Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton
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The definitive biography of Chicago Bears superstar Walter Payton.
In the twelve years since his death from cancer, Walter Payton’s legend has only grown in magnitude. The Hall of Fame running back, who broke Jim Brown’s all-time NFL rushing mark, appeared in nine Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl ring with the 1985 Chicago Bears, and is still revered throughout the sporting landscape. Payton has become the lasting image of what’s great about football. Yet in mindlessly canonizing the man simply known as “Sweetness,” we have missed the opportunity to understand—and appreciate—one of the most uniquely complex and enigmatic superstars in the history of American sports.
No longer. Based on meticulous research and interviews with nearly seven hundred family members, friends, teammates, and various associates, Sweetness delivers an unforgettable portrait of a man who lived his life just like he played the game: at full speed. From his childhood in segregated Mississippi, to Chicago, where Payton emerged from athlete to icon as he broke the NFL’s all-time rushing record and led the Bears to Super Bowl glory; to his darker moments battling depression and adjusting to life after football, Sweetness is an eloquently written, revelatory saga of a complex, guarded superstar who died far too young.
going to be abused.” Boston was a good enough player for Frye to comply. In 1959, following four years of football at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (later known as Alcorn State University), Boston was hired as a gym teacher/football coach by (tiny) Carver High School in (tiny) Bassfield, Mississippi. He was twenty-two years old, and he was greeted on his first day by a team with twenty-two players and seventeen ragtag uniforms. “We won three games that first year, and I was sure I’d
irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” The truth was, Payton neither wanted nor needed a divorce—just a piece of paper to shut Gonzalez up by showing her that he was, indeed, trying. (Said Ginny Quirk: “Being married was inconsequential to Walter. He didn’t deal much with Connie, but having her helped with his image.”) Connie, however, did not take kindly to her husband’s filing, and was especially livid when one of his attorneys leaked word of the potential split to the Sun-Times. On
conference, Payton headed for O’Hare Airport to catch the forty-minute flight back to Rochester for some tests. He called Tucker and asked her to meet him outside the terminal to bring him some material. When she arrived, Tucker was shocked by what she saw: There stood Walter Payton, alongside his curbside car, moving to the music blasting from his speakers. “He looked so peaceful and so happy,” she said. “He said he was spending some time with God and he felt like dancing.” Later that night
interview by Larry King, Larry King Live, February 3, 1999. 399 The average wait for a liver in Illinois: Joe Gergen, “Description Irked Payton,” Newsday, February 4, 1999. 399 The success rate was 88 percent: Bud Shaw, “Payton Puts Sports, Life In Perspective,” The Plain Dealer, February 4, 1999. 401 On the afternoon of January 29, 1999: Steve Tucker, “Miami a sweet choice for Payton’s son,” Chicago Sun-Times, January 30, 1999. 401 “Miami is the best fit for me as a student”: D. L. Cummings,
rehabilitation costs. On the morning of Monday, December 26, Doug Buffone, Chicago’s veteran linebacker, addressed his teammates. “Look,” he said, “I’ve got [the Cowboys] figured out. They’re gonna have to put twelve men on the field if they hope to beat us.” That afternoon, the Bears got hammered, 37–7, with Payton rushing for a mere sixty yards on nineteen carries. “We spanked the hell out of them,” said Jay Saldi, a Dallas tight end. “All we focused on that entire week was shutting down