Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton

Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton

by Walter Payton, Don Yaeger


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"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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786231263
Publisher: Gale Group
Publication date: 02/28/2001
Series: Thorndike Biography Series
Edition description: LARGEPRINT
Pages: 456
Product dimensions: 5.67(w) x 8.67(h) x 0.95(d)

About the Author


Don Yaeger is the coauthor of the New York Times bestselling Under the Tarnished Dome and the critically acclaimed Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife, son, and daughter.

Read an Excerpt

The Greatest Bear of Them All

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.

Most would agree that the death of almost any other player would not have hit lovers of football quite the way Walter Payton's untimely passing did. The league asked teams to fly flags at half-mast. Moments of silence were offered at stadiums from Buffalo to San Diego. Players remembered him by scribbling his name or number on their shoes. And while honoring him, those in pro football came together in a way that touched even the most hardened. Honoring his passing brought together the men who had played with and against him, the coaches who had tried to stop him, younger players who knew him only through video highlights, and fans, many of whom had never even seen him play. In that time of mourning, pro football rallied and became a community again.

And maybe that was Walter's greatest gift—not his athletic talent but his unmatched ability to touch all those who came in contact with him.

Connie Payton: Walter would have been shocked at the response from people all around the world upon his passing. I was quite shocked. When we were making the funeral arrangements, Ginny and Matt kept talking about security to help with crowd control. They mentioned checkpoints at the door of the church and finding a church large enough to hold the number of people that would be in attendance. I looked at them with this puzzled expression on my face and said, "What are you two talking about?" Their response to me was "Don't you realize how many people are going to want to attend Walter's funeral and the memorial service?" It was more than I ever imagined and knowing Walter the way that I do, I'm sure that he would have been just as surprised. I wondered what it was about him that made people respond the way they did. As quiet as he could be there must have been something magical about the way he reacted around others. Then I realized that it was nothing magical but his genuine spirit and his openness that set him apart from all the other athletes. It didn't matter who the person was that wanted his time. He would stop and talk, even when he didn't want to at times. About a week or so after he passed, my mother and I were at the car wash and we were approached by several people telling their personal Walter stories. There were also stories of encounters with Walter that had been told to them by friends or family members. The stories were as simple as: He held my baby, he touched my son's head, asked him how he was doing in school, made him give Mom or Dad a kiss, then said to them, That's what you are supposed to do. He did have a special way with kids and he loved babies. The stories could go on and on, but it's evident as to why people felt that they knew him personally.

Eddie Payton (Walter's brother): Walter's last days were pretty much the greatest days of my life, being able to be there with him at the end. It wasn't a sad time, but it was an emotional time. You had a mother, a brother, and a wife, a son and a daughter, taking care of him. He knew what was happening, was well aware of it, accepted it. He knew what his fate was, never asked me why, never bitter, enjoyed every day that he was with us. He talked and laughed and joked with people who came in to visit as long as he could. As long as his stamina would allow, and then he'd rest. Then he'd wake up and be ready to talk again. It was one of the most beautiful things that I'd ever witnessed and one of the greatest shows of courage that, in my short lifetime, I've ever witnessed. Because for a man to go with that much pride and that much dignity just says volumes about who he was. He crammed about as much as he could in forty-five years of life. I mean, he helped, touched, inspired, worked for the betterment of so many people. And then he was able to accomplish some of his lifetime goals. Got two great kids who are going to be great Americans. One's gonna be a hell of a football player. And he's instilled in them some of the things that our parents instilled in us. And when you look at your kids and see them doing well, or better than you did, you say, I've done something right. Walter said that before he finally died.

Connie Payton: Matt was spending a great deal of time at the house with Walter. On Saturday, nine days before Walter died, Matt came over to take him out for a ride, which he did often. It was a good morning for Walter. He shaved, got dressed, and the two of them went out for a little while. Several weeks before, we had started him on a liquid nutrition supplement, which was working out extremely well. He was feeling a lot stronger, doing more things around the house. We would take longer walks in the neighborhood. We all felt that he was getting better with each day. We also had nurses stopping in to do the treatments that we couldn't do at home ourselves. One of the things that we had to do often was to take his temperature. Walter had a PICC line in his right shoulder, which was used to draw blood and feed him his nutrition. It was also inserted there to make it easier for everyone involved because Walter had a fear of needles and wouldn't let anyone near him to draw blood from his veins, which had started to collapse. On that Saturday evening, the nurse found that he was running a slight temperature. She said that we should watch it and that she would take it again when she came in on Sunday morning. She came that morning and found that he was still running a fever. We were told to call the doctor, which we did. The doctor asked us to come to the hospital just to make sure that an infection hadn't set in.

