Your father was one of the most adored and accomplished running backs in NFL history. What was it like growing up in the spotlight?
It was the gift and the curse. It was a cool thing but it was a tough deal for us coming up in the ’80s. We couldn’t go out to eat, there was no going to Woodfield Mall and hanging out because he wouldn’t be able to. Even when we went Christmas shopping we had to go at night after the stores were closed, they would keep them open just for him.
You went on to play for the Tennessee Titans and now have a sports radio show. Did you feel pressure to live up to your dad’s legacy?
My dad always stressed to me, “Don’t be like me, be better than me,” and that stuck with me as I got older. I didn’t understand it then but now I understand what he was saying. Now I get it.
What do you think was your dad’s best quality?
I think one of my dad’s biggest and best qualities was that he didn’t really see color at all, he just saw people for who they were. To me, I thought that was really cool because I was like, “How do you do that?” Especially coming from the South. My dad’s high school was one of the first schools to be integrated so they brought white kids and black kids together. In the town of Columbia, Mississippi it was a tough time but my dad brought people together by playing a sport. People didn’t see color at all. They came to games just to see this guy, who used to be in the band and play the drums, play football.
What is one of the fondest memories you have of him?
It was Christmas time when I was around 12 years old. My dad took me to Toys “R” Us in Schaumburg and basically shut down the store. He had people waiting with carts for me and he’s like, “Get whatever you want,” so I’m going around picking out toys. At the time Nintendo 64 was like the hottest thing so I was like, “Yo, I gotta get this!” [Laughs] Halfway through my dad comes over the loudspeaker and says, “Don’t forget to get something for your sister,” so I had to go get Barbie dolls and then we packed the car full of all of our gifts. Normally we would’ve gone left to go home but we took a right so I was like, “Where are we going?” We ended up going up to this apartment complex and all of the toys that I thought were mine were going to two families who weren’t able to have a Christmas. That’s when I really began understanding that giving back is the most important thing. You’re blessed to have what you have. Seeing those families and those kids going crazy I was like, “Wow, this is what it’s all about.”
You live in the suburbs, could you ever see yourself moving to the city?
Probably not. If it was just me and my wife, maybe but after the addition of my new son, Jayden, the suburbs is where it’s at. Especially if he wants to play sports.
When you are downtown, what are some of your favorite places to eat?
If I get an opportunity to come downtown and hang out, it’s Morton’s definitely. Always gotta have a good steak. And Sushi Samba. Fast food wise, nothing can compare to Portillo’s. I’m a Portillo’s guy, man! And here at Jimmy Green’s, they have the best nachos and they serve my beer so you can’t go wrong.
Where is your go-to spot to watch sports in the city?
My favorite place to watch a game is Bull & Bear. It’s like my home away from home.
How did you meet your wife, Trish?
I met my wife in the city at the old Bella Lounge.
Love at first sight?
No. Not love at first sight, she’ll tell you that. [Laughs] I was leaving Bella and she was standing in the doorway. I was walking backwards and accidentally stepped on her heel. When I turned around I actually knew who she was because we were friends on MySpace. I had 2,500 friends and I remembered her profile picture. She’s like, “You don’t know who I am,” and I was like, “I do, I know your picture. You have a dress on and you’re holding flowers,” and she was like, “Wow, you do know!” She ended up coming with me and my friends to another place then we ended up eating at Clark’s at like six o’clock in the morning while the sun was coming up. I had to go back to Tennessee after because I was playing with the Titans at the time. She came to visit me and we’ve been together ever since.
When did you know she was going to be Mrs. Payton?
A lot of the females I had previously dealt with didn’t really understand the life I was born into. If I was busy and doing a lot of stuff when it checked into their time I would always get problems like someone being mad at me. There are just things I have to do, it is what it is. My wife just understood that from right off the bat and that’s when I knew. Also, my mom had strong feelings for her. She sat down with me early in our relationship and told me, “Regardless what happens with you and Trisha, me and her will still be close,” so I was like, “That’s it.”
You hear so many stories about professional athletes and their relationship drama. Is it hard to stay committed in that lifestyle?
I try to tell these young guys that if you have something that’s good, make sure you are able to hold onto it. That was the thing for me. There was a lot of opportunity to do other things and be wild if wanted to but none of them were going to give me what I had in the relationship I have with my wife.
What inspired you to create your latest venture, Jarrett Payton All-American Wheat Ale?
My dad was the inspiration of why I wanted to make a beer. He had a restaurant in Aurora called Walter Payton’s Roundhouse and had started craft beers in the mid ’90s before it was popular. I always watched him around the brewery and I just thought it would be cool to extend on what he’s done. That was my goal when my dad passed away. That day I remember standing with him and as I was standing over him I told him I was going to carry on the things he wasn’t able to do and this was one of those things. That’s why I’m so proud of having the beer and being able to do this.
Who is a Chicago athlete you look up to aside from your dad?
Israel Idonije. He’s just a good dude. He plays football but he understands what it’s like to be able to give back. He comes to anything and everything I have and I do the same for him.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
I don’t want to sound so cliché but it would be my dad. Just because being married and having a son, there is so much new stuff that’s happened since he’s been gone.
Photography by Neal Agustin
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