EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Jets Great Wesley Walker, Part I

By Alan Schechter
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Jets WR Wesley Walker is one of the finest the organization has seen in it’s history. A true deep threat, that averaged over 19 yards per catch for his career. See our post that gives an overview of his career by clicking here.

Wesley made an appearance today at the great new store in the Galleria Mall in Middletown, NY, Sports Center.  Wesley was gracious enough to spend a few minutes talking to the Jet Press about his career, the current Jets, and the concussion situation.

For the younger readers, please read the post above so you know a little more about Wesley, and all take a look at some Wesley hightlights to get you started off:

THE JET PRESS-All right, first question. You were drafted in 1977, went to the Jets, where they were having a lot of lean years. Did you always want to be a Jet? Was that a team that you were interested in?

WESLEY WALKER-It was a team that I was interested in, but I actually got a call from New Orleans, and I was actually excited when they started the second round. But I was actually more disappointed because I was supposed to be a first round draft choice, and the general manager at the time for the Jets said that I was gonna be their number one draft choice til I got hurt. I had knee surgery my senior year. They had started the second round and New Orleans had called me and I was excited about that because I had a buddy of mine that I went to college with, Chuck Muncie, who was drafted in the first round by New Orleans. So I’m waiting for the call, and I get the call, I was thinking it was New Orleans, and it was the Jets. So I was excited and happy to be here because it’s one of the best media markets in the world, and I was happy to be a part of that. Unfortunately you play this game for a long time and you don’t accomplish some of the things you would have liked to, but I am priviledged to say that I played for the New York Jets.

TJP-So there were some lean years there in the late 1970s, when did you know it was going to get into something good, the way it did in the 80s when we almost got to that Super Bowl? When did you sense that something was brewing?

WW-You know I always had a great deal of respect for Walt Michaels(coach in the early 1980s), and what we were trying to do. Unfortunately sometimes, the lack of experience is there, and you are trying to build up, because we certainly had a lot of great athletes, but we just didn’t have enough depth. We had guys that could play with anybody, but when you have to deal with injuries, that’s another story when you lose key guys. I thought we were able to compete with people, even in my first year, though we were like 3-11, you always go into any year thinking you are going to go to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, things don’t go that way in the NFL. I always thought we were very competitive.

TJP-Now, you get to that game, the AJ Duhe game, are you in the group that blamed Don Shula for watering down that field?

WW-No, I can’t make any blame, you know, the two teams play so they have the same surface. Obviously we had some great athletes in some skilled positions and that would have been definitely in their favor. If I were Don Shula and I had the opportunity to have done that I would have certainly done that. But, you have two teams that are on the same grounds and it just depends on who performs. I was disappointed because I not only caught one ball towards the end of the game, but when I woke up that morning, I just got up and it was a monsoon. That’s the first thing I do is check the weather, so I knew it was just gonna change the whole strategy of what we were going to do, and certainly you can’t really pass the ball very well, and we weren’t able to do some things that we normally do against Miami.

TJP-Speaking of Miami, there is that game I have to ask you about, 1986, 51-45, 4 TDs, what do you remember about that game?

WW-Well, I won’t forget it. One thing I do remember, I was very angry at Joe Walton(head coach), and I’d really strained my groin during the week of practice. I was very frustrated, and were were late in the first half, and we were just pleading with him to do some things, and I end up catching two TDs in the first half and towards the end of the game. I was very frustrated, I even told my backup Kurt Sohn, if he’s not really gonna use me, I might as well rest my groin, cuz it was really strained during that week. One thing led to another, and you know, I didn’t think that I would have that great of a game as it turned out. That is my motivational tool for young kids not to really give up because there was a point when I really wanted to give up.

I also had a ball thrown to me that they called a fumble, and I didn’t think I had control of it, but they ruled it a fumble and they went on to score. I thought I had given up the game. We end up making this overtime, um, tying the game on this one last drive. I wasn’t even in on the play, and I credit Kenny O’Brien, because he says “Wesley!” (I’m on the sidelines), he said “get in the game!”. We called his favorite play that I couldn’t wait to run, we always worked on it day in, day out. But the Miami Dolphins, they were in the right coverage, and it shouldn’t even have been made. He(O’Brien) was confident enough to still throw it to me, and I was lucky enough to make the catch. And obviously I made the winning catch and was the Most Valuable Player. It was a game I will not ever forget.

TJP-He always came to play against Miami, didn’t he, Kenny O’Brien?

WW-Yes and I think you are playing against the best when you look at the numbers and Dan Marino. But Kenny O’Brien, they never gave him the credit that he really, truly deserved. I would put him up against Joe Namath, I always say to people that I would take him over Marino or John Elway. If he had protection, there’s no telling what he can do. I remember him in a Superstars competition and he beat Marino and Elway hands down, so there’s no question that he’s the best in my mind.

TJP-Double overtime against Cleveland still gives me nightmares, I have to ask you about that game..

WW-It gives everybody nightmares, and I was just talking to Freeman McNeil this last week and he was saying that his relationship was strained with Joe Walton but we were running the ball effectively and all of a sudden we thought we had it all wrapped up then all of a sudden we couldn’t run the ball when we needed to to get a first down. I remember the one play where everybody gets on Mark Gastineau’s case. We had them deep in their own territory, and they get a penalty, they come back and go all the way. It wasn’t the first time that happened to us but when you get that opportunity, you have to put the nail in the coffin. Sometimes you learn the hard way. Obviously you never know when you are going to get that opportunity to ever go to a Super Bowl, and that was the one time we could have. We just didn’t get it done.

TJP-Can you share with the readers what it was like to play with one eye, if you don’t mind?

WW-I guess the fact that I was born blind, with this cataract, and I’ve had different doctors and opthalmologists. I have no depth perception, they couldn’t figure out how I could catch a ball. I have peripheral vision so I am aware of objects on the side even though I can’t see out of the eye. I think the fact that I was born with the handicap meant that I was able to adjust to it and it’s like God given as far as I’m concerned. I never let that be a problem with me and I’ve been able to be sort of a role model to kids who have had problems. I had a family fly me out maybe four years ago, just to thank me. Their son graduated and he had to have his eye removed, he was going blind, and I developed a relationship with the kid. I’ve known him since he was nine, and he is now in his thirties. I was floored when they flew me out to California, me and my girlfriend, just to go to his graduation. They threw this big party, and I didn’t know that I had the impact. It’s something I do naturally to any individual. I met someone that just got Lou Gehrig’s disease, and they are Jet fans, and they have seen that Miami game. You know I would call and do what I can to be a motivator and try and help that person.

Check back here tomorrow morning, where Wesley talks about some of the best players he ever played with, the current Jets team, and his take on the concussion situation.

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