Many NFL teams passed up on Grambling State Tigers rookie defensive back Everson Walls in the 1981 NFL Draft.
It was one of the biggest mistakes they ever made.
The Dallas Cowboys, the team Walls grew up following, signed him as an undrafted free agent.
Little did they know Walls would become one of the best defensive backs in their franchise’s history during his nine-year pro football career in Dallas.
Walls, a late bloomer to the gridiron, promptly picked up where he left off in high school and college: he led the NFL in interceptions as a rookie.
He also led the league in picks three different times.
Consequently, he earned four Pro Bowl nods and three First-Team All-Pro berths during his legendary thirteen-year NFL career.
Everson Walls simply rose from the ashes and became one of the best pass defenders the league has ever seen.
Everson Collins Walls was born in Dallas, TX on December 28, 1959.
Walls had been known as “Cubby” to his family members and close friends since birth.
DallasCowboys.com columnist Mickey Spagnola, who has known Walls for thirty-seven years, recalled him growing up in the Hamilton Park neighborhood of Dallas.
His mother ran a restaurant two miles from the Cowboys’ old practice facility in the Forest and Abrams district.
A young Everson Walls regularly rode his bike to the training grounds so he could watch his childhood football heroes in action.
Lloyd V. Berkner High School (Richardson, TX)
Aqib Talib ’04
Everson Walls ’77
Kevin Murphy ’81
John Goodman ’76
Aundra Thompson ’72
Josh LeRibeus ’07
Toddrick McIntosh ’89@BERKNERFOOTBALL pic.twitter.com/I1Oy8Jhdji
— Prep2ProDB (@Prep2ProDB) February 18, 2022
Walls attended Lloyd V. Berkner High School in Richardson, TX.
He was a late bloomer who played one season – his senior year – with the L.V. Berkner Rams.
Walls promptly led the division in interceptions as a senior in 1976.
It was a recurring theme in Walls’ gridiron journey from high school to the professional ranks – it wasn’t uncommon to see his name atop the leaderboard for interceptions.
Everson Walls graduated high school in 1977 and took his act to Louisiana where he starred for Eddie Robinson’s Grambling State Tigers.
College Days With The Grambling State Tigers
Everson Walls attended Grambling State University in Grambling, LA on a full scholarship from 1977 to 1980.
Walls played for legendary Grambling State Tigers head football coach Eddie Robinson.
Future Washington Redskins quarterback and Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams was his college teammate.
Walls led the country with eleven interceptions as a senior in the 1980 NCAA season.
Walls duplicated the gaudy feat with the team he grew up following, the Dallas Cowboys, as a rookie NFL cornerback just one year later.
To nobody’s surprise, Everson Walls earned Kodak I-AA All-American honors following his senior season at Grambling State.
Unheralded Everson Walls would eventually emerge as one of the best defensive backs in Dallas Cowboys team history.
Pro Football Career
Everson Walls’ hometown team, the Dallas Cowboys, signed him as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 1981.
It was one of the best moves the franchise had ever made.
Walls and his Cowboys fell prey to Bill Walsh’s immortal West Coast Offense in the 1981 NFL campaign.
Just several weeks into Walls’ pro football career, Dallas expected to run roughshod over Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers on October 11, 1981.
However, it was San Francisco’s vaunted West Coast Offense that pummeled Dallas from the opening whistle.
Walls told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in 1999 that the 49ers threw the Cowboys off with their offensive schemes.
Walls and his Dallas teammates were slipping on the Candlestick Park gridiron like ranked amateurs.
In sharp contrast, Walsh, quarterback Joe Montana, and the 49ers were clicking on all cylinders. Walls recalled San Francisco’s receivers “were open by five yards on some passes,” per SI.com.
According to King, the Cowboys’ flex scheme was no match for the 49ers’ precise timing patterns.
Walls recalled the defense they played made him and his fellow defensive backs vulnerable to talented receivers such as Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon.
The root cause: Dallas’ linemen had to play the run first before reacting to pass blocking situations. Walls had to tackle Clark or Solomon before the Cowboys’ pass rushers crossed the line of scrimmage.
The 49ers prevailed in a laugher, 45-14.
Dallas and San Francisco squared off on a much bigger stage three months later.
Arguably the lowest point in Everson Walls’ pro football career was the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the 49ers on January 10, 1982.
The Cowboys led 27-21 with 58 seconds left in the game. It seemed they were on the precipice of another trip to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers were on the Cowboys’ six-yard line on 3rd and 3. Legendary San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana somehow found tight end Dwight Clark in the end zone as Candlestick Park erupted.
San Francisco pulled off the miraculous win, 28-27.
It would forever be known in NFL annals as “The Catch.”
For Everson Walls, it was the pass that got away from him.
Walls played lights out prior to that heartbreaking ending: he had two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
Unfortunately, letting Clark get away with a game-clinching touchdown all but negated Walls’ heroics.
At least, that’s how Dallas Cowboys fans felt.
