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SideLines: Holiday gifts for the sports fan on your list

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 1:07 p.m.CST

Andre Dawson was about to take a nap when the call he had been waiting for finally came. Listening carefully, he gave a thumbs-up sign to his wife, waiting breathlessly in the doorway.

The former star outfielder for the Chicago Cubs had just fulfilled the dream of every kid who has ever picked up a ball and glove: his election to baseball’s hall of fame.

That story kicks off “If You Love This Game” by Dawson and Alan Maimon. The book touches on many aspects of Dawson’s 21-year career. He reveals what it’s like to play with pain, and what goes on between teammates who spend months – even years – together.

Another book of interest to Chicago sports fans is “Walter & Me,” by Walter Payton’s older brother, Eddie, who also played in the NFL.

There are some personal insights on the great Bears running back never before told. Growing up in “Korea Alley” with the nickname “The Little Drummer Boy” for the way he beat both linebackers and the drums, the younger Payton didn’t go out for football until his junior year in high school, primarily because he didn’t want to compete with Eddie. On his very first carry in a high school game, Walter ran 65 yards for a touchdown.

While there are many amusing anecdotes, the most moving chapters touch on the final months of Walter’s life before he died of a rare liver disease in 1999.

Proceeds of “Walter & Me,” – which I assume was written in response to Jeff Pearlman’s 2011 book, “Sweetness,” which portrayed Payton in a less than stellar light – go to the Payton Family Foundation. It is a well-written and thoughtful book in which the author paints his brother as a human being with great talents, but doesn’t glorify him.

For Bulls fans, there’s “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Kent McDill. The chapters are focused on players, coaches and events throughout the Bulls’ history. Some I remember and many more I had forgotten, like the names of the four “super fans.” This is a good, well-researched book for any longtime Bulls fan, especially those who remember the pre-Michael Jordan era.

In the same vein for race enthusiasts is “100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” Author Mike Wembree divides his chapters between famous drivers and racing incidents. The book is full of interesting facts – did you know more NASCAR drivers hail from Las Vegas than South Carolina? – as well as insights into courses and how drivers handle crashes.

Also on my list of books for sports fans is “J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey,” by Jeremy Roenick with Kevin Allen.

As colorful as he was as a player for five NHL teams, Roenick is equally as controversial now as a color commentator. Not hired to “sugar-coat anything,” J.R. notes he “was hired to bring passion to the broadcast.”

In one chapter, he writes: “Playing for coach Mike Keenan in Chicago was like camping on the side of an active volcano.” Calling him a “tyrant, a schoolyard bully,” Roenick writes that Keenan scared the 18-year-old into being a better hockey player.

Which had to be hard to do. This is a player who was once cursed out by his own mother for backing down from an encounter with another player. He was 11 at the time.

Another time, his father made him walk three miles home in the snow because he hadn’t played hard enough.

J.R. went on to play 18 years in the NHL, becoming the third American-born player to score 500 career goals.

“One reason our society is messed up these days is the acceptance of mediocrity,” he writes. “We haven’t demanded greatness from ourselves.”

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