Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Grambling greats: Everson Walls

Walls to the hall
GSU legend can now also be called one of SWAC's elite
December 16, 2006

By Nick Deriso
Everson Walls can hardly believe it.

But there he is, climbing up on the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Mount Rushmore with legends of his youth like Junious "Buck" Buchanan, Willie Davis and Willie Brown.

Walls, a defensive back at Grambling State under former coach Eddie Robinson, was inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame on Friday night in Birmingham, Ala. He later played for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Cleveland Browns.

"When you start talking about Grambling and all the guys who I knew about coming in, guys that were really on the ground floor, that part of what's so significant," Walls said. "They were the ones you think of when you talk about the lore. They are legendary. To be associated with those fellows, that something I am very, very proud of."

As a senior on the 1980 squad, Walls was one of seven first-team All-SWAC performers from Grambling. They won 10 of 11 regular-season games on the way to a league co-championship, then participated in the I-AA playoffs for the first time in school history.

"I always thought we could compete against any team — on our level or I-A, it didn't matter," Walls said.

Walls, a first-team Division I-AA All-American in 1980, still holds the school record for interceptions in a season with 11. He later became the only player to top the NFL in picks three times, and led Dallas in interceptions a franchise-record five times.

Still, news of Walls' pending honor was largely overshadowed this week by a separate story concerning former Cowboys teammate Ron Springs, who has been stricken with diabetes and is in desperate need of a kidney transplant.

The 50-year-old Springs, a versatile back who played opposite Tony Dorsett in the early 1980s, has already been confined to a wheelchair after losing his right foot to the disease.
Son Shawn Springs, a defensive back with the Washington Redskins, made a career-threatening offer to donate a kidney, but the elder Springs refused.

Walls, a donor match, then privately agreed to give up one of his own. Word leaked out when Springs' son mentioned it to Washington-area reporters.

Walls, never one to grandstand, spent several days trying to downplay the donation.

"I was surprised at the number of calls," Walls said. "I thought of it as very private, but it's too late for that now."

He's since scheduled a news conference for Monday in Dallas, where he and Ron Springs still live, to discuss the donation.

"We'll use that opportunity to bring some awareness to organ donors, maybe kill two birds with one stone," Walls said. "It's been amazing, though, how this took off."
Same thing with Walls, who somehow went undrafted out of Grambling.

After signing with his hometown Cowboys, Walls would craft a stellar 14-year NFL career anyway. He was invited to four Pro Bowls (1981-83 and 1985) — and still shares both the career and single-game records for interceptions in that yearly all-star contest.

Walls later called the defensive plays for Bill Parcells in New York's 1990 Super Bowl victory over Buffalo. He finished his playing days with former Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick in Cleveland.

"Eddie Robinson, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick were my coaches," Walls likes to say. "I had to learn something."

Even so, Walls has never advanced past the preliminary stage for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Perhaps more shocking, he is not a member of Dallas' Ring of Honor.

That's why this kind of appeciation for Walls' efforts as a SWAC player takes on a deeply personal meaning.

"I don't think young people realize how big a deal that association is, when you talk about guys like Buchanan and (fellow Grambling great Roosevelt) Taylor," Walls said. "You don't take stuff like that for granted."

Walls was part of a 2006 induction class that also included Southern product Avery Johnson, a former NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs who now serves as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks.

This SWAC honor follows Walls' induction into the GSU and Louisiana Sports halls of fame, both in 1998.

g g g
The best, at last
December 15, 2006

By Nick Deriso

Former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells always refers to the biggest moment of Everson Walls' NFL career when he introduces people to the Grambling product.

"He saved a Super Bowl with one tackle," Parcells will say.

He did. And in that moment, "Cubby" redeemed a terrific stay in the pros that had been previously -- and unfairly -- defined by The Catch.

They inducted him into the SWAC Hall of Fame tonight, honoring a tenure at GSU that produced a best-in-the-nation 11 picks in the 1980 season alone. That school record still stands.

Walls then began a long climb to respectibility in the NFL, after somehow getting passed over in the draft. His journey wasn't made any easier by playing for a Dallas team that fell three consecutive times in the NFL Championship Game in the early 1980s, and never more dramatically than when the Niners' Dwight Clark made that improbable reception over Walls in 1981.

It made the cover of Sports Illustrated. But so did the exuberant Walls, now playing for Parcells' Giants, after that Super Bowl victory nine years later. A win that never would have been if he hadn't stopped Buffalo's Thurman Thomas on a sure TD run earlier in the game.

"My whole thing in that game was this: They are not going to pin this on me,'" Walls said. "I made sure I was ready mentally and physically."

Walls had failed to win a state title as a high schooler out of Richardson, Texas; a national championship in Grambling's first-ever trip to the I-AA playoffs; and, until then, the Lombardi Trophy over a period of unprecedented frustration for the storied Cowboys franchise.

But not this time.

He'd been on the other side of that celebration before. But not this time.

If only he could have soaked every moment in.

"I missed the press conference after the game," Walls admitted. "I sat in the lockerroom and cried the whole time."

Redemption took a while for Walls, just like tonight's honor. That's got to make it all the sweeter.

g g g
Field was his proof
Undrafted Walls spent his career showing he had skills
April 1, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — When nobody believed in Everson Walls, and that was often, he always, always believed in himself.

