Walter Payton

It was Walter Payton’s 58th birthday yesterday.

Only it actually wasn’t.

It was Walter Paton’s 59th birthday yesterday. As I wrote about in Sweetness, the man changed his birth date when he was at Jackson State, thinking an extra nudge of youth would add to his value. It’s funny to think about, it the recent news of Latin American pitchers taking a similar approach. Only they (as a whole) tend to lap off five or six or seven years and, ahem, change their names.

Payton did no such thing. He was just a kid, sorta goofing around, and it stuck. It stuck throughout his career. It stuck throughout his life. Why, it stuck at his funeral. On the day he died. Payton was celebrated for living 45 wonderful years. In fact, he lived 46.


Books come and books go. I’m working on my sixth, and—to be honest—the details of past work tends to fade a bit. I get calls every so often to talk about the ’86 Mets or Barry Bonds, and I’m now sorta hit or miss. Time fades things.

Something about Walter Payton, however, has really stuck with me; and always will. He was a complicated man, no doubt, and a flawed man (as are we all). But he was also, well, special. He walked with a light around him; a glow. He touched and moved people, and made them feel better about themselves. That’s extraordinary, and that’s the way I remember Walter Payton.

Happy 59th birthday, Sweetness.