Pearlman says Payton book is misunderstood

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Pearlman says Payton book is misunderstood

Friday, Sept. 30, 2011
Posted: 10:07 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
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It is not one of those things on which folks will be neutral. They arent now, by any means. And neither is the author.

Jeff Pearlman, author of the soon-to-be-released biography Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, said on The Dan Patrick Show on Comcast SportsNet Friday that he understands the reaction to the excerpt of the book, which sets the book up as another sleazy expose.

Its not. And any feeling that his goal was to savage Paytons legacy and to just make a buck could not be further from the truth.

I love Walter Payton, Pearlman said. I love him a million times more now, understanding him as much as I feel like I do, than when I was just some guy, a fan reading love notes to him.

Not surprisingly, the reaction to the book (which really is just a reaction to the excerpt in Sports Illustrated, since the book wont be out until Oct. 4) rocked Pearlman.

Its been pretty fierce, Pearlman said. Ive never had a backlash like this in my life. It hasnt been the most fun day in my life.

Pearlman spent almost three years working on the book, doing nearly 700 interviews.

It is so not a lets slam Walter Payton or lets mock Walter Payton book, Pearlman insisted. Its been reduced, without anyone having read the book, to a Kitty Kelly sleaze job.

The problem now is that first impressions are difficult if not impossible to change, and the first impression created here is one of muck raking, because of what Sports Illustrated elected to excerpt in its current issue.

That involves, among other things, his depression that began after his retirement and part in the failed bid to buy the St. Louis NFL expansion franchise.

When you decide to write a definitive biography of someones life, that means youre taking everything, Pearlman said. Youre writing the good and the bad. It doesnt mean youre writing just the slap on the back, that everythings great.

The truth of the matter is that after he was done playing, he felt physically battered, he felt very much alone, his marriage was in shambles, he was depressed and sad. Would that have been the part I would have preferred excerpted in the beginning? Probably not.

But it was a true part of his life.

Family matters

The charges that the book had truths and untruths and did not have cooperation from Paytons family befuddles Pearlman. He had long interviews with Paytons son Jarrett, daughter Brittany, brother Eddie as well as Paytons mother.

The whole idea that I did not get family cooperation, Pearlman said, is just not true.

Pearlman has had hostile emails and other reactions, but no death threats.

This was really a labor of love for me, Pearlman said. I love Walter Payton. I love his life more now, actually understanding it and knowing it.

What he does not understand is the sentiment that if someone is beloved, we should never their flaws or shortcomings or setbacks or troubles that it is somehow sacrilege to say that a hero went through some of the same troubles that normal people do.

I do not feel that way, Pearlman said, citing a number of great biographies that dealt with both the good and bad in the life of the famous.

Bears fans will never take him off his pedestal, as Patrick pointed out. And Pearlman did not have an idea what the statute of limitations is or should be for writing this kind of biography.

But I guarantee you, when people read the full book, all 460 pages and not just the five in Sports Illustrated, theyll consider it a very detailed and all-encompassing and very fair look at his life.

There is more to Sweetness than the marital or drug or other issues. You will find out where the nickname Sweetness actually came from. Youll find out how old Payton actually was, and why it was different from the published age. And how he came to have a hamburgers-for-life card at Wendys.

Understandable slide

Paytons troubled post-football life was not a complete mystery to Pearlman. I think the adjustment for all athletes from super-duper star to just being asked about being a star, Pearlman said. Youre reminded of what you cant do anymore.... I really do find that sort of haunting.

Pearlman in fact did interview Payton, in 1999 not long after the press conference announcing his illness. He went to Paytons office and encountered an older gentleman in the outer office.

Im here to see Walter Payton, Pearlman said to the man.

Its nice to meet you, said the man.

The man was Payton. Pearlman did not recognize him.

I just hope people give the book a chance, Pearlman said.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.