"You're going to have to have the heart," he'd tell himself. "You're going to have to come through for yourself."

Finally, after years of steady effort, the former Grambling State defensive back came to understand one of football's basic truths: "Whatever was going to happen for me," Walls said, "would have to happen because of what I did on the field."

Walls spoke to a packed house on Friday night as the guest speaker at GSU's annual football banquet, held in the Black and Gold Room on campus.

Often missed on the long list of Grambling's greats, Walls' triumphal return works as further validation for a career that should have received more notice.

"Everson was a great technician; he worked hard all the time," said teammate Andre Robinson, a former GSU linebacker. "He had a nose for the ball. He was always where the ball was going to be, a real smart football player."

Walls led the nation with 11 interceptions as a senior cornerback. That mark has stood as a school record at Grambling for 25 seasons now.

And Walls did it in a scheme that demanded accountability.

Former Grambling defensive coordinator Fred Collins employed a classic 4-3 look, with the corners on an island. Seldom did they get help from an extra defensive back, the so-called "nickel" or "dime" packages.

In the end, this group helped establish one of Grambling's most dominant periods, as the Tigers won four straight conference championships from 1977-80.

"Things just started to fall in line all at the same time," said Walls, now a Dallas businessman. "When I came to Grambling, (legendary former) Coach (Eddie) Robinson was at the peak of his coaching career."

Walls, named first-team all-Southwestern Athletic Conference in 1980, still ranks fourth all-time at Grambling for single-season interception-return yardage.

"He was the quiet type, nonchalant," said teammate Charlie Lewis, a 1979 Bayou Classic MVP from GSU's famed "Trees of Terror" defensive line. "But when he got on the field, it was a totally different thing. I think that led to him being overlooked."

Some pro scouts also questioned Everson Walls' ability to track top receivers after he was clocked at 4.72 in the 40-yard dash.

"They were predicating it on the stopwatch," Andre Robinson said. "They should have known more about what he had done."

The NFL Draft came and went in 1981, and Walls' phone never rang.

He eventually signed as a free agent with his hometown Dallas Cowboys, who practiced two miles from where Walls grew up.

"That was something that got all of us, that he didn't get drafted," said Robinson, a 1980 Bayou Classic MVP who now coaches GSU's linebackers. "It wasn't just that he was great his senior year; he was steady every year he was here."

What Walls did after that draft snub was historic.

He became the only player to have led the NFL in interceptions three times, a feat Walls accomplished in 1981-82 and again in '85 — all Pro Bowl campaigns with the Cowboys.

"There have been two themes to my career," Walls likes to say, "people dogging me —and me proving them wrong."

Charley Armey, who later worked in the New England and St. Louis front offices, was the scout who recommended Walls to Dallas.

"He taught me," Armey said later, "there's a hell of a lot of difference between timed speed and playing speed."

Walls led the Cowboys in interceptions a record five seasons, and his 44 career picks while with Dallas ranks behind only Pro Football Hall of Famer Mel Renfro in club history.

"He looked like he didn't have great speed, but he was always in position," said Lewis, who also now coaches his former position at Grambling. "They still didn't talk much about him."

Walls capped a 14-year pro career with a Super Bowl title playing for the 1990 New York Giants — leading the team in picks that season under former defensive coordinator Bill Belichick.

"He was a master, even then, not only at preparation but also at making adjustments," Walls said. "That's pretty scary when you can master both. I was extremely fortunate."

Walls was perhaps best known for some time as the player who gave up "The Catch" — Niners quarterback Joe Montana's desperate touchdown heave to Dwight Clark with 58 seconds left to beat Dallas in the 1981 NFC Championship game — a moment that many say symbolized the beginning of San Francisco's period of 1980s dominance.

Forgotten somehow was that Walls made two interceptions that day, along with a fumble recovery, three deflected passes and seven tackles.

This was typical of Walls' life. Yet he never crumbled under the weight of diminished expectations, never seemed to lose his ability to work hard outside the glaring spotlight.

"In a way, I don't want people to forget 'The Catch,' because they might forget the other things I did," Walls said. "People still come to me to use it in commercials. I've almost made an industry off the play myself."

Everson Walls didn't even play football until he was a senior at Berkner High in Richardson, Texas, yet nobody had more picks in his district that year. Walls enrolled at Grambling without a football scholarship, but played his way to Division I-AA All-America honors.

Others might have felt his career was in twilight when he left Dallas in 1989. A season later, playing deep safety for Belichick, Walls made a game-saving stop on a long run by Bills back Thurman Thomas in the final two minutes to help seal the win in Super Bowl XXV.

"It was the most pressure-packed moment, when he was coming at me," Walls said of a play that was called the No. 2 stop in Super Bowl history by FOX Sports. "I did not want anyone to say that I was the reason we lost. I just wanted to bring him down."

Walls called all of the second-half plays as New York frustrated Buffalo's vaunted no-huddle offense on the way to victory. The lasting image from that night, however, is Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood pushing it wide right.

All in a day's work for this often-overlooked legend, who was eventually inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

Walls was reminded of something his father told him when he was young: "You have to be able to think on your feet."

"By nature, as a family, we are an easy-going group," Walls said. "I have a very quiet confidence. That inner strength has been a plus for me in my career. There are going to be surprises. But I always knew that I could figure it out."

No comments: