Walter Payton on national cover of Sports Illustrated; Phillies and Bills appear on regional covers

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Walter Payton appears on the national cover of this week’s Oct. 3, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now. In addition, Phillies pitchers Cliff Lee and Ryan Madson (available in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia) and Bills cornerback Drayton Florence (available in New York and New England) appear on regional covers.

Below is the last time each team appeared on the cover and how many appearances they’ve had overall:

  • Bears: Jan. 24, 2011 (Jay Cutler); 25th appearance
  • Phillies: July 18, 2011 (Carlos Ruiz); 26th appearance
  • Bills: Dec. 17, 2007 (Kevin Everett); 12th appearance


Author Jeff Pearlman — who has written five books, two of them New York Times best sellers — provides an exclusive excerpt from his new book Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton (Gotham Books, out Oct. 4). Pearlman interviewed nearly 700 people over 2 ½ years to draw a detailed and sometimes heartbreaking portrait of a complex hero. The excerpt looks at Payton’s life with empathy and an understanding of the difficulties he faced once he left the game (page 70).

One of the moments Pearlman revisits is the weekend of Payton’s 1993 induction into the Hall of Fame. Pearlman says that unbeknownst to the public, Payton had been living apart from his wife, Connie, more or less since his retirement in 1988, though they remained married for fear of how a divorce would affect their children, Jarrett and Brittney, and Walter’s well-cultivated public image. Connie made the trip to Canton that weekend in 1993 with the kids, and according to Pearlman so did a woman, Lita Gonzalez (not her real name), with whom Walter had been in a five-year relationship, one that would continue until the year he died. Pearlman writes that Payton was anxious throughout the weekend, mostly staying in his hotel room with his girlfriend while his family was in a separate suite. Payton’s then executive assistant, Ginny Quirk, tells Pearlman that she was given the task of keeping the women apart:

  • “The introduction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is supposed to be the greatest moment in his life. And in truth, it was probably the worst…. Four full days, and Lita and Connie were like two ships passing in the night. If Connie was scheduled to come late, I’d make sure Lita was there early. If Connie was there early, Lita would be there late. I can’t describe the horror of that trip.”

Payton’s longtime agent, Bud Holmes, tells Pearlman that he received a call from Connie after the ceremony, asking him to introduce her to Lita, who sat a row behind Connie during the event. Holmes says:

  • “I introduced the two of them, and they sat and talked for a quite a while. They were friendly, chatty. There was no hair pulling. It was very civil.” Holmes told Pearlman that, at one, point Connie looked Lita in the eyes and said bluntly, “You can have him. He doesn’t want me or the children.”

Pearlman says that as a player, Payton numbed his maladies with pills and liquids, usually supplied by the Bears, and that the self-medicating continued after he retired. Payton would take a cocktail of Tylenol and vicodin; he kept tanks of nitrous oxide stored in his garage and took hits throughout the day; and he secured Ritalin from a friend whose son was prescribed pills. Pearlman also says that in 1988, Payton visited a handful of dental offices complaining of severe tooth pain, was supplied with several prescriptions for morphine and visited several drugstores to have them filled. Pearlman says this drew the suspicion of one of the pharmacists, who contacted the police. Pearlman says that when they arrived at Payton’s house to clear up the situation, they merely issued him a warning. Holmes tells Pearlman:

  • “Walter was pounding his body with medication, I wish I knew how bad it was, but at the time I really didn’t.”

Pearlman says that by the mid-90’s Payton was depressed and even suicidal. In a letter to a friend, Payton said he imagined himself murdering those around him and then turning the gun on himself. In their interviews with Pearlman, both Holmes and Quirk recall receiving calls at all hours of the day from Payton, threatening to end his life. As they tell Pearlman:

  • Holmes: “Walter would call me all the time saying he was about to kill himself, he was tired. He was angry. Nobody loved him. He wanted to be dead.”
  • Quirk: “He would call and say, you won’t see me when you get to the office tomorrow. Enjoy life without me.”

Pearlman says that after being diagnosed with the liver disease Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis and incurable bile duct cancer, Payton spent his final months trying to maintain a sense of normality, not wanting anyone to feel sorry for him. Pearlman writes: “He hosted some dinners for old Bears, and while it was never stated, the purpose was obvious: to say goodbye.” Some of those old Bears recall those last months for Pearlman:

  • Linebacker Mike Singletary: “I never heard him say, ‘Why me?’ I know I would have been saying, ‘Why me? Why me There are other guys out there killing people—why me?’ I never heard Walter say that.
  • Offensive tackle Jimbo Covert: “I was there with about 30 other guys. Walter took time to go around to everybody personally and grab him and say, ‘What are you doing?’—just getting the down low on how you’d been. Can you imagine how strong a person he had to have been to do that? He knew he was going to die.”

