Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Mark Sufrin’s Payton opens by showing a great football player at the height of his career, recapturing the tension that developed as Walter Payton approached Jim Brown’s National Football League (NFL) record for most rushing yardage in a lifetime. Sufrin describes the combination of physical abilities and traits of character that accounted for Payton’s success. Payton’s abilities and limitations as a football player are compared in some detail with those of Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers, and O. J. Simpson, his chief rivals for the title of greatest running back of all time. The others may have been slightly faster and more elusive—and consequently better runners—but Payton was a superior blocker and pass receiver, and he was a master of the halfback pass. His versatility probably made him the best all-around back.

With the fourth chapter, the book goes back to Payton’s childhood and takes up the story of his life. Though his early years were spent in the Mississippi of the segregation era, he grew up in a caring family that made certain he got both a sound education and many chances for fun. According to legend, the “stutter step” that he made famous as an NFL runner was invented one day while he was still a first grader. In a moment of high spirits, he broke ranks from a formation of students, and when the teacher dispatched some eighth graders to apprehend him, he improvised the stutter step as a successful tactic of evasion.


(The entire section is 450 words.)