We took Walter to the Midwest Treatment Center. My family and I thought that maybe it was time to change the PICC line because it was only a temporary line anyway. We didn't worry because he seemed to be in good spirits. As a matter of fact, on our way to the hospital we had a great conversation with one of his former teammates, Thomas Sanders, and his family, who were waiting outside our home. We talked for a while, then he and Thomas hugged and kissed before we went on our way. The doctors were waiting for us when we arrived at the hospital around two-thirty p.m. Walter got out of the car on his own. A wheelchair was waiting to take him upstairs.

When we went to the hospital, we had no reason to think anything but that possibly Walter had a minor infection, but little did we know that it was a bigger problem. His body was beginning to shut down. The fluid that he started to retain was because his kidneys were failing. I couldn't believe what I was seeing or hearing. In less than three and a half hours, my husband could no longer get himself up, he could hardly speak. He was aware that something more serious was happening to him. The doctors explained that they wanted to put him on dialysis. I then had to tell him what they wanted to do; his eyes were open very wide. I told him that we should consider it, do whatever we had to do to live. He said to do whatever I thought was right.

By Sunday night, his mother and I knew that his condition was getting worse. The doctor had started the dialysis to relieve pressure. The doctors knew medically there was not much more that they could do for Walter. We all wanted him to be comfortable. He was sleeping a great deal and we made the decision not to say anything to him about the grim outlook. Such dramatic changes in such a short period of time. Again I thanked the good Lord for our reaching the hospital before any of this happened.

On Monday morning, the doctors said to have Jarrett come home from Miami. I made the dreaded call to the University of Miami, spoke to the athletic director and coaches. I wanted them to know all the details so that they could help prepare our son emotionally. Jarrett was not told all the details, but he knew that it was important for him to get home. We made the travel arrangements, which got him home late Monday night. Once he arrived home, he, Brittney, and I had a talk about the turn of events. On Tuesday morning, we all went to the hospital to see Walter. It was very emotional for all of us. Brittney took it the hardest. The kids talked to him, held his hand, and kissed him. He recognized them, he even said a few words to Jarrett. I really think he knew that Brittney was upset, so he held on to her hand tightly. He was very tired, but was trying hard to stay with us. We told him to rest, that we would all be there for him.

On Wednesday, after talking to his doctors and being told that there was nothing more to do to better his condition, I decided to bring him home, where I knew he would want to be. Walter loved our home; after all it was our dream house. The hospital made all the arrangements to have hospice available and to get all the necessary hospital equipment set up at the house so that we could make him as comfortable as possible. I wanted everything to be perfect, nothing broken, nothing missing! Once things were in order, the ambulance arrived for the trip home. It seemed like a long trip home, so different than the trip to the hospital. The one thing that was the same for me is that I had the same faith to keep believing and trusting in God. After all, faith is believing in the things unseen, and we walk by faith, not by sight.

Walter was amazing. He fought to live. Our friends and I prayed long and hard. We were not giving up hope; as a matter of fact his condition seemed as if it was getting better. He began to respond to us more and his kidneys were functioning better also. He didn't seem as swollen and his eyes were not as jaundiced. We were very thankful for what was happening. We were so sure that he was getting better that I had planned to send Jarrett back to Miami on Tuesday, November 2.

We brought Walter home because the doctors said that there was nothing more that they could do for him. I knew this, yet I was not prepared for him to die. I wanted so badly for him to get better. He too wanted to beat this dreaded disease. There were so many things to do, for instance watching Jarrett begin his football career at UM, watching Brittney grow into a beautiful young lady with so much to offer the world that lies before her.

