touchdowns during his 13-year pro career. In all, he racked up nearly 22,000 all-purpose yards and scored 125 total touchdowns. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

"The presentation of the "Hometown Hall of Famer™" historic plaque to the family of Walter Payton was both moving and reuniting," said George Veras, president/CEO of Pro Football Hall of Fame Enterprises. "Seeing Jarrett Payton and his mother Connie Payton crying at the podium remembering Walter's passing, on this day, the 12th anniversary of his death, while returning to Columbia for the first time in two decades, surrounded by family members, made this plaque presentation yet another special event for this program."

"Hometown Hall of Famers™ presented by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate" is the Hall of Fame's first nationwide plaque program and will lead into the celebration of its 50th anniversary beginning in August 2012. "Hometown Hall of Famers™" will next honor Roger Staubach with his family in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Friday, Nov. 4 at Purcell Marian High School.

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