Hutson fell to the floor and grasped his leg. "Was the gun loaded?" he screamed.
"Oh, my God!" Payton said. "I almost aimed higher!"
"It felt like my entire leg was on fire," says Hutson. "It was the most excruciating pain I've ever experienced." Payton immediately dialed 911 and followed with a call to his lawyer. Bar workers raced in to see what had happened. "Walter shot J.R.!" somebody yelled. "Walter shot J.R.!"
The next morning the news that the NFL's alltime leading rusher had shot an employee swept the nation, and talk radio hosts wondered whether Payton would face charges. (He didn't.) Hutson spent 10 days in Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. Payton visited him there and apologized profusely, and when Hutson returned home he was greeted by a new set of lefthanded Wilson golf clubs, accompanied by a note from Payton. "I believe Walter was genuinely sorry," says Hutson. "He was a nice man who I really respected." A year after the shooting, however, still limping and in pain, Hutson was let go by the nightclub for what, he said, was no apparent reason. He later sued Studebaker's for failing to provide him with proper health coverage, and the business—to Hutson's shock—countersued. Though he doesn't directly blame Payton ("It's a chain," Hutson says. "He was just an investor"), Hutson lost much of his fondness for his old boss. "They actually made the argument that, knowing there was a loaded gun in the room, I should have taken precautions not to get shot," Hutson says. "It would almost be humorous, were my leg not in such bad shape." Eventually the two parties settled, and Hutson says he received $209,000. He never heard from Walter Payton again.
Many of those who knew Payton were shocked by his anxiety in the lead-up to the 1993 Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He was having trouble concentrating and was short with anyone who dared strike up a conversation. Some were under the impression that his apprehension had to do with Jarrett's planned speech—after struggling to decide on a presenter for his induction into Canton, Payton had chosen his 12-year-old son. But that was far from the problem.
Shortly after he learned he'd been voted into the Hall, Payton spoke with Lita Gonzalez [not her real name], a New Jersey--based flight attendant with whom he'd been in a tempestuous relationship since they'd met at the Michael Spinks--Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight in Atlantic City in 1988. "I'm coming to the ceremony," Gonzalez said. "There's no way I'd miss it."
The last thing Payton needed was to have his Hall of Fame weekend complicated and compromised. But Lita was coming, and she expected to be treated as his girlfriend. "She was insisting she be seated in the front row," says Tucker. "We said, 'Lita, are you insane? We're marketing this man as a family-friendly spokesperson. His whole image is based around decency. You will ruin him.'"
Although Walter hadn't lived at home for nearly five years, Connie was coming too. She was, after all, his wife. She had stuck by him through the tough early years; had left the comforts of Mississippi for Chicago; had endured his moods and his mischief, his intensity and his infidelity. To the press she had never once uttered a foul word about Walter. As far as the world knew, he was a dedicated husband.
Payton didn't know what to do. "His knowing both women were going to attend was first and foremost on his mind," says Quirk. "The induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is supposed to be the greatest moment in his life. And the truth is, it was probably the worst."
Before leaving Chicago for Ohio, Payton gave Quirk the thankless task of keeping Connie and Lita apart. "Four full days, and Lita and Connie were like two ships passing in the night," Quirk says. "If Connie was scheduled to come late, I'd make sure Lita was there early. If Connie was coming early, Lita would be there late. I can't describe the horror of that trip."