John F. Russell: Remember football's Walker

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

He represents all things good about sports.He was an undersized back - 5 feet, 11 inches tall and 173 pounds - who wasn't supposed to have made it in the National Football League. But he did, and he spent a career overachieving. He gained the respect of football fans the old-fashioned way - one yard at a time.

He could run, pass, throw and, if needed, kick the ball through the uprights for the point after a touchdown. He did whatever the team needed, and he was the guy his teammates wanted on the field when time was running out and the game was on the line.

He played six seasons for the Detroit Lions, from 1950 to 1955, played in five Pro Bowls and won the Heisman Trophy in 1948 after a successful college career with Southern Methodist University. He should have been the Super Bowl MVP after his 67-yard touchdown run in the 1952 championship game that helped Detroit beat Cleveland, but the Super Bowl wasn't introduced until 1967.

He served as an inspiration to generations of players who found their way to the NFL. He was a loving husband to Skeeter, a good friend to many and a leader who embraced Steamboat Springs' Western lifestyle. Doak Walker was an NFL star.

Sept. 27 marked the 10th anniversary of Walker's death. I spent that day the way most football fans in America did. Sitting in my La-Z-Boy in front of the television, watching today's football stars clobber each other. Between a seemingly endless flurry of commercials promoting beer, cars and pizza, I hungered to see the same magic that Walker's generation had brought to the game. I'm sorry to say, I'll have to keep watching and waiting.

I'm too young to truly appreciate how good Walker was, but I have no doubt that he would have been one of my favorite players. I was born 11 years after Walker's final season in the NFL, so I've come to know him through other writers, the magazine covers and faded black-and-white photos. But the way he played the game made me a fan.

During his six seasons in the NFL, he helped the Lions claim three divisional titles. He was part of two championships in 1952 and 1953. He was a three-time All-American at Southern Methodist.

Unlike many of today's football stars, Walker always seemed grateful to play. When he wasn't throwing or rushing for touchdowns, he kicked extra points. He was willing to return a punt or kickoff and would even play defense. When he stopped playing, the only thing left in his wake were tacklers, scoring titles and history.

The game of football has changed. So are the days when we all had a chance to bump into our childhood heroes walking down the street or at the grocery store. Today, the stars we watch are millionaires who rarely rub elbows with ordinary fans.

That's why guys like Doak Walker should never be forgotten.

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