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Charles Hirshberg
August 28, 2000
Heroes on the gridiron can also be heroes off, as these two bios show
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August 28, 2000

Books

Heroes on the gridiron can also be heroes off, as these two bios show

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Never Die Easy
by Walter Payton with Don Yaeger
Villard, $24.95

Life was simple to Walter Payton. "When you have pain," he said, "focus on nonpain." No wonder, then, that in 13 seasons with the Chicago Bears, the Hall of Fame running back who gained more yards than anyone else in NFL history missed only one game. He took more pride in this stat than in any other, because it reflected his ability to defy his injuries, which is the essence of courage. This intimate chronicle of his struggle with liver disease and cancer is a series of conversations with Sweetness (as Payton was called), his friends and family, transcribed by Yaeger, an associate editor for SI, around the time of Payton's death last November at age 45.

Payton was not one to call attention to himself on the football field ("I never appreciated the guys who would do little jigs in the end zone," he said), and his unselfish play was an expression of his character off the field. For example, he never revealed that he was the driving force behind the Illinois program Wishes to Santa, which provides Christmas toys to thousands of disadvantaged children.

Payton is not the book's only hero. Mutt Suhey, once his dependable fullback, arrived at Payton's bedside the moment he took ill and never left. At the end of each day Suhey would whisper, "I'll be back in the morning, O.K.? Are you gonna be here?" Payton would promise to survive, and Suhey would thank him with a kiss on the forehead. "It's something," says Payton's sister Pam Curry, "to see two guys, football players...having a relationship like that." It certainly is.

All Things Possible
by Kurt Warner with Michael Silver
HarperSanFrancisco, $24

Everyone knows the Kurt Warner story: how he went from stocking shelves at the Hy-Vee supermarket in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title. Is there anything left to tell?

Not much, really. Written with SI senior writer Silver, Warner recounts his Arena League career and offers spiritual guidance. (The book has more homilies than the New Testament.) His most memorable lesson concerns the irony underlying his success. He points out that he deserved as much respect while supporting loved ones with a minimum-wage job as he does now that he's a rich Super Bowl MVP. He finds it strange that "now that we have more money, everyone wants to shower us with gifts." Here's a homily: There's nothing wrong with cheering your NFL heroes. But next time you visit the Hy-Vee, say a kind word to the guy who bags your groceries. He may be a hero, too.

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