Everson Walls not only was an outstanding cornerback; he was one of the best cornerbacks in Dallas Cowboys' history.
He had 57 career interceptions, tied for 13th all time, and three times led the league in pickoffs -- one of only two in NFL history ... and the only cornerback ... to do that (Ed Reed was the other). Four times he was named to the Pro Bowl. Three times he was an All-Pro. And he started on the 1990 Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Yet he came out of nowhere -- a free agent from Grambling who made it from Dallas after everyone passed on him in the draft. So how does that happen? How does a player with Walls' ability go unnoticed?
Good question. So we asked Walls on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, and he had a ready answer: Hall-of-Fame cornerback Willie Brown, who could have steered him to Oakland ("only my second-favorite team in history," Walls said) but didn't.
"I remember when the Raiders came to town," Walls said, "and they sent Grambling alum Willie Brown to time me in the 40. And I don't know why they did that. They knew I was slow as hell. It was no secret that I was slow. To me it was all about: 'Line me up against that receiver old-school style, and watch me shut this dude down.' I don't give a damn how I do it. Sometimes I can't explain how I did it. I just know I did it. And the proof was in the game film.
"But they come down there with their stop watches, and even Willie Brown came. And I must have run so badly that day. Willie goes back to the Raiders, and, instead of saying, 'Hey, this is a fellow Grambling alum; this guy is going to make some plays for us.' He goes back to Al Davis and says, 'Man, you don't want this dude. He's not Raider material. He couldn't even outrun our offensive linemen.'
"I mean, I can just imagine what that conversation was like because when I saw Al Davis the next year after I had led the league in interceptions with 11, Al Davis came to me and asked me ... while they were having a scouting combine at the Dallas practice field ... why didn't I want to come and play for the Raiders? That'as the question he asked me. So Willie Brown's sitting up there looking like a clown with egg on his face, and I'm looking at Willie, saying, 'Hey, Willie, what do you want me to say?' "
Walls said nothing. He simply let his play do the talking. And it was terrific. In fact, Walls is a Hall-of-Fame candidate who deserves more than he's gotten from voters -- one of several decorated veterans in their last year of eligibility in 2018 as modern-era candidates. Voters are likely to pass on him (he hasn't even been a semifinalist before) but how did all those scouts?
"There's a lot of crap that comes up when it comes to people's reputations," said the entertaining Walls, "and I think Willie thought I would ruin his. But whatever happened, Willie went back and told Al Davis that I wanted to play for the Cowboys.
"(But) how in the hell is a free agent going to have that kind of autonomy to just say, 'No, man, I'm not signing with y'all, the Raiders. I'm going to wait for these free-agent contracts to come around so I can get paid a $1,500 signing bonus.' Thanks, but no thanks, Willie. Appreciate you, buddy."