To read the full online version of The Hero No One Knew, click here.


Recent postseason history has laid out a road map to the World Series: It starts with a team’s ace and ends with its closer. Of the 44 combined playoff victories by the past four champions, 33 were won or saved by the ace or the closer. And according to senior writer Tom Verducci, the Detroit Tigers—with Justin Verlander starting and Jose Valverde closing—have this year’s best one-two punch. At the same time, keep an eye on the Phillies. With an ace to start every game — not to mention home field advantage throughout the playoffs and a solid closer of their own in Ryan Madson — they may have found an even better road map through October (page 42).

To read the full online version of An Open and Shut Case, click here.

On the Tablets: Tom Verducci makes his picks for the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year award winners in the American and National Leagues.


In the third part of his seasonlong series covering the Phillies, senior writer Gary Smith drove through Philadelphia with Cliff Lee en route to Citizens Bank Park. Smith, a La Salle University graduate who spent seven years with Philadelphia’s Daily News, writes about how the Phillies’ dream 2011 season (thus far) has galvanized the city and brought together an ever-growing fan base — one that cuts across race, gender and socioeconomic status. Says Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter (page 46): “The people have become happier, more supportive. There’s a sense of joy here, a feeling we can do big things. Everyone’s together. Everyone knows who’s pitching each night even more than who we’re playing against. It’s a Cliff Lee Night or a Cole Hamels Night or a Doc Halladay Night or a Roy Oswalt Night. The Phillies have taken this town by storm. It’s the perfect storm.”

Lee struggled early in his career, the result of an undiagnosed attention deficit disorder that left him perpetually distracted. “Never read a book in my life,” he admitted to Smith when discussing his affliction. By focusing more on each individual moment — as well as deciding to take Adderall — Lee became one of the game’s best pitchers and, eventually, the toast of Philadelphia. Of his home for at least the next four season, Lee tells Smith: “It’s been great. It’s been nothing but positive. They’re superfans, really. I’ve seen what they can do to players who left here — they can be pretty cutthroat fans. But they pack the place every night and they bring it every night, so you have to respect that.”

To read the full online version of “We’re in Baseball Heaven,” click here.

On the Tablet: Gary Smith discusses his story in a podcast interview with media writer Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch).


Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has led the Bills to 3–0 by embodying the spirit of togetherness that reflects the city of Buffalo — both on the field where, teammate David Nelson says, “he has the kind of persona that allows him to come up to a defensive lineman, approach a receiver, and find common ground”; and off, where he hosts gatherings known as Crock-Pot Sundays for his neighbors after each Bills home game. Here are two other examples of how the Harvard-bred signal-caller has found a home in Buffalo
(page 56):

  • On discussing rap music with his teammates: “I’ll memorize a line and spit it out in front of them and they’ll all start laughing. I usually just pick the most vulgar thing.”
  • On his Crock-Pot Sundays: “I get to play with my buddies, work our way up together, and then I get to come home and be with my family and friends. It’s just fun, isn’t it?”

To read the full online version of Fitz Magic, click here.

On the Tablets: Senior writer Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) conducts podcast interviews with keg cogs for two 3–0 teams: Lions coach Jim Schwartz and Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrck. Plus, King’s “Last Word on the NFL” heading into Week 4.


Saturday’s Nebraska-Wisconsin matchup will be more than an Big Ten clash of Top 10 opponents. It will be a showcase for the Badgers’ version of classic Midwestern football — which they borrowed from the Cornhuskers. Says Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who coached the Badgers from 1990 to ’05 and played at Nebraska in the 1960s (page 64): “The blueprint for everything I did came from Nebraska. You’re not going to find many five-star running backs in Nebraska or Wisconsin, but you can find big offensive linemen. So we wanted a big line, and we wanted to be physical. That’s how we played at Nebraska, and that’s how we play here now.”

Some other noteworthy quotes from senior writer Lars Anderson’s story include:

  • Alvarez, on the anticipation for Saturday’s game: “In the history of Camp Randall Stadium [built in 1917], there’s never been a harder ticket to get than the one for this Nebraska game. I personally ran out of tickets two months ago.”
  • Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, on why the state produces so many offensive linemen: “We simply have a lot of big people in Wisconsin. Maybe it’s eating all those cheese curds.”
  • Quarterback Russell Wilson, on seeing the linemen working out during a visit to Madison this summer (while he was deciding where to transfer): “Never seen anything like that before in my life. I couldn’t believe how much weight they were pushing. That pretty much made up my mind.”

To read the full online version of The Thick Red Line, click here.

