Quirk booked a room for Walter and Lita at the McKinley Grand Hotel, where the inductees stayed, and she also reserved a suite for Connie and the children. "I was told to make sure the rooms were as far apart as possible," says Quirk. Yet Lita was hardly placated. As far as she was concerned, this was to be her coming-out weekend as Walter Payton's significant other. She bought a new dress, had her hair and nails done, dreamed of attending all the parties and functions, of being introduced by Walter to his family members, friends and fellow inductees. "Lita had balls of steel in Canton," says Quirk. "She said, 'This is my time, and I'm going to take a stand.'"
Walter had different ideas. As the other inductees—quarterback Dan Fouts, guard Larry Little and coaches Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh—seized the moment by attending functions and accepting congratulations, Walter spent three days cooped up in the hotel room with Lita, only emerging on occasion to make a required appearance or to visit Jarrett and Brittney in their suite. He missed a Thursday-night function that left Hall officials fuming and earned the scorn of Bears legend Gale Sayers, who blasted his attitude. Ray Nitschke, the great Packers linebacker, issued an impassioned plea to Payton to make himself more available. It didn't work.
On the morning of Saturday, July 31, Walter and Lita had a quiet breakfast in their room. Then Payton headed to the lobby. From her room Quirk was on the phone, frantically finalizing the most awkward of seating arrangements. Because Walter and Connie were still assumed to be a couple, Quirk assigned her to the front row, alongside their children; Walter's mother, Alyne; his brother, Eddie; and his sister, Pamela. Lita was one row back, two seats down from Quirk and alongside Susan Ward, a public-relations specialist who was working with Payton. "Susan was the buffer," says Quirk. "I didn't want to sit next to Lita. She was causing too much drama."
Payton was visibly nervous and unfocused, and those few in the know had little doubt about the reason. Usually smooth and suave in public, he was terrified of the potential for embarrassment. Would Lita stand up and confront Connie? Would she storm off if he mentioned Connie in the speech?
At 12:50 p.m., Jarrett rose to introduce Walter Payton as a member of the class of 1993. The boy felt his knees wobble and his hands quiver. His four-minute speech, however, was masterly. Nattily dressed in a beige blazer, white collared shirt and colorful tie, Jarrett stood behind the lectern and brought tears to his father's eyes. "This is an historic event that my dad, Walter, and the other members of the Payton family will treasure for the rest of our lives," he said in a high-pitched voice that cracked with adolescence. "My dad played 13 seasons and missed only one game while breaking all the running back records. Not only is my dad an excellent athlete, he's a role model. He's my biggest role model and my best friend. I'm sure my sister will endorse this: We have a super dad."
When Jarrett finished, his father rose and consumed him in a hug. Walter strode to the lectern, tears streaming beneath his sunglasses. He had devoted so much time to minimizing the moment, and now that the moment was at hand, he found himself being hit by a tidal wave. "Thank you ... thank you," he said as his voice broke and the applause died down. "You know, when I first got here, we made a wager who would be the first one to break down in tears, and I was the first one to say that I wouldn't, and I was the first one to say how strong I was and everything else. As it goes to show that a lot of times when you are amongst your peers such as these great athletes, you try to be something that you're not. And after hearing my son get up here and talk, I don't care if I lose the bet."
Toward the end of his remarks, with his girlfriend of five years sitting two rows away, just behind his wife of 17 years, Payton gave listeners what they expected to hear: "I want to stand up here and say that in this point of my life, that Jarrett, Brittney, and your mom, you guys will not have to worry about anything in your life no matter what the situation or how it ends... . You three will motivate me to make sure that your lives are happy and fulfilled." On the television broadcast the camera turned to Connie, who nodded appreciatively.
When the ceremony came to a close, Payton approached Connie for a hug and a kiss, then put his arms around his mother and his children. Lita, meanwhile, walked back to the hotel and plopped onto a couch in the lobby. Holmes returned to his room, and after about 45 minutes his phone rang. It was Connie. "Bud," she said, "I'd like you to introduce me to Lita."
Moments later, in the lobby of the McKinley Grand, Connie stood in front of a woman 13 years her junior. "I introduced the two of them, and they sat and talked for quite a while," says Holmes. "They were friendly, chatty. There was no hair pulling. It was very civil." At one point Connie looked Lita in the eyes and said, bluntly, "You can have him. He doesn't want me or the children."
By the time Payton arrived at the hotel, Connie and Lita had parted ways. He was shocked to learn of the meeting but not entirely surprised. Canton was a small town, and the McKinley Grand wasn't so grand. If anything, Payton felt a sense of relief. After he had tiptoed around it for so long, the truth had finally come out.