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Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not read the book yet but i am reading the sample. The reason why i want to read it is because Walter Payton is my role model and i can not wait to read this. Walter Payton lives on as one of the greatest runningbacks the world will ever know!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great book by Walter Payton. When he was writing the book, he died. So it is not written typical autobiography style. Waltet Payton followed what he preached. He didn't die easy. Neither should you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an excellent book for any one who loves football. The beginning of the book they interview the family and close friends after his death. Once the book starts they start with Walter as a child where he grew up and what he went through. They do a good job explaining his experiences as a child and how he grew up and how it affected his athletic ability. Basically this book talks about how much of a badass Walter Payton really is, it talks about how he didn¿t have to lift because his strength is natural and how when he went to a integrated school he ran over all the white kids. The book also talks about how he had trouble getting into college because of his race. The book goes on over his football career and explains well each game they talk about and every important detail. This was an excellent book. His book is a good read and I recommend it. Walter Payton is a very influential man and is a good role model for anyone of any age.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book leads us through the happiness and success of Walter's life as much as it does through the pain and anguish. The world would be a better place if there were more Walter Paytons in it. The man was my idol before, but after reading the book, I hope he's one of everyone's.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am only eleven the best book i have ever read it is a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very touching and im only 10 and a very good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I only read the sample but it was still soooooooooooooooooo great. Touching too. :,( <3 payton 4ever ()
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good. I was intrigued throughout the book. Must read!
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SlapShot62 More than 1 year ago
Unlike Payton's football skills, the book is good, but not great. Payton was a phenomenal football player and a favorite of mine during my teens and 20s. I so looked forward to reading this book and am glad I did. Though it is not a great book, it offers a solid portrayal of the player and the man. It is thought provoking and inspirational, while covering the course of this NFL great's life.
JOrdank More than 1 year ago
Never Die Easy is a very inspiring book being a football player myself Walter Payton is a hero to me not only what he did on the field but off the field as well. On the field Walter Payton played every play as if it were to be his last and that mentality drove him to be the best running back in the NFL. People called him "Sweetness" and he lived up to it at one time having every running back record to his name and 9 pro-bowls and 2 time NFL player of the year and super bowl XX champion. Walter suffered from a rare liver disease that weakened his body to beyond repair but that never bothered him and still lived each day as it were is last. Walter Paytons legacy is not that he was one of the greates running backs in history its the fact that he did his best and gave it his all and never gave up even when he was dieng when the doctors said that they could not help him he did not let that bother him and he stayed happy until his dying breath on November 1st 1999.Walter Payton did not die only his body he still lives with us in our hearts and whoever enjoys the game of football that he touched us all one way or another and for that he will never be forgotten
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
craig77 More than 1 year ago
Great insight into Walter Payton's football talents. Always interested in what makes wonderful people "tick", and Walter Payton bares his soul in this book (he would pass away soon after writing it). Great advice on how to live life and how to look at life from Walter Payton, a dying man in his last days. Also great insight into his training habits and motivating factors that turned him into one of the best running backs in NFL history. I loved this book and would recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read Never Die Easy, an amazing autobiography by Walter Payton, Don Yaeger and the people closest to him. This nonfiction autobiography provided one of the most inspirational stories I have ever read. This book talks about Walter Payton¿s life and what he did that made him so memorable. The theme (also the title) of this book, ¿Never Die Easy,¿ means that one should never give up and never give in to pain. This novel ranks as one of the best books I have ever read. An argument I have about the book occurs on page 63. It stated that ¿Sports allowed you to be accepted.¿ For average or good players the statement holds true, but it does not for untalented players such as Kyle Orton and most of the recent Bears quarterbacks. The untalented players mess up and get yelled at often, so they are not accepted. Another argument I had about the book included the section where Walter Payton lied to the press about his illness. ¿¿I made a comment that I was doing a lot of running, training for a marathon, which was me being my typical jokester self¿¿ (211). Walter Payton should have admitted he had become very sick instead of misleading people. There were many parts I especially liked in this book. Walter and his charity organization held a Thanksgiving dinner. At one point, a little boy went up to him in tears because he had never seen Santa Clause. ¿He looked at Walter and said, ¿I can¿t believe it I cant believe Santa Claus is here and that Santa would come all the way from the North Pole just to see me.