Prior to becoming the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith was chasing Walter Payton. Smith eventually took over that crown from the Chicago Bears legend and ended his illustrious career atop the league’s rushing chart. Prior to Payton’s passing in 1999, Smith had a chance to sit and talk with the Hall of Fame running back.
In a video clip that was shared by Payton’s son Jarrett on Smith’s birthday, the legendary Bears back asked Smith to keep tabs on his son after he passed away.
“I had never seen a person with so much strength,” Smith said when he saw Payton battling with his illness. “To face his situation the way he did. There he was, a man who was actually dying, encouraging me. Basically, I had to ask the question if there was anything I could do. Hey said, ‘No, I’m good. I’m at peace with where I’m at.’ But he said, “Every now and then just reach out to my son Jarrett and make sure that he is okay. Stay in touch with him and just be there for him if he needs you.'”
The younger Payton had this message for Smith on the post:
“Happy Birthday to my running back uncle Emmitt Smith,” he wrote. “You’ve really kept your promise to my dad.”
The clip came from Smith’s appearance on In Depth with Graham Bensinger where he discussed many different facets of his NFL life.
The elder Payton announced in February 1999 that he had a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis. He passed away on November 1, 1999 at the age of 45. Taken with the fourth overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft out of Jackson State, Payton quickly created a legacy with the Bears. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, seven-time All-Pro, won the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Year award twice, was the NFL’s Man of the Year in 1977 and also won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 1977. The league later named its Man of the Year award the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
He capped off his career in 1987 and racked up 16,726 yards on 3,838 carries with 110 rushing touchdowns in 13 seasons. He was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 with Jarrett introducing him at the event.
Smith entered the league in 1990 as a first-round pick out of Florida by the Dallas Cowboys. He broke Payton’s record in 2002 and ended that season with 17,162 rushing yards. He went on to spend two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003 and 2004. He ended his career as the league’s all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards. He also scored 164 touchdowns during his 15-year career.
Smith was an eight-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 1993 and was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1990. He was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
The younger Payton played soccer during the early days of his high school career before turning his focus to football. He played collegiately at Miami between 1999 and 2003. He ended his collegiate career with 1,496 rushing yards on 299 carries with 10 touchdowns. He also caught 28 passes for 226 yards with one touchdown. He spent time with the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe in 2005 and was part of the team that won World Bowl XIII. He went on to join the Tennessee Titans during that regular season, finishing the year with 105 rushing yards on 33 carries with two rushing touchdowns. He also caught six passes for 30 yards. After some stops with the Montreal Alouettes and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, Payton played three years with the Chicago Slaughter of the Indoor Football League.
Jarrett Payton had the privilege of having a Hall of Fame father in Walter Payton and it appears he has another Hall of Fame “uncle” who still keeps tabs on him.