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Original Issue

Books Heroes on the gridiron can also be heroes off, as these two bios show

Never Die Easy
by Walter Payton with Don Yaeger
Villard, $24.95

Life Was simple to Walter Payton. "When you have pain," he said,
"focus on nonpain." No wonder, then, that in 13 seasons with the
Chicago Bears, the Hall of Fame running back who gained more
yards than anyone else in NFL history missed only one game. He
took more pride in this stat than in any other, because it
reflected his ability to defy his injuries, which is the essence
of courage. This intimate chronicle of his struggle with liver
disease and cancer is a series of conversations with Sweetness
(as Payton was called), his friends and family, transcribed by
Yaeger, an associate editor for SI, around the time of Payton's
death last November at age 45.

Payton was not one to call attention to himself on the football
field ("I never appreciated the guys who would do little jigs in
the end zone," he said), and his unselfish play was an expression
of his character off the field. For example, he never revealed
that he was the driving force behind the Illinois program Wishes
to Santa, which provides Christmas toys to thousands of
disadvantaged children.

Payton is not the book's only hero. Mutt Suhey, once his
dependable fullback, arrived at Payton's bedside the moment he
took ill and never left. At the end of each day Suhey would
whisper, "I'll be back in the morning, O.K.? Are you gonna be
here?" Payton would promise to survive, and Suhey would thank
him with a kiss on the forehead. "It's something," says Payton's
sister Pam Curry, "to see two guys, football players...having a
relationship like that."

It certainly is.

All Things Possible
by Kurt Warner with Michael Silver
HarperSanFrancisco, $24

Everyone knows the Kurt Warner story: how he went from stocking
shelves at the Hy-Vee supermarket in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to
leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title. Is there
anything left to tell?

Not much, really. Written with SI senior writer Silver, Warner
recounts his Arena League career and offers spiritual guidance.
(The book has more homilies than the New Testament.) His most
memorable lesson concerns the irony underlying his success. He
points out that he deserved as much respect while supporting
loved ones with a minimum-wage job as he does now that he's a
rich Super Bowl MVP. He finds it strange that "now that we have
more money, everyone wants to shower us with gifts." Here's a
homily: There's nothing wrong with cheering your NFL heroes. But
next time you visit the Hy-Vee, say a kind word to the guy who
bags your groceries. He may be a hero, too.