"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.
Never Die Easy is Walter Payton's autobiography, told from the heart. Growing up poor in Mississippi, he took up football to get girls' attention, and went on to become a Black College All-American at tiny Jackson State (during which time he was also a finalist in a Soul Train dance contest). Drafted by the Bears in 1975, he predicted that he would last only five years but went on to play thirteen extraordinary seasons, a career earning him regular acknowledgment as one of the greatest players in the history of professional football. And when his playing days were over, he approached business and charity endeavors with the same determination and success he had brought to the football field, always putting first his devotion to friends and family. His ultimate battle with illness truly proved him the champion he always had been and prompted a staggering outpouring of love and support from hundreds of thousands of friends and admirers.
Written with veteran journalist and author Don Yaeger in the last weeks of Walter Payton's life, Never Die Easy presents Walter's singular voice—warm, plainspoken, funny, self-aware—along with the voices of the friends, family, teammates, and business associates who knew him best at all stages of his life, including his wife, Connie, and their children, Brittney and Jarrett; his teammate and friend Matt Suhey; former Bears head coach Mike Ditka; and many, many others.
Walter made Don Yaeger promise that his book would be "inspirational and leave people with some kind of lesson . . . and make sure you spell all the words right." Never Die Easy keeps all those promises.
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.
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Never Die Easy
This book was extremely poorly written. I am a huge fan and was working with my son on a book report. The stories are repetitive. Often times the reader can't distinguish the point of the anecdote. The author apparently recorded conversations with people that he interviewed for the book and the typed them up without regard to rules of grammar, editing, and organization. I am most thankful for the fact that "Sweetness" died before ever seeing the finished product! Really can't believe that this author has published anything since this book.