Sunday, September 14, 2008

Never die easy

Had a chance to watch some football today and every time I do, I think about Walter Payton, one of my favorite players growing up.

[If you've forgotten just how great Sweetness was, I encourage you to take a look at this video. It will leave you with goosebumps.]

A few years ago, I bought his biography that he wrote with Don Yeager. So as I sat here watching the games this afternoon, I pulled it off the shelf and went back through it. Here are a couple of highlights from the book:

On why he refused to run out of bounds to avoid a tackle: "One of [his high coach's] mottos, one I took to heart, was 'Never die easy.' I took that as a motto for my game and my life. Never die easy. I carries into all facets of life, and it is something both my dad and [my coach] taught me. It's okay to lose, to die, but don't dies without trying, without giving it your best."

On how he felt when he didn't win the Heisman Trophy: "At the time it was disappointing to watch other players get the awards, get the notoriety, who I felt I was better than. But, in truth, as I've learned, it doesn't matter if you go to a small school, or are from a small town. It's what you do with the ability that God has given you. It's one thing that you always realize: Nothing is complete. You just have to remember that it will come. The recognition will come in due time."

On focusing on team goals: "Individual statistics were never the most important thing in my life. I didn't count up my yardage or touchdowns or anything like that. Once you let selfishness take over, you invariably hurt the team. You can't work toward two different goals -- individual and team. You have to play for the team goal."

On staying motivated despite playing on some mediocre teams: "The game of football is about 85 percent mental. Sure you have to be able to physically play, but you have to deal with the losses and get yourself mentally ready to back for another week. It is especially important to be mentally strong when you're on a team that struggles. It's difficult to stay consistently motivated when you're losing. That's when it's easy to slip, to give in for a moment. It's why I made myself train so hard in the off-season."

On maintaining your focus over the course of a long season: "What you have to do is look at it as a big task. It's like running 10 miles. Every time you complete a mile, you can't think about how you've just completed one mile. You've gotta think about the new mile you're just starting. Because if you start thinking, 'I've run two miles, I've run three miles,' then you start to get tired, mentally and physically. It's the same approach in football, because every week it's a mile."

On how he dealt with pain and injuries: "When you have pain, what you do is you focus on 'non-pain.' You focus your mind on soothing. You focus your mind on creating a healing form. I've had injuries that for some people would have taken them three and four weeks to heal from, but with me it would only take three or four days. The reason I healed so quickly is that I didn't dwell on the pain. Rather, I'd dwell on thinking positive. We know that certain things happen and we know there is a chemistry in our bodies that produces healing enzymes. I utilized my entire brain to heal fast."

On Mike Ditka's first meeting with the team when he became head coach of the Bears: "When Mike came in he said that we were going to win the Super Bowl. Everybody just looked around and thought, 'Yeah, right.' But you could tell he meant it. He said, 'You can come along for the ride, or you can get off. Either way, we're still going.' From that first day, you could tell things were different. Everyone believed, we began focusing on perfection, which I believe is how you have to play the game. You have to set your goals impossibly high. And winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal. Mike changed everything."

On performing at a high level over a number of years: "I've always thought that consistency is the most difficult thing to attain in life. Anyone can be good for a day, or a year. But can you be consistently great? That's so much more difficult. It requires a person to continue to work hard even after they've achieved success. It requires sacrifice even after sacrifice is no longer required. It requires a hunger in a person that's about more than just making it. It's about staying there. Whether an athlete or an actor or a musician or a businessman, I think that staying on top of your profession for a long period is the most difficult thing."

On what winning a title can do to a team: "Do you know how difficult it is to keep people hungry, to keep people humble enough to say, 'Hey, whatever I can do to ensure and enhance the team's success, I'm willing to do it?' After you've been to the mountaintop? Everybody wanted something more. Guys who were second-team, guys who were third-string, they wanted to be more in the spotlight, they wanted more and more. You can only slice up a pie in so many ways, but for everybody to get an equal slice, everybody has to do their part."

On why team success is so fulfilling: "When you're working with a group and you win, that's the best feeling in the world, bar none. Whatever you do in life, be it tennis, or golf, or running, or whatever, you can do all these things based upon our own ability. It doesn't mean anything in a team sports environment. Once you accomplish that, it's nothing compared to being able to accomplish a goal with other people, when you're depending on their effort as well as your own to accomplish your goal. It's something special because there are so many variables that are involved. Everything has to click. Everything has to go just right because everybody is working against you."

On why he didn't get into coaching after his playing days: "I never could even think about it. I could never coach because I never understood the workout ethic and the philosophies of any other athlete I've ever met. When I practiced, I literally would vomit if I had to. I worked myself and gave all of myself even if it was practice. "