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Jeff Pearlman will be Michael D. “Stew” Stewart for a interview Friday October 7, 2011 12:10pm Chicago Time. Listen in on AM 1230 WJOB Hammond, IN or online at or download the free WJOB app and listen on your I-Phone or Android device.


The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton

By Jeff Pearlman

Many would say Walter Payton was a man among men. A prolific running back, a legend on the football field, a father, a loving son, a role model to millions, and one of the most beloved sports figures in NFL history. And yet Payton kept few close friends, dodged the media and built a wall between his personal life and the rest of the world. Even his own autobiography, Never Die Easy, was rife with inaccuracies.

What was behind the records, that smile, and the legend? Who was the man? These are the guiding questions of Jeff Pearlman’s Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton on Sale from Gotham Books on October 4th, 2011.

Pearlman, the author of two New York Times best-sellers, first met Payton 12 years ago, when as a young Sports Illustrated writer he was told to go to Chicago and sit down with the cancer-stricken superstar. “Never have I forgotten my 30 minutes with Walter Payton,” Pearlman says. “It was absolutely haunting— I used that experience, the memory of his voice and demeanor, to sort of guide me through this.” Though only 45, Payton—his body ravaged by cancer—looked many years older, and alarmingly frail. “As a boy, I loved and admired Payton,” Pearlman says. “I still do. I loved his style, I loved his approach. Everything. But he always seemed so guarded and mysterious, and when someone is painted as too-good-to-be-true, there is often a riveting persona behind the public image. I wanted to find out who the proverbial man behind the myth was. Payton is a beloved figure, who was complex and complicated. I tried to explore that.”

Twelve years and nearly 700 interviews later, Pearlman’s dogged reporting brings together the complete life of Walter Payton.

Sweetness is packed with news-making revelations. It includes startling details about Payton’s womanizing, his oft-selfish and self-absorbing behavior and his failed marriage. It also reveals his kindness and trust in others; the beautiful way he treated fans, and the impression he left on all who played with him.

Known for his physical prowess and his preternatural agility on the football field, Payton was also an emotional lockbox. His perfect marriage and locker-room prankster antics were fronts to a womanizing, questioning, lonely man. But Sweetness is not a sleazy tell-all. It is instead an intimate look at the man who made women gasp, men marvel, children smile, and a city dance together in a Super Bowl Shuffle.

From Payton’s childhood in segregated Mississippi, where he helped curtail racial strife by becoming the star of his integrated high school’s football team, to his college years and his thirteen-year NFL career, Sweetness brims with stories of all-American heroism—on and off the field. Payton embodied an American dream—he worked hard, he played hard, he gave to the community and he cried when he needed to. Nicknamed Sweetness by teammates in a college all-star team, the moniker personified his dazzling running style, as well as his compassionate and trusting persona. He took pleasure in randomly stopping awe-struck Chicagoans on the street to ask how their day was going; he once entrusted his Super Bowl ring to a high school kid for the weekend.

Payton was a talented but flawed American icon. Arguably the best all-around football player in NFL history, his life was cut short by a rare liver disease and cancer. His death in 1999 shook the city of Chicago and the country. His legacy lives on in the form of foundations, the oft-played “Super Bowl Shuffle” and a litany of stories of his antics, his heart, and the barriers he broke.

Sweetness is the definitive biography of Walter Payton. Through high school, playing college football with his brother, the early days of a ragtag football team called the Bears, the influence of Ditka, the small salaries and the loyalty to an agent and a friend, through the strain of fame and success, the tears at finally getting to play (and the depression after failing to score a touchdown) in a Super Bowl, and his eventual boredom and fear in retirement, Sweetness is the story of a man.

About the Author

Author of the New York Times bestsellers The Bad Guys Won! and Boys Will Be Boys, Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for and and former senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He lives in New York. For more info go to:

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