While Emmitt Smith looks to surpass Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, memorabilia sales of "Sweetness," who passed away after a battle with cancer almost three years ago, are skyrocketing. Payton's jersey is the second best-selling replica on NFLshop.com, behind current Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Until this year, Payton jerseys have been out of production for about five years. "That pent up demand combined with all the talk about the record has contributed to his popularity," said Perry Cooper, director of database marketing for the NFL.
Game Time Promotions, a licensee of the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation, has done most of the work in getting Payton memorabilia to market. Two years ago, the company started selling commemorative footballs engraved with Payton's name and number (34). The company already has produced 20,000 replicas of Payton's 1985 jerseys for sale this year.
"I believe this would have happened regardless of what Emmitt Smith was doing on the field," said Roger Stanton, president and owner of Game Time Promotions. "Walter Payton is Walter Payton."
Replica jerseys sell for $79.99, while the authentic variety costs $299.99. Other popular Payton items include signed photos ($129.99) and a bobblehead doll ($19.99). Walter Payton headbands might be the next item to hit the market, Stanton said.
Proceeds from Payton merchandise go to the Payton estate and the Walter Payton Cancer Fund.
-- Darren Rovell