State Your Case: Everson Walls

Intercepted 11 passes as a rookie, 57 in his career

(Published October 2015)

Everson Walls was never supposed to be a part of any Hall-of-Fame discussion.

Not when 54 defensive backs are selected in your draft class, and you’re not one of them. That was in 1981 when 28 teams claimed 332 players over 12 rounds, and Walls wasn’t included. His Grambling Tigers went 10-2 that season, and Walls led college football with 11 interceptions. Yet there was only one player from Grambling drafted that year, and it wasn’t Walls.

But it’s inexcusable that 34 years later Walls has never been a part of any Hall-of-Fame discussion.

Walls rose from his humble beginnings to play 13 seasons in the NFL and intercept 57 passes. Only 12 players in league history intercepted more passes, including only five pure cornerbacks. He started games at corner in all 13 of his seasons and three times led the NFL in interceptions.

Yet Walls has never been a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame, much less one of the 15 finalists. And if you’ve never been a finalist, you’ve never officially been a candidate because that’s the only time the 46-member selection committee meets to discuss the game’s best players.

Walls is from Dallas, so after college he signed as an undrafted college free agent with his hometown team. But the Cowboys were loaded back then, coming off a decade when they appeared in five Super Bowls. Their 1980 team went 12-4 and reached the NFC title game.

So draft picks expected to have a difficult time earning roster spots with the Tom Landry Cowboys, much less undrafted college free agents. Much less undrafted college free-agent cornerbacks with 4.7 speed.

But Walls did make the team and, by the fifth game, was in the starting lineup. He intercepted 11 passes that season to lead the NFL and earn the first of his four Pro Bowl berths. The Cowboys returned to the NFC championship game that season.

Walls led the NFL in interceptions again in the strike-shortened 1982 season, picking off seven passes in nine games, and the Cowboys advanced to their third consecutive NFC title game. His nine interceptions in 1985 again led the NFL. Walls is the only cornerback in history to lead the NFL in interceptions three times. The only other player at any position to do it was Ed Reed, a safety.

There is buzz about Reed as a potential first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in 2019. Yet there has never been any buzz about Walls.

Walls started at left cornerback for the Cowboys for nine seasons before he was swept out the door in coach Jimmy Johnson’s youth movement after a 1-15 1989 season. He moved on to New York in 1990 where he stepped in as the starting right cornerback for the Giants. He intercepted six passes at age 30 that season and added another in the playoffs as New York went on to win the Super Bowl.

So Walls has stats and a ring, which seem to be two of the key criteria for Hall-of-Fame consideration of defensive players.

The only nick on his resume might be the fact he was the defender covering Dwight Clark on “The Catch” in the 1981 NFC title game. That outcome shifted the balance of power in the conference from the Cowboys to the 49ers. That film clip — and that photo — of Clark’s leaping, fingertip grab may be haunting the memory of an otherwise great career.

It shouldn’t. Brett Favre threw six interceptions in a playoff game against St. Louis, and that will not keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Barry Sanders rushed for a minus-1 yard in 13 carries in a playoff game against Green Bay, and it did not keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Thurman Thomas forgot his helmet and lost two fumbles in Super Bowl XXVIII, and that game didn’t keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

One play is not the measure of a Hall of Famer. Neither is one game. Greatness is measured over a career.

It’s way past time for Everson Walls to be measured.


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