Payton Critical Essays

Mark Sufrin


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Payton focuses on Walter Payton’s career in football—its triumphs and its problems. It offers only brief sketches of his parents and the small town in which he grew up, his social life, or his education apart from football. His wife and children are barely mentioned. The book does provide convincing accounts of a variety of aspects of a football player’s life. Payton was born with a great potential for strength and speed, but only through years of relentless, disciplined exercise did he realize those possibilities. Sufrin looks frankly at the price of Payton’s success. Running backs are hit harder and more often than players at any other position; they tend to have more injuries and shorter careers. Payton had to have knee operations in 1984, the year he broke Brown’s career record, and the reader may wince at the book’s description of cartilage debris and bone fragments that were removed.

The fact that Walter’s older brother, Eddie Payton, preceded him in a football career in high school and at Jackson State helped Walter to prepare for the early stages in his career and make the transition from small town to college. Yet, though Eddie quickly followed him, Walter made it first to the NFL and had to face alone the usual problems of the “green” rookie, from whom much was expected. Watching as other players—some of them veterans and some fellow rookies—were cut from the team in preseason was painful and implied a threat that he might be next. Minor injuries kept him out of games and slowed his development. The occasional fumble, misplay, or mediocre game threatened his career—or so he imagined.

Because of injuries, Payton missed several games during his first year,...

(The entire section is 703 words.)