¿¿ Walter, a professional football player, took time off of Thanksgiving to make children like this little boy feel so happy. Another issue the book brings up consists of Walter being sick and dying. The fact that nature would do that to such an athletic and enthusiastic role model seems horrible. ¿The man known as sweetness was at once sad and sickly.¿ (211) Walter did nothing to deserve such a devastating disease. One connection I made from this book was Walter¿s style of playing. I saw him play in a movie I saw at football camp and this book matched his presence completely. ¿The fact that Walter survived thirteen years in the league, missing only one game, especially the beating that a running back takes, it¿s probably the most amazing thing.¿ (86). It also reminds me of the movie Rambo, where he overcomes all sorts of challenging situations. Walter and John Rambo, were both some of the best in the world at what they did. This book has affected me by making me realize that I should give 110% effort. I am a huge football fan and enjoy playing the game, so this book has given me a new respect for it best players. Of all the great sports novels, this ranks at the top of the list.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did a report on Walter and this book helped a lot. I got all the information about Walter that I needed and even more that I did not expect. Walter is my idol and i have learned so much from this book. It is a shame cancer took him.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Walter Payton¿s life was very much lived to the fullest. As Don Yaeger (The Author) tells the story of Walter¿s life it very much had an encouraging effect on me to never give up. This autobiography starts from Walter¿s early life as a child growing up in a separate but equal type of environment, through when he goes to the NFL to play for the Bears and end with Walter¿s tragic and very sudden . Never die Easy is a very good way to live your life and this shows throughout the book how Walter never gave up even when he was dying he kept on truckin¿. In this autobiography, There are many different characters so there were many different views on Walter¿s life which were all positive. The way this book was put together made me never want to put it down. This story earned 4 start from me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When i first came to my school i had to find a book this book was the first one that cought my attention. I started reading this book and i liked it form the beging. I liked learning how he lived when he was younger and how he became to be a perfessional football player. I love his determination and how strong willed he is. He worked hard no matter what was wrong with him i never gave up he gave everything his all thats what i like about this story. I think that people that like football or that admire Walter should read this book, also young boys that love to play football too i think it would give them a good veiw on a football players life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book alot because of the wat it was oarganised. It was easy to understand with the different peoples views and experiences. It tells of a man who overcomes his problems and his dreams. He was raised in a disciplind but loving family. He worked hard and never took the easy way out. I would recomend this book to people that enjoy sports,real life, and inspiring stories. His teamates and coaches loved his will to succeed and to never give up.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Walter Payton teams with Don Yaeger to tell the story of his life from his childhood all the way until his death. This book is well-written and easily understood. Never Die Easy has a wide cast of characters each giving their point of veiw of Walter and his acheivements. This autobiography ranges from Walter's early life as a teen in Mississippi, his stardom on the gridiron at Chicago and his tragic death. The way Walter and his accomplishments are described in this book makes me not want to put it down. I gave this book 4 stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not that big of a reader but what 14 is but I am a die hard bears fan. I never real got to see 'Sweetness' run and own the football every sunday. But after reading the book it inspired my so in football I went from a 3rd string center and a 4th string nose-tackle to a 2nd string center to a starting nose-tackle and the captin at our last game. So I recamond this book to everyone! GO BEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book to read! It not only talked about Walter Payton as a football star, but the tremendous person he was off the field. (Its too bad there aren't more players like him in professional sports today). I also liked how different people told stories or added insight on the Walter they knew. This is definately a great book for not only Bears fans, but all sports fans.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book Never Die Easy very much. This book is about Walter Payton¿s life on and off the field. The book talks about the illness that he had and how he fought against it. This book also talks about the way he played the game and how he go the nickname ¿Sweetness.¿ John Madden made the comment that he was the greatest running back of all time. I agree that he is one of the greatest people to play the game. He did not play the game for the money, though. Walter played football because he loved it so much. I would recommended Never Die Easy to anyone who anyone who wants to learn about the life of Walter Payton.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Seneca said, "He will live ill who does not know how to die well". Walter Payton was a role model for us all. He was the greatest of the great and had all the reason to act the part. He didn't. He gave to charity and he gave of himself. Even when he was dying. Walter Payton never blamed anyone, never doubted his faith and didn't die easy. I think in Senaca's eyes, Walter Payton lived well.