Before they were called divas. Before fantasy teams and YAC (yards after catch) became a huge stat. Before there were camera happy end zone dances. Before all these things, there were receivers like New York Jet Wesley Walker. A class player on and off the field. Wesley Walker may be one of the most under appreciated players ever to don the green and white. He played 13 seasons for the Jets. When you look closely at his stats, they are impressive for the time, the team and the quarterbacks he played with. Walker had his share of injuries missing a good part of five seasons.
Wesley Walker grew up in California and as a kid loved to play baseball. He graduated from Carson High School in Carson California. He went to the University of California and starred in both football and track. Over the course of four seasons Walker caught 86 passes 22 of which were touchdowns. But the most impressive statistic was the 25.7 yards per catch average. This particular stat is something he continued to specialize in, but more on that later. His running in college was just as impressive. He earned All-America honors three times in track. He helped Cal’s mile relay team to an NCAA fifth place finish in 1975 and third place finish in 1976. In his senior year he had a serious knee injury that discouraged teams from taking a chance drafting him in the first round where he had been projected to go before his injury. New Orleans called Walker and told him he would be their second round pick but he landed with the Jets in that same round. Unbeknownst to the Jets, he was legally blind in one eye. This he kept hidden by not disclosing it and is something he could not get away with today with all the investigating and digging done on players before, during and after the college draft combine.
In Walker’s rookie season the Jets were 3-11 for the third consecutive year. He was still able to catch 35 passes for 740 yards, 3 TDs and a remarkable 21.1 yards per reception. But it was his second year when he caught 48 passes and had 24.4 yards per reception leading the league with 1,169 yards that was a breakout type of year. He was selected to the first team All-Pro and one of two Pro-Bowls in his career. He got the injury bug for a couple of seasons but ended up second all time for the Jets with 8,306 yard behind Don Maynard.
My best memories of Wesley Walker were the 1982 playoff run and one game in 1986. In the 1982 playoffs in two post season games against the Bengals and Raiders, Walker caught 15 passes for 314 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both games were road victories. But it was the game in week three that I will always remember and even today is one of my favorite Jet games of all time. In that classic game the Jets with Ken O’Brien beat the Miami Dolphins with Dan Marino 51-45 in overtime. Walker had 4 TD receptions including the game winner in overtime.
After football Walker earned a Master’s degree and taught elementary school and coached football and track on Long Island. He does some great volunteer work for young people who are having difficulties with blindness. He has two sons and a daughter. His oldest son was a three time All-American lacrosse player at West Point. His other son played lacrosse at John Hopkins University.
Wesley Walker is 12th on the all time NFL list of receiving yards per catch with his 19.0 average. It is impressive to see his name on this list with Hall of Famers like Paul Warfield and Bob Hayes ahead of him and Lance Alworth and James Lofton behind him. Wesley Walker is one of this Jets I put in that “what if” category. What if the Jets drafted Dan Marino instead of Ken O’Brien? What if the Jets had picked a different coach than Joe Walton? What if the Jets drafted better players in the time Walker played?
Because of our tortured history, all Jet fans like to imagine the road not taken, but players like Wesley Walker are the best reminder of what can happen when things go right!
Marty Schupak has been a New York Jets football fan since 1964. His blog and Podcast is at: www.JetsRewind.com