On the Tablets: Hot spots on five smashmouth heroes from Wisconsin’s past and video highlights of the Badgers’ big win over South Dakota last Saturday.


When Sidney Crosby’s recovery from a concussion was seemingly stalled in August, he sought help in alternative medicine. Enter Ted Carrick, regarded as the father of chiropractic neurology — a discipline that seeks to improve brain function with anything from eye exercises to music therapy,  without medication or surgery. The validity of Carrick’s methods is widely debated, but Crosby — now skating without headaches or dizziness — believes they have helped him. He says (page 60): “I don’t think this is a case of trying to do something wacky. When someone came along and invented the airplane, people must have thought they were out of their mind. Who thinks he can fly? I’m sure people thought that person might have been stretching it a bit…. At the end of the day, as long as the person getting the care is comfortable, I think that’s what’s important.”

To read the full online version of Getting Inside the Head of Sidney Crosby¸ click here.

On the Tablets: Crosby goes into greater detail on his concussion recovery and the treatment he’s received from Ted Carrick.


Who is the most underrated player in football? (page 26)

  1. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers QB….3%
  2. Andre Johnson, Texans WR….3%
  3. Danny Woodhead, Patriots RB….3%
  4. Ray Rice, Ravens RB….2%

[Based on 269 NFL players who responded to SI’s survey]

FAST FACTS: Clearly, if a lot of people say you’re underrated, you’re not underrated: 142 players received at least one vote, but only 18 got more than three…. While Freeman and Woodhead are just making their marks, Johnson is a five-time Pro Bowl pick…. Chargers QB Philip Rivers got six votes but was named five times in a similar poll on overrated players. Top pick in that one? Cowboys QB Tony Romo (7%).


When senior writer Phil Taylor stumbled upon the blog Six Months to Dunk — the brainchild of 30-year-old screenwriter Matt O’Neill — he found more than a supposedly quixotic quest to soar above the rim. O’Neill wanted to chase one last youthful fantasy before giving himself up completely to adulthood. But when O’Neill was laid off from his day job as a writer’s assistant, he had to put his quest (which began in February) on hold and look for work. He hasn’t given up hope. As he tells Taylor (page 84): “Life just kind of got in the way. This makes for a natural end of the second act, the lowest point of the story that I would then heroically overcome to eventually dunk.”

To read the full online version of A Higher Consciousness, click here.


Senior editor Dick Friedman calls for sports rules to be more organic, to adapt to changing styles and conditions and reflect common sense rather than represent something handed down from Mount Olympus. Some of the rule changes he would enact (page 21):

  • Do away with college football’s “the ground can’t cause a fumble” rule.
  • Limit NBA teams to one timeout in the last two minutes of a half.
  • Add a 15-second pitch/serve clock in baseball and tennis, respectively.
  • Send a player off for five minutes for a yellow card in soccer.
  • Don’t penalize golfers a whole stroke if, while they’re preparing to putt, the wind moves the ball after they’ve addressed it.

To read the full online version of Get Me Rewrite, click here.


  • SI Digital Bonus: Pickup Artists – Last Sunday, the NBA’s biggest names got together in one of the sport’s most iconic venues, Philadelphia’s Palestra, to play a little ball — a game streamed live by and dubbed “The Battle of I-95.”


  • NFL (page 34): Zeros to Heroes – Winless in 2008, the Lions have used a potent aerial attack to soar to a 3–0 start. (Damon Hack, @si_damonhack)
  • NFL (page 36): Fail, Do the Chiefs – The reigning AFC West champs are hapless, not to mention winless, and the outlook isn’t likely to get any better until next April. (Jim Trotter, @SI_JimTrotter)
    • On the Tablets: Jim Trotter’s Week 4 predictions.
  • College Football (page 38): Oklahoma is O.K. – Oklahoma State may have beaten Texas A&M, but the Cowboys’ D still lack championship teeth, which is good news for the rival Sooners. (Albert Chen)
  • NASCAR (page 40): Checkered Season – After a regular season marked by combativeness and an inability to win, Tony Stewart has positioned himself as the Chase driver to beat. (Lars Anderson, @LarsAndersonSI)


  • Gyasi Zardes (Hawthorne, Calif./Cal State-Bakersfield) – Soccer
  • Amanda Jones (El Dorado Hills, Calif./Oak Ridge High) – Water Polo
  • Hayden Burnett (Richardson, Texas/Garland Christian Academy) – Football
  • Tracy Copeland (Reno) – Triathlon
  • Dan Marino (West Cornwall, Conn./UConn) – Fly-Fishing
  • Andrea Marsh (Panama, N.Y./Panama Central) – Football

Follow Faces in the Crowd on Twitter @SI_Faces

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