Who can blame Jarrett Payton if he felt a little bittersweet about Emmitt Smith breaking his father’s record for career rushing yards in the NFL? When he watched his father, the great Walter Payton, break that record, Jarrett never thought about the fact that the record might be broken once again.
Smith became the NFL’s rushing leader last Sunday when his 109 rushing yards against the Seattle Seahawks pushed his career total to 16,743, breaking Payton’s record mark of 16,726. Payton held the record since he retired after the 1987 season.
Jarrett Payton was asked if he was hoping that Smith would not break his father’s rushing record.
“No,” he said slowly with a twinge of doubt in his voice. “I never wished that he wouldn’t, I just knew it was going to happen sometime.”
But that doesn’t mean Payton cheered as he saw Emmitt get those last yards on his quest to pass the elusive record of 16,726 yards.
Payton had to attend a team meeting during the record-breaking game, but he saw the highlight later that day.
“I just sat there for a little bit, I didn’t really know how to feel,” said Payton. “People that were in the room with me didn’t know what to say either.”
Payton never felt sad though. If anyone had to break the record, the humble Smith would have to top the list of candidates.
Payton said of Smith, “There have been amazing people in my life, and one was my father, another one would be Michael Jordan. It’s just that aura that they give off as a person. I’m just very lucky now, that even though my dad is gone, I still have someone I can look up to, and Emmitt has always been there for me.”
Payton has remained close with Smith ever since Smith received the Walter Payton
Sweetness Award this past summer. They have built a relationship over the phone that has helped to ease some of the sting of the many glitches that Payton has encountered throughout his career at UM.
Payton, a red shirt junior for the Hurricane football team, has had anything but a smooth road in his first three and half years as a Hurricane.
UM recruited Payton out of St. Viator High School in Illinois, where he started playing football in his senior season. He previously played on his high school soccer team.
Disaster struck Payton his freshman year when his father, Walter, died of a rare form of liver cancer in early November. He played through the rest of his freshman year and then decided to red shirt his sophomore year after not seeing any playing time.
After his red shirt season, Payton ran into several costly injuries, including a nagging back injury related to a car accident that slowed down his progress and landed him as the third-string running back coming into this season.
Even though Payton has mixed feelings over Smith breaking his father’s record, he has formed a bond that he will undoubtedly cherish for the rest of his life.
You can reach Nate Johnson at NPJ44@aol.com