Never Die Easy
“ 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 tough all those who came in contact with him” (5).
The book Never Die Easy is an autobiography of Walter Payton. Walter Payton was a NFL player who played 13 seasons in the league as a running back and he did tremendous things on and off the field. The book goes in chronological order of him growing up so it starts out with his childhood. He was born in 1954.
Payton grew up in a poor part of Colombia, Mississippi with his parents, brother, and sister. They lived in an all African American neighborhood where people lived day to day. He lived in a small house that did not even have indoor plumbing. His biggest role models were his parents, especially his mom. His mom got up early every morning every day to make her family a good breakfast and then she worked all day until 11PM. His dad worked two jobs and he farmed a large garden to make food for them to eat. Looking back he realizes that they were poor but at the time he didn't because everyone else around was equally poor. All day he either played sports, went to school, or did both. He spent most of his free time playing neighborhood football, basketball, and baseball. I think the way someone is raised determines their whole life. Payton was raised with role models that taught him to always give 100% and never give up and these lessons carried over into his football career. The lessons taught to him by his parents and family pushed him to become a great man that did great works on and off the field.
Payton was in the south during a very racist time period. He was born when the Brown vs. Board of Education Case was going on and tension was high among blacks and whites. The schools had started to mix races among the white and black school in town. The thing I found the most interesting so far is how Payton did not even play organised football until his junior year of high school. He had played in the marching band his first two years of high school instead. Most people in Colombia believed this was also because he did not want to compete with his brother on the field. His brother Eddie was also a great football player who went onto the NFL. Today kids start organised sports around age 9 but he did not start until he was about 17. Today players are very far behind in their athletic ability if they do not start on a traveling team when they are young, and for him to just start playing football his junior year and then become one of the best running backs ever is crazy. Payton then transferred to the predominantly white school his senior year and he had a phenomenal season. He got all state honors and he was a powerhouse running back. After this season any white player would have colleges calling with scholarships non-stop, but not so much for a African American player.
Colleges had just started accepting black on their teams and very few were offered scholarships. Payton had only three schools who offered him any type of scholarship. If he would have been playing today he would have had full ride offers from at least a dozen Division I schools. Walter Payton decided to go to Jackson State. Walter’s brother Eddie also went there a few years earlier for football and he was also a very good player. Eddie also went to the NFL but he was not as successful as Walter. I am currently trying to decide between colleges and I can relate to him in this way. Walter had to make his decision not only for football, academics, but also considering racism. Even though two other school were offering him scholarships does not mean their townspeople and other players will fully accept him. Considering these reasons he chose Jackson State. His college football career went extremely well and he received the fourth most votes for the Heisman trophy. Most people think he would have won it if he would have gone to a bigger university. His success in college lead him to 13 great seasons in the NFL.
He was drafted to the Bears in 1975 as the 4th overall draft pick for the bears. He did not immediately do as well as he hoped, but this taught him to toughen up and work harder. He wanted to prove everyone that he could be great, and a few seasons later that is exactly what he did. Once acclimated to the NFL league he started running all over teams. He ran for over 100 yards often in single games and broke records for most yards in a game, most yards rushed in a season, and he goes on to break the record for most yards ever rushed at that time. Today he is still number two on the all time rushing list. He quickly accumulated money and fame and this was all cereal to Walter. Growing up he didn't have much of anything, so for him to have millions of dollars was unreal to him. He later uses this to make charities and do great things but that is in the second part of the book. Last semester in personal finance we watched a video on how almost 60% of all NFL players are bankrupt within 5 years of retirement. Most of this was because of many NFL players were raised without much, just like Walter, but he did not let this get the best of him. He stayed humble and became a role model for thousands of kids.
Near the end of Walter’s career his best friend Roland had major complications with his knees and he was forced to retire. This had a tremendous affect on Walter because they had done everything together for the last ten years and now he was not playing anymore. This made Walter realize how lucky he was to still be healthy and playing. Not many players get to play 13 seasons in the NFL, especially running backs. I have had a similar situation to this when Mason Millard sat out a football game last season. Mason has been my best friend since kindergarten and he plays outside linebacker right behind me on defense. We would always celebrate together and we played right next to each other. When he was gone it was weird because I would always turn around to say something to him and he would not be there. I bet this is how Walter felt but on a much larger scale because his friend was done for his career and mine was only out for one game. This drove him to become an even better play and this lead to the highlight of his career.
In 1985 the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl. Walter was of course extremely happy about this but he was upset that he did not score a touchdown. He would have loved to score a touchdown in the super bowl but he realized that it was not about him. It was about the team and he did his part in helping his team win. The first half of the book ends with Walter about to retire from the NFL.
I enjoyed the first half because is was a lot about how he made it to the NFL by hard work. My dad just saw this book on my table and he started talking about how Walter Payton was one of the best running backs ever and how he was not as dumb as most players back then. He was a good player with great character and I am looking forward to see what he does after retirement with charities.