In the stadium where Walter Payton starred as a football player, his family joined friends, teammates and fans today to celebrate his remarkable life.
A soulful choir filled the air with foot-tapping music, Payton highlights played on a large video scoreboard and sign-toting fans in all types of football garb filled one side of Soldier Field.
The 30-yard line on each side of the ancient lakefront stadium was repainted into a '34' in the Chicago Bears colors of orange, blue and white. And the play clock was frozen on that same number Payton carried into the Hall of Fame.
Payton, the leading rusher in NFL history, a man known for his sense of humor and consideration of others, died Monday of bile duct cancer. He was 45.
"In this stadium where he glowed, we wanted an encore," Jesse Jackson said. "Walter flew like an eagle, he flew high. We have lost 'Sweetness,' but there is a lot of 'Sweetness' left. The light did not go out. This light called 'Sweetness' belongs to the heavens, belongs to the ages."
Moments earlier, Jackson made the crowd and those sitting around a stage in the middle of the stadium get out of their seats and give Payton yet another ovation.
On a sunny day with a light chill, they responded enthusiastically for minutes, following with chants of "Walter, Walter."
Mike Singletary, another Bears Hall of Famer who was with Payton in his final hours, tried to put the public outpouring in perspective. Singletary had been one of five people to give a tribute to Payton during a private ceremony Friday.
"The finality of what has happened, adding closure to the situation now, is just saying that final goodbye in the public. But as life goes on, we'll never say goodbye," Singletary said.
"As we go forward, it's a matter of realizing what has happened and learn from it and hope we understand what he would want and just go from there."
Payton's family, former Bears players and the entire 1999 team entered Soldier Field carrying roses. When the players departed, most dropped them off in front of a picture of Payton.
"The rest of the season, I play for Walter," current tackle James "Big Cat" Williams said. "I will keep him in my heart and in my head."
Former defensive end Dan Hampton added: "We knew him as a player, the greatest of all time. And we knew him as a man, as good as you will find on this planet."
Members of Payton's family, who went on stage and thanked Chicago fans and the Bears, were composed until the end, when singer Sarah McLachlan's touching "I Will Remember You" accompanied a final video tribute to Payton.
His daughter Brittney and wife Connie were brought to tears and consoled by Jackson and the rest of the family, which formed a circle with their arms.
Said Gregory Brown, 46, coach of the Calumet Park Rams, a local youth league team: "Walter Payton was true greatness, true poetry. We tell our kids to run like Payton on the field, act like Payton in your life."