🎥 RARE Documentary of "THE CATCH" narrated by @49ers WR Dwight Clark, HC Bill Walsh (RIP), QB Joe Montana and Cowboys DB Everson Walls.
Rest In Peace @DwightC87 #49ers #NFL #Legendary pic.twitter.com/Yob6jtWCWo
— Retro Sports (@RetroSports411) June 5, 2018
Walls, who appeared on the subsequent cover of Sports Illustrated after Clark caught the touchdown pass, had to deal with the bad memory for years.
“The cover followed me around like a bad check,” Walls told SI.com’s Franz Lidz some twenty-four years later. “For years, my career was defined by that one negative image.”
Walls and Clark eventually developed a close friendship when they appeared in autograph shows in the ensuing years.
The two men signed their names on Sports Illustrated magazine covers featuring “The Catch,” per The Associated Press (via The Dallas Morning News).
Despite the crushing loss to San Francisco, Everson Walls proved he belonged in the National Football League.
The unheralded rookie defensive back from Grambling State had a single-season franchise record eleven interceptions in 1981.
Those were more than Mel Renfro’s seven in 1964 and Deion Sanders’ five in 1989.
Little wonder Everson Walls made the first of his four Pro Bowl appearances following that memorable 1981 NFL season.
Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs eventually tied Walls’ single-season franchise record some forty years later.
Coincidentally, Walls witnessed Diggs tying his record.
Walls was sitting at AT&T Stadium’s Ring of Honor level suite watching a game between the Cowboys and the visiting Washington Football Team on December 29, 2021.
Walls was having fun with retired Cowboys Dixon Edwards and Chad Hennings when Diggs picked off WFT quarterback Taylor Heinicke barely four minutes into the contest.
Walls admitted to Spagnola after the game that he barely saw Diggs’ historic accomplishment. The stadium announcer just introduced him to the crowd when it happened.
The Cowboys won by a landslide, 56-14.
Everson Walls continued making strides in his pro football career.
He averaged close to six interceptions over the next four seasons. He led the NFL in picks with seven in 1982 and nine in 1985.
To nobody’s surprise, Walls earned three First-Team All-Pro nods during that span.
The Cowboys averaged nine wins per season from 1982 to 1985. They never made it past the NFC Championship Game during that time frame.
When Walls was a four-year veteran in 1985, he and his Cowboys teammates had to deal with unbearable game day temperatures inside the friendly confines of Texas Stadium.
Temperatures on synthetic fields back in the day can be 30 degrees higher than the air three feet overhead.
The hot and muggy Texas weather doesn’t make things any easier.
“It’s smoking hot,” Walls told Sports Illustrated’s John Underwood in the summer of 1985. “You can feel it come up into your uniform and up the shoulder pads, and it gets trapped inside your helmet.”
That humid season was the last time the Cowboys made the postseason during Tom Landry’s legendary 29-year coaching tenure in Dallas.
The Cowboys won ten games but lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Round in embarrassing fashion, 20-0.
As for Everson Walls, he continued piling up on the accolades as his pro football career progressed.
The twenty-seven-year-old defensive back became the youngest member of the Cowboys’ 25th Anniversary Team in 1986.
Dallas averaged barely five victories over the next four seasons. They hadn’t been that bad since their first few years in the NFL in the early 1960s.
As for Everson Walls, he ended his nine-year tenure in Dallas on a sour note.
Not only did the Cowboys win just one game in the 1989 NFL season, but Walls also had a run-in with first-year head coach Jimmy Johnson.
According to Spagnola, Walls earned Johnson’s ire after the latter fraternized with Phoenix Cardinals wide receiver Roy Green after a 24-20 loss.
The Cowboys eventually released Walls following the 1989 NFL season.
Bill Parcells’ New York Giants promptly signed Walls to a lucrative two-year deal worth more than $ 1 million in the spring of 1990.
Johnson hollered at Walls after the final whistle and told him in no uncertain terms to go straight to the Cowboys locker room.
Another favorite of mine of Everson Walls that I saved from the shocking victory over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV pic.twitter.com/U6kYveW7dw
— Spider Lockhart (@SpiderLock43) December 22, 2019
It took seven long years for Everson Walls to receive some much-needed vindication after “The Catch” fiasco against the San Francisco 49ers in the 1981 NFL Championship Game.
A jubilant Walls appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated after his New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV, 20-19.
Walls always thought his son Cameron should keep a copy of that cover in his wallet at all times.
“If he got needled about ‘The Catch,’ he could pull it out and say, ‘Look, Dad did something positive, too,'” Walls told Lidz in 2006.
Walls called the defense for the Giants against the Bills, who made the first of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
New York defensive coordinator Bill Belichick neutralized Jim Kelly’s K-Gun offense with Walls, per WFAA.com’s Mike Leslie.
Belichick’s tactic worked like a charm. Thanks to his improvisation, the Giants won their second Super Bowl title.
Ten-year veteran cornerback Everson Walls also earned his first and only Super Bowl ring.
