Late-comer to the gridiron party
Everson Walls came this close to never being a football player. Growing up in Richardson, Texas, a Northeast Dallas suburb, and attending Berkner High School, Walls did not begin playing football until his senior year in high school. He was pretty good at it, though. He led the district in interceptions.
Though he was not recruited by any of the major programs, Walls determined to play college football….
Walls was determined to play college football, and after high school, he enrolled at Grambling State University. At the time, his girlfriend was related to an assistant coach, whom Walls called regarding a walk-on spot. Walls was eventually invited to training camp and impressed legendary coach Eddie Robinson, who arranged to meet with Walls’ mother about granting Walls a scholarship. Walls received a full ride and did not disappoint, earning Division I-AAAll-America honors while leading the nation with 11 interceptions his senior year.
You’re too slow, son.
Walls’ success at Grambling State had him thinking he could take his football life even further. Perhaps as far as the National Football League.
The Grambling star played cornerback, one of the most difficult positions in the pro game. He had played the position well enough to at least garner the attention of scouts. During NFL workouts, however, Walls ran a disappointing 4.72 40 yard dash. By NFL standards, that is too slow.
Walls went undrafted in 1981, but he was not ready to give up. He had grown up just two miles from the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility. The famed scouting department, led by super scout Gil Brandt, had not overlooked Everson Walls. They signed him to a free agent contract and gave him a shot at making the team.
A star is born on the team with the Star
Everson Walls not only made the Dallas Cowboys team, he added to the legend of the Cowboys’ scouting department by leading not just the Cowboys, not just all rookies, but the entire NFL in interceptions in his rookie season. Walls snatched an eye-popping 11 interceptions his very first year in the league. That earned him Pro Bowl honors. Walls also led the league in interceptions in 1982 and ’85.
Ed Reed is the only other cornerback in NFL history to lead the league in interceptions three times.
Walls would make four Pro Bowl trips to Hawaii during his career. In 1983, he also earned All-Pro honors. Walls shares the NFL record of four career Pro Bowl interceptions with Deion Sanders and Champ Bailey.
Three times during his career, his Dallas Cowboys played in the NFC Championship game, but lost each time. He would never win a Super Bowl with the Cowboys, but would become a Super Bowl winner later in his career with the New York Giants.
With 44 interceptions as a Dallas Cowboy, Walls is second only to Hall of Famer Mel Renfro, who had 52. Walls actually had more career interceptions than Renfro, but the rest of his 57 snatches came with other teams. Walls ranks 12th on the NFL’s all-time interceptions list. That puts him ahead of such notables as Deion Sanders, Charles Woodson, and Champ Bailey.
Not bad for a slow-footed, undrafted walk-on free agent.
HoF career? Well, here’s “The Catch…”
Everson Walls has received some Hall of Fame consideration, but has never been named as a semi-finalist. His name does not even reside in the Cowboys Ring of Honor. He was named to the 25th Anniversary Dallas Cowboys team.
One thing that mars the memory of Everson Walls as a standout football player and a winner is the play that put Joe Montana and his 49ers on the map. It took place in the NFC Championship game, January 10, 1982.
In a game where the lead shifted back and forth repeatedly, the 49ers took over the ball at their own 11-yard line trailing 27-21. San Francisco marched down to the Dallas 6-yard line, where they faced third down and three with 58 seconds left on the clock. When Joe Montana took the snap, the play, known as Sprint Right Option, was intended to be a pass to wide receiver Freddie Solomon; earlier in the game, Solomon had scored a touchdown on that play. However, the Cowboys covered Solomon perfectly. Making matters worse, the pass rush of the Cowboys collapsed the 49ers offensive line. Two of the Cowboys defensive ends Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Larry Bethea, plus linebacker D. D. Lewischased a backpedaling Montana toward the sideline, and seemed certain to either send him out of bounds or sack him. But at the last moment, and after pump-faking to get 6-foot 9-inch “Too Tall” Jones to jump, Montana threw a high pass to the back of the end zone that seemed destined to sail out of bounds until 49ers receiver Dwight Clark made a leaping grab with his fingertips for the go-ahead touchdown with 51 seconds left in the game. Clark finished the game with 8 catches for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The play, remembered in 49er lore as “Red Right Tight – Sprint Right Option” had called for both the primary receiver, Solomon, and Clark to line up on the right. Montana was supposed to roll to his right and find Solomon. Clark’s pattern called for him to cut left across the end zone, stop, and immediately reverse his path to the right. If Solomon were covered, it would be up to Montana to find Clark. Due to the pressure, Montana’s pass was high, but Clark was in position to make his memorable grab.
A photograph of the catch by Walter Iooss, Jr., with Clark at the height of his leap and Everson Walls reaching out to try to block the ball, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week.
The Catch was the culmination of Walls’ rookie season. In retrospect, it was also the passing of the torch from Tom Landry’s dominant Dallas Cowboys to Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and the San Frncisco 49ers.
Failure was the unfortunate hallmark of the famous play for which too many remember Everson Walls. But his career was so much more than one play. His was the unlikely Hall of Fame worthy career of a man too slow to play cornerback in the NFL.
A friend indeed
One of Everson Walls’ best friends on the Dallas Cowboys was running back Ron Springs. Their friendship continued and grew over the years following their NFL careers. Eventually, Springs would develop adult-onset Diabetes, which would rage out of control and ultimately claim his life.
In 2007, Springs needed a kidney transplant. If he did not receive a kidney, he would die. Everson Walls stepped forward and donated a kidney to his friend.
Everson Walls: A great guy, a great cornerback, a great Cowboy
Everson Walls deserves to be honored as a man for the sacrifice he made for a friend. He deserves to be honored as Cowboys with induction into the Ring of Honor. And he deserves serious consideration for Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was one of the most dominant cornerbacks of an era. He gave his all on the field and made his mark on the game.
God bless Everson Walls.