Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review of "Sweetness"

Back home from vacation, with a little time to recover - or write reviews!  I read four books during the train adventures between New York and Minnesota (and they were adventures) that will be reviewed here, one per day.  First up was a biography on the man many consider to be the greatest running back in NFL history, Walter Payton.   He set a single game rushing record in 1977 against my Vikings - but he no longer holds it as that was broken by a VIKING (take that!) - Adrian Peterson. 

Anyhow, here is my review of this very good book on Payton. 


“Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton” by Jeff Pearlman

Football (American), Professional, Bears, Biography

October 4, 2011

496 pages

4 1/2 of 5 stars (excellent)

Having seen Walter Payton play football in his prime and admiring what he did on the field, I was interested in reading this biography written by a well-known and respected writer for Sports Illustrated.  It turns out there was a lot more to the man than the image that was portrayed as the hard-working football player and dedicated Christian and family man.

The research and detail in this book was very good.  Pearlman talked to many of Payton’s teammates in high school and college.  The section on Payton’s time at Jackson State was quite impressive in its detail – such as the details of some of the practices endured by the players.    When he turns pro with the Chicago Bears, the ups and downs of not only Payton but the entire team is well researched as well.  The reader learns why Payton struggled at times because the Bears team was not very good.

What makes the book even better, however, is Pearlman’s account of Payton’s life off the field, both during his youth and his adulthood.   Very often biographies of professional athletes will reveal unknown characteristics about the athlete that most fans did not know existed.  This is no exception.  The best way to describe this aspect of the book is conflicting.   Payton is trying to live the proper Christian life, but has many sessions of infidelity, including fathering a child with someone other than his wife.   He is at times portrayed as an egomaniac, but yet will always visit sick children in hospitals when called upon.  He is often portrayed as a great team player, yet is shown to be sulking about individual slights, whether real or perceived.  The best story of that was during Super Bowl XX, when he was livid that William “Refrigerator” Perry, a defensive lineman, was given the ball to score the last touchdown of that game instead of him.  

This is a well researched, well written biography of the running back who many believe to be the greatest to ever play in the NFL.

Did I skim?

Did I learn something new?
Yes.  The most interesting (or shocking, depending on your viewpoint) was the revelation of Payton’s infidelity and hard-partying lifestyle well after his playing days were over.   It is not all that shocking when any athlete lives like that while playing and especially when on the road, but that Payton did this while being portrayed as an ideal family man was quite eye-opening.

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  The transitions between football and off-the-field portions were smooth and the book was told in chronological order.

The research and detail are the outstanding aspects of this book, but in addition, I believed the manner in which Pearlman presented topics that could be controversial or troubling, such as Payton’s cheating, the way in which he treated his assistants, or his drug and alcohol use, was done with sensitivity and in a non-judgmental manner.

There weren’t any glaring negatives about the book.  The closest I could come to one was that at times, the reader could believe that the author is bashing Payton too much on his lifestyle choices, especially concerning the lack of time he spent with his son born out of wedlock.  However, once the reader finishes the book and everything is covered, this turns out to be simply another chapter in a complicated life of a complicated man.

Do I recommend? 
Yes, for any football fan or reader who enjoys biographies.  

Book Format Read:
EBook (Adobe Reader)

Buying Links:


  1. Good review Lance but I've read enough about narcissistic athletes; he sounds like just another run of the mill jerk

  2. Having only seen him as a teen and young adult, I believed all the press clippings until reading this book. Think it's time to stick with biographies of the underdogs like Lance Allerd or the 33 year old Phillies rookie in 2008 you recommended. Starting that one today.