I suppose there have been some true role models since Walter Payton. But there's never been one sweeter.

I suppose there have been some true role models since Walter Payton. But there's never been one sweeter.

This man did not need to play football to be a great man. The fact that he did, quite possibly better than anyone else ever has played it, is why he is so remembered and beloved.

But the football prowess was not the essence of the man.

Longtime readers might remember when I recalled a story of meeting Payton in Flagstaff, Ariz., of all places. He was there for a D.A.R.E. event – I bet he didn't take much more than traveling expenses – and I was literally in my first day or two as a professional sports writer.

Fresh off seeing Larry King ask Willie Mays what he was most proud of, of all the accomplishments, I stammered through the same question to Sweetness.

"My kids," he said, lighting up. "How's that?"

I can hear it like it's yesterday.

Equally as indelible in my memory was what happened a decade ago today, when Chicago Bears VIPs followed no script in taking turns at the microphone on the day Sweetness died.

Virginia McCaskey offered the most gut-wrenching, heartfelt, honest eulogy I've ever seen. It started like this: "After Brian Piccolo died, my husband, Ed, and I promised ourselves that we wouldn't get so personally involved with any of the players, and we were able to follow that resolve until Walter Payton came into our lives."

Far too much has changed since Walter came and went. Much of those changes will be evident Sunday in the hours of coverage TV spews out there about the megalomaniac to the north.

But the story in the NFC North for me will be the honoring in Chicago of a man so uninterested in personal glory, such the Brett Favre antithesis, that when he broke the hallowed Jim Brown rushing record, he chose to dedicate it to Piccolo, to Joe Delaney, to other fallen runners whom he felt never got the proper chance.

I could sooner get through "Brian's Song" without Kleenex than I can keep my eyes dry when I think about that gesture by Sweetness, or Virginia's recall of this man.

Suffice it to say I will not be in chest-bumping mode with the fellas Sunday at halftime, when those kids who were but toddlers when Payton and I met in Arizona, grace the Soldier Field playing surface with their lovely mother, Connie.

This isn't Michael Jordan and divorce and deceit and that garbage Hall of Fame speech.

This is pure, untarnished class, the likes of which we'll be lucky ever to see again.

Love 'em

CARDINALS -10 vs. Panthers: Should we play off the "Pick Six" and call him Jake "Six Pick" Delhomme? Or ignore the silent H and change it to Jake Delhouse, since that's where the other team always goes with the ball? ARIZONA.

Like 'em, but I'm scared

Texans -3 1/2 at BILLS: If you ever invite Dick Jauron over for dinner (and can't you just picture him showing up with a Bundt cake or something?), you might want to armor up. I mean, the guy might be bad, but it's hard to tell. Everywhere he goes, people drop like flies until he has an injury list longer than Bob Dylan's discography. HOUSTON.

CHARGERS -16 1/2 vs. Raiders: It took JaCircus Russell all of 11 seconds last week to give the ball away, and he had three turnovers by the end of a period. I think the reason he later said he's not the whole problem is because he's searching for a word stronger than "problem." SAN DIEGO.

EAGLES pick ‘em vs. Giants: Andy Reid will ask his suspect OTs to pass-block Tuck and the gang about 75 times. Stay warm, Kevin Kolb. NEW YORK.

LIONS -4 vs. Rams: The Lambs move down in the confidence order just because of the potential serendipity of beating the Lions after 16 straight losses. DETROIT.

SAINTS -10 1/2 vs. Falcons: The longer you stay undefeated, the harder blowout wins become. Especially vs. a quality divisional rival. ATLANTA.

I'll know more Monday

COWBOYS -9 1/2 vs. Seahawks: It's not December yet, so the Cowboys are figuring out ways to win. Seattle, meanwhile, spent its bye week trying to put its season on IR. DALLAS.

JETS -3 1/2 vs. Dolphins: Do these two score about 50 fourth-quarter points when they play in the day, or is that only when they're on Monday nights? MIAMI.

BEARS -13 vs. Browns: What does this say about the Browns? The Bears perpetrated a decade-worst showing on TV last week, right after Cleveland mysteriously occupied the same Fox outlet while the Vikes-Steelers was going on. And anyone who saw both has no hesitation in laying 13 with the fading Bears. CHICAGO.

I hate these games

PACKERS -3 vs. Vikings: Sure, the Pack has rolled through a couple JV opponents since losing at Minnesota. That doesn't mean it has solved Jared Allen, AP and the guy the Cheeseheads are going to boo all day. MINNESOTA.

COLTS -12 vs. 49ers: Drinking is to picking against the Colts as hangovers are to how stupid Manning makes you feel. But you know what? I still drink. SAN FRANCISCO.

TITANS -3 vs. Jaguars: For two weeks the Titans have had to live with a humiliating 59-0 loss. The Jags have had 14 days of an even greater embarrassment – needing overtime to beat the Rams. Have to employ a latent ITL motto here: Never take a team whose owner names the starting QB. JACKSONVILLE.

RAVENS -3 vs. Broncos: Denver historically gets run by Baltimore, but we're hoping that was a Shanny vs. Billick thing. Because this Denver team is better than this Baltimore team. DENVER.

Last week: 6-6-1
Season: 50-52-1

Peoria Journal Star sports editor Bill Liesse can be reached at (309) 686-3213 or bliesse@pjstar.com.