Mercury Payton started work last week as the new town manager of Vienna, beating out 93 other candidates for the job. But of course he did. He has The Coolest Name in NoVa: Mercury Payton.
I mean, if you’re sifting through 94 job applications and you come across ”Mercury Payton,” wouldn’t you just say, “Hey, I’ve got our guy right here. His name’s Mercury Payton.”
“Mercury Payton? Really? That’s a good name. Yeah, we’re done here.”
Say you’re running the Vienna parks and rec and someone calls and says, “Mercury Payton wants you to run through that brick wall.” You’d say, “Mercury Payton? Which brick wall?”
“Mercury Payton” invokes images of a winged god, liquid metal and two of the most electric running backs of the modern day NFL, Eugene “Mercury” Morris of the Dolphins and Walter Payton of the Bears.
And Mercury is his real first name.
[The State of NoVa threw its all-important endorsement for this job behind Nancy Novak McMahon, the town’s administrative services director (and longtime family friend). But Nancy’s nickname is “Nice Lady.” Nice Lady. Mercury Payton. Sorry Nancy.]
So on his fourth day on the job, I began my in-depth interview of Mercury Payton by asking The Big Question: “How did you get such a cool name?”
Payton laughed, and I’ll just go out on a limb and say he’s gotten that question before. “I was born in 1973,” just after the Miami Dolphins had completed the first and only perfect NFL season. “My dad loved football and my mom was from Miami. It was a great compromise.”
Payton is 37 and previously was the city manager of Manassas Par k for seven years, which means he was a city manager at 30. Before that he was deputy city manager of Manassas Park, and before that an assistant city manager and acting city manager in Emporia, Va., all in his 20s. When I was in my 20s, I couldn’t find my keys.
For the largely well-run town of 15,200 [thanks Nancy “Nice Lady” McMahon], I wondered what there was for the town manager to do. Payton said the town had to figure out how to deal with the explosive growth of its neighbor to the north, a little burg called Tysons Corner. Word is, there’s a train a’comin there. And some folks might be movin in. So that’s something.
[Quick note: Did you know that for five straight seasons, Mercury Morris averaged more than five yards per carry, including a remarkable 6.4 yards per carry in 1973, the year that brought us Mercury Payton? That 6.4 is the most by a running back in the modern era. By the ‘72 season, Morris had already pushed out Jim Kiick as the halfback to star fullback Larry Csonka and he made three straight Pro Bowls.]
Mercury Payton also talked about the need to keep developing business investment in the town, to lighten the tax load on the residents. This led me to ask if he would be “diving into the Norm’s Beer and Wine mess,” the dispute between a chain grocery and a locally owned store reported here last week.
Payton politely offered that he didn’t really think he’d be diving in too often, and I realized it was a poorly worded question: He thought I was asking if he’d be drinking on the job. Not a frequently asked question, perhaps, but one with real potential if he’d decided to discuss his appreciation of the good old three-martini lunch, or something.
Payton said there likely wasn’t a government role in a landlord-tenant or tenant-tenant dispute, but he said he would check with the town’s planning and zoning director to see if everything was kosher there. Some Norm’s fans have talked about challenging the invading Fresh Market’s permit applications.
[Another quick note: Did you know that in Miami’s 14-0 regular season, Paul Warfield led the Dolphins in receptions with 29? Some guys get that now in, like, two or three weeks.]
Mercury Payton inked a two-year pact, as they like to say in sports, for $160,000 per year. He is married with five children. He got his bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and his master of public administarion degree from the University of Delaware.He replaces John Schoeberlein, who held the town manager job for 26 years.
[Last quick note: Walter “Sweetness” Payton was the greatest running back of all time, according to the State of NoVa. In 1983, he signed the biggest contract in NFL history, for $240,000 a year. He retired with the most rushing yards in league history, since surpassed, and he is in the NFL Hall of Fame. End of history lesson.]
Here’s a nice NFL Films package on Walter Payton.