"Never die easy. Why run out of bounds and die easy Make that linebacker pay. It carries into all facets of your life. It's okay to lose, to die, but don't die without trying, without giving it your best." His legacy is towering. Walter Payton-the man they called Sweetness, for the way he ran-remains the most prolific running back in the history of the National Football League, the star of the Chicago Bears' only Super Bowl Championship, eleven times voted the most popular sports figure in Chicago's history. Off the field, he was a devoted father whose charitable foundation benefited tens of thousands of children each year, and who-faced with terminal liver disease-refused to use his celebrity to gain a preferential position for organ donation. Walter Payton was not just a football hero; he was America's hero.
It's a testament to Payton's greatness as a man that nearly half his autobiography can be devoted to what he achieved after his career. "Sweetness" may hold the NFL's career rushing record, and he may have been one of the toughest, hardest-working players ever, but he was also devoted to keeping spirits high around him, even when facing the end of his own life, and committed to helping needy children. He was so important to others that many immediately took up the latter task when he was dying--and tens of thousands more sent him their prayers and sympathy. (Payton died of liver cancer in November 1999.) With a protagonist like this, Payton's book isn't your standard sports bio. Nor is it traditional in structure. Because Payton died before his autobiography was completed, his interviews have been supplemented by the stories and thoughts of family and friends, with sports biographer Yaeger providing the connective tissue. More an oral history than an autobiography, the book sometimes suffers for it. Payton's career is dealt with summarily;frequently, stories are repeated, if from different perspectives, and Payton's many remarkable qualities are each noted many times over. The five eulogies from his funeral all elaborate on the same points: his skills and his humility.Payton had an abundance of each. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Random House Trade Paperbacks
September 11, 2001
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Excerpt from Never Die Easy by Walter Payton
The young man from Columbia, Mississippi, would have been shocked, maybe even a little embarrassed, by all the attention. He certainly would have been humbled. In the hours after Walter Payton passed away on November 1, 1999, something special happened to the world of sports. For one shining moment, people forgot the problems that plague sports today-disrespectful athletes, teams holding cities hostage, out-of-control fans-and focused instead on what is good about sports, all of which was embodied by that young man from Columbia.
Few things can bring a city as vibrant as Chicago to a standstill. Fewer still are the things that can bring together a group of loosely organized people, a group like those involved in professional football. So forgive Connie Payton if she was, as she said, absolutely awestruck by the reaction that followed her husband's death. Sports fans will not soon forget where they were when they heard that the Greatest Bear of Them All was gone.
A zealously private man, Walter Payton had left pro football nearly thirteen years earlier and had only rarely attended games and participated in NFL-related events. Walter had grown to believe there wasn't much more he could do for the game he once played. There weren't many players he admired and even fewer whom he enjoyed watching. The game, he worried, was in trouble because so many players didn't understand the value of team, didn't understand what it was like to have played in "his time" even though it was really not so long ago. Walter had worried there was nothing left he could give to the game.
Nothing, Connie Payton found out, could be further from the truth.
During the first few days of November 1999, coaches, players, fans, and broadcasters from across the country took time out to talk about Walter Payton and what he had meant to them. What he meant was not 3,838 carries, 16,728 yards, 110 touchdowns. What he meant was more than that. Those eulogizing him chose instead to recall a story about a time they saw him sign an autograph for a fan in a hospital, spend pregame time talking to those in the stands or cuddling a child handed down to him from the crowd.
The grief and affection that flowed from all corners of America served as a billboard-size lesson of what the game once was and should still be. Yes, he held great records. Yes, his runs were often spectacular-even the runs that gained only a handful of yards. Yes, he was the most talented player of what many considered the most talented professional football team in the modern era. He showed that you could be a superstar and still be someone whom people could touch. He was down-to-earth, funny, always looking for a rear end to pinch. He loved to laugh, showing off that perfect smile, yet he wasn't afraid to cry. He was a man's man and every mother's dream. Payton had not just been a great football player, he had been a role model in an age when role models are in short supply.