Walls switched to the safety position prior to the 1991 NFL season. He had seven interceptions in his last three years in the National Football League.
Walls’ two-and-a-half-year stint in the Big Apple ended following his release from the Giants on October 21, 1992.
He signed with the Cleveland Browns just two days later, reuniting with head coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick’s close friend and Browns defensive coordinator Nick Saban discovered Walls couldn’t backpedal.
Consequently, Saban taught him how to turn his hips and shuffle at an angle so he could keep up with the game’s best wideouts.
The Browns averaged seven wins during Walls’ two-year tenure in Northeast Ohio. They missed the postseason on both occasions.
Everson Walls, one of the greatest defensive backs in Dallas Cowboys franchise history, hung up his cleats following the 1993 NFL season.
Walls finished his legendary thirteen-year pro football career with 57 interceptions, 504 interception yards, and one defensive touchdown.
As of the 2018 NFL season, Everson Walls is the only cornerback in NFL history to lead the league in picks three different times, per Leslie.
The only other player who duplicated that incredible feat was Hall of Fame Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed.
According to Spagnola, Walls led the NFL in interceptions more times than Ronnie Lott, Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Ty Law, and Charles Woodson.
Walls and Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Bill Bradley are also the only two players who led the league in interceptions for two consecutive seasons.
Bradley led the NFL in picks from 1971 to 1972. Walls followed suit exactly a decade later.
Everson Walls and his wife Shreill have a son Cameron and a daughter Charis. They currently reside in the Dallas, TX area.
The Walls family attends Hamilton Park First Baptist Church in Richardson, TX.
Walls donated a kidney to his best friend and Dallas Cowboys teammate Ron Springs in February 2007.
Walls didn’t feel any side effects after the procedure. He felt fine since his other kidney was healthy.
“It was tough for me to accept being labeled a hero,” Walls told SI.com’s Richard Deitsch ten months later. “What I did for Ron was unconditional. I wasn’t looking for anything.”
Sadly, Ron Springs passed away due to a heart attack in the spring of 2011.
Everson Walls became a spokesman for organ donations after he donated his kidney to Springs.
Not only that, but Walls also co-authored a book in 2009 entitled “A Gift For Ron” that described his friendship with Springs.
Walls wore No. 24 when he played for the Cowboys from 1981 to 1989.
When rookie Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne wore No. 24 during the 2012 NFL season, Walls didn’t mind one bit.
“It was pretty cool,” Walls told ESPN’s Calvin Watkins in May 2012. “I’m from Dallas and we don’t have any official retired numbers.”
Other Cowboys players who have worn No. 24 include Larry Brown, Roger Harper, Omar Stoutmire, Vashone Adams, Tony Dixon, and Marion Barber.
Everson Walls became a Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist in 2017.
Regrettably, he didn’t make the final cut.
James Lofton, the Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills wide receiver Walls competed against in Super Bowl XXV, was aghast at the latter for not making it to Canton.
Walls and Lofton were at a Cowboys game in 2017. The former ushered some people into their seats at AT&T Stadium.
All of a sudden, Lofton hollered at Walls from the 50-yard line.
“Hey Cubby, that’s messed up; they voted you out again this year,” Lofton told Walls (via The Dallas Morning News).
Walls became a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
He became a member of the Black College Football Hall of Fame that same year.
Even though Walls hasn’t made it to Canton, earning a spot in the Black College Hall of Fame is already a big deal to him.
“Hey, whether or not I make it to Canton, I know I’m still a Hall of Famer,” Walls told DallasCowboys.com’s Nick Eatman in February 2018. “I just made it to the Black College Hall of Fame. And that’s a really big deal.”
Everson Walls is also a member of the Southwestern Conference Athletic Hall of Fame, the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and the Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame.
Walls also revealed to The Dallas Morning News that his younger brother is a New York Giants fan.
Walls feels embarrassed every time he brings his brother to Giants games in Dallas.
The only reason he allows him to tag along is because he always wears an old Everson Walls New York Giants jersey.
Cowboys fans in attendance give him the benefit of the doubt whenever they see the name “Walls” on the back of that Giants uniform.
Walls told The Associated Press a year earlier he still feels the lingering effects of football to this day.
The 62-year-old Cowboys great regularly feels his neck pop out, his knees crack, and his back becomes sore. Fortunately, they’re nothing compared to the other maladies his contemporaries went through.
Despite the discomfort Walls feels, he doesn’t resort to pain pills for immediate relief.
He still harbors a grudge toward teams who didn’t take better care of their players during his era.
He told The Associated Press players back in the day that he never complained about getting hit in the head or urinating blood after a game. It was a source of pride among members of the NFL fraternity.
Sadly, Walls felt NFL teams prioritized money over players’ well-being when he played pro football.
Everson Walls is currently the vice president and co-founder of Ethos Education Group, a non-profit organization that aims to develop the character of youngsters while they make the transition to adulthood.
Walls also dabbles in real estate development and television work in the Dallas, TX area.
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