Off-season readin’: Walter Payton’s Autobio
Finally, I’ve come to the book about Sweetness – Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton by Walter Payton with the help of sports author, Don Yaeger. One would think an autobiography would be written following the rules of the others; written from a first-person perspective that provides insight and behind-the-scenes information, which only the author would know.
This piece is not composed in this manner due to the unfortunate death of Payton in 1999. His diagnosis was publicly announced during a press conference on Feb. 2, 1999 and he passed on Nov. 1, 1999, all the while in the midst of writing this very book. Yaeger’s note explains the circumstances of this situation, so there is a cast list that provides background of the individuals whom interviewed comments shape the chapters chronicling Payton’s life. Sadly, as a result, the first chapter does start the story of Payton’s life at the end retelling the attention and over-whelming mourning at the announcement of his death.
Flashback to earlier moments in Payton’s life, one understands what life was like for the youngest son of a truck driver in Columbia, Mississippi during the conflicting era of integration and Civil Rights demands. Being an active young boy who was constantly in the shadow of his older brother Eddie, he did learn how to carve his own path. In high school, he played the drums, but then “realized that girls paid running backs more attention than drummers” (34).
Even though girls may have provided an opportunity to show-off, he constantly was running all over town, on average three miles a day, just to complete his everyday routine. He was one who enjoyed being by himself with nature.
"“I was always a loner as a kid and I think that is one reason I liked just running off where no one else was”(46)."
Payton continues to explain that during this time of adolescence, he learned a work ethic, which made him appreciate what he has earned, and would never think of quitting just because people stop telling him how great he is. He admits that he didn’t start playing football until junior year of high school; similar to Michael Jordan in basketball.
Fast forward to Payton playing for the Chicago Bears, which he had his initial doubts when he was offered a contract, about how his work ethic continued to develop. When faced with an on-going ankle injury, his coach wanted to keep him out; Payton refused. He taped up the skin part of the ankle; then he put a sock on, and taped the ankle again; then he put his shoe on, and taped the area one more time – he figured since he did this in college playing for Jackson State, it would work for the Chicago Bears.
"“You had to just play through any pain. You had to forget about it and go on like you normally would” (80). It is this demonstration of effort that “Chicago…a working man’s city,…a blue-collar town…respected players who played hard,” which explains the devotion Bears fans have for this specific player (83)"
Yes, he may have shown effort. Yes, he set the all-time rushing record. Yes, he is recognized as being one of the greatest players in the history of football, but even epic athletes, have their regrets. “It would have been great to score [a touchdown], they would have your name down as scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl” (125). But the regret may not be Payton’s; Coach Mike Ditka explains, “If I had one thing to do over again, I would make sure that he took the ball into the end zone. The only thing that really ever hurt me was when he didn’t score in the Super Bowl, that killed me…I kept thinking about…winning the football gam. I never thought about the individual thing so much. That was stupid on my part” (125-6).
Contrary to other books out there, this one is an inspiring tribute to the man called “the greatest Bear.” If you have a young athlete in your life, be sure to give a copy of this book to him or her; I think it will provide some insight and direction of how to prepare themselves, treat others, and even have self-respect.