This is the hardest book of my career.
This is the most rewarding book of my career.
This is the most painful book of my career.
This is the most joyful book of my career.
I entered this project with a love of Walter Payton. He was one of my childhood heroes; a man whose poster hung on my wall. Back in the 1980s, playing football in Brian Cennamo’s backyard, I was either Billy Sims, Ricky Bell, Freeman McNeil or Walter Payton.
Mostly, it was Payton.
Hence, when Gotham signed me to write this book, I was giddy. It was the opportunity to delve into one of the most admirable professional athletes of our times. Hell, in one of my first interviews for the book, I asked Eddie Payton whether his brother lived up to his angelic reputation. “Well,” he said, “nobody’s perfect.”
Walter wasn’t. He fathered a child out of wedlock, and refused to have a relationship with the boy. He was a poor businessman and a hot-and-cold father and a womanizer of the first degree. Learning these things wasn’t—as some think—joyful. Just the opposite—it was depressing.
But then, over time, you realize how complicated people can be. The same man with so many flaws was loving and giving and generous and helpful. He suffered through stretches of horrible depression, yet didn’t want others to feel his pain. Even when he initially became sick, he made certain nobody knew.
The public had an impression, and Walter Payton desperately wanted it to endure.
In many ways, it still does.
I immediately connected with the idea.
Having grown up in Mahopac, N.Y. in the 1980s, I loved that year and I loved that team. It immediately reminded me of being 14-year-old boy, sitting on Vincent Gargano’s couch (he was my up-the-street neighbor) watching Dwight Gooden pitch and Gary Carter hit and Keith Hernandez and Wally Backman and Mookie Wilson and Ron Darling and Ed Hearn (yes, Ed Hearn) dominate like few teams had ever before dominated.
Researching this project was a joy, because it served as a time machine to a pleasurable period in my life. Though it’s not my best-selling book (it was a New York Times best-seller, however), it’s the one that seems to resonate with the most people. I can’t go long before a Mets fan of some sort says, “The Bad Guys Won! I love that book!”
More than 10 years post-publication, it remains incredibly gratifying.