Monday, October 10, 2011


I unfortunately haven't been reading as much lately (due to the often-mentioned secret project which is still not ready for "unsecreting", although I will say that day will arrive in the next six months)-- wait, where was I?

Oh, yes. Reading.

I started reading Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton last weekend, and in a word, it's wonderful. Wonderful research, wonderful writing, and a sense of empathy that is often not found among biographers.

Yes, I know that gigantic bags of assholes like Mike Ditka have slammed the book without reading it, but seriously, why would anyone ever listen to Mike Ditka about anything?

If you have any interest in Walter Payton, professional football, or life in the South in the 1960s-1970s, then this is a compelling and fascinating book.

Author Jeff Pearlman has written several excellent sports biographies in the past, but Walter Payton is far more interesting as a person than his previous subjects, which makes for an even better read. And look, it's true that Pearlman isn't writing a mythologized account of Payton's life, but why would anyone want to read that? Instead, this is a nuanced, meticulously researched story of a nuanced and complex person, one who was often poorly understood by even his closest friends.

This is a first-rate piece of writing and I can't recommend it highly enough. It doesn't even matter if you're not into sports--as long as you're into people, you'll enjoy it.

Here's something I discovered in the book that I don't think many people know about. When Payton graduated from high school, Jackson State (where his brother Eddie was attending and playing football) recruited him heavily. However, there was one other football program that desperately wanted Walter: Kansas State. He actually signed a letter of commitment with Kansas St., and went as far as to pack his bags at the end of the summer and head to the airport with a ticket to Manhattan.

The airport, though, was located in Jackson, and there were a few hours left before his flight, and he stopped off at Jackson St. to say goodbye to his brother and a good friend. And we all know what wound up happening: Payton never made it to Manhattan.

If he had, though, Billy Sims at Oklahoma, Earl Campbell at Texas, and Walter Payton at Kansas State would have been starring at major college programs at the same time. And who knows how the history of college football might have been altered?

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