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Never Die Easy
is Walter Payton's final gift to us

Harvey Frommer's Sports Book Review

by Harvey Frommer

Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge          

Title: "Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton" 
Author: Walter Payton with Don Yaeger
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 264
Price: $24.95

This is one of the saddest and at the same time one of the most uplifting sports books to come around in a long time. Walter Payton and Don Yaeger had planned the standard as-told-to sports autobiography, but it became something much different -- and very special -- when the greatest running back in football history was struck down by a rare liver disease. "Never Die Easy" tells the story of a man who died much too soon.

The book was changed so that Payton's story could be told through his voice but also 25 others: his wife, children, brother and sister and the people in football who knew him best -- Mike Ditka, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, Franco Harris, Matt Suhey, John Madden and even the legendary Jim Brown, whose career rushing record Payton shattered.

The title of the book comes from a saying of Payton's college coach: "Never die easy. Why run out of bounds and die easy? Make the linebacker pay. It carries into all facets of your life. It's OK to lose, to die, but don't die without trying, without giving it your best."

Those words truly personified what Payton was all about. On the football field he was the leading rusher in the history of the NFL, the star of the only Super Bowl champion the Chicago Bears ever had.

Off the football field he was a wonderful husband, a devoted father, a solid citizen, a man of decency. His charitable foundation aided tens of thousands of children annually.

They called him "Sweetness" for the way he ran. The term is applicable to the way he lived. On the football field Walter Payton made all those around him better; on the playing field of life he did the same.

We are fortunate to have Never Die Easy. It is a book that takes us from the days Payton grew up poor in Columbia, Miss., through his time as an All-American at tiny Jackson State through his extraordinary 13-year Hall of Fame career with the Bears to his final encounter in his battle with "the one opponent I never thought about."

Walter Payton once noted: "Too many of us only take. We don't give." He gave, always. At the very end he could have used his celebrity status to get preferential positioning for organ donation. That was not his way. His way -- and he was a man who died for want of an organ -- was a willingness and eagerness to donate his own organs.

Part autobiography, part oral history, Never Die Easy is not an easy read. Some tears will get in your way. But the book is an important read about football, life and the human spirit.

When they were working on the book, Payton made Yaeger promise that this book would be "inspirational and leave people with some kind of lesson."

Mission accomplished.

BOOKENDS: "The 3,000 Hit Club," by Fred McMane (Sports Publishing Inc., 213 pages, $14.95) is an entertaining look at the 23 members of this elite club (Cal Ripken Jr. became the 24th this season) that ranges from Pete Rose through Ty Cobb and includes players like Al Kaline and Roberto Clemente. In words, pictures and statistics, the book more than covers the topic.

"The Golden Era of Golf/How America Rose to Dominate the Old Scots Game," by Al Barkow is priced at $25.95 and is scheduled for November publication by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. For students of golf and those interested in sports and culture, this book will be required reading.       

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
*Autographed copies of Frommer books are available .

Other Frommer sports related articles can be found at:   

Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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