Recently, The Landry Hat was afforded the amazing opportunity to interview Dallas Cowboys legendary cornerback Everson Walls. This was a huge honor to me personally as growing up, Walls was my favorite Cowboy.
For those who may not have had the fortune to see Walls play, he is unquestionably one of the three best cornerbacks in the illustrious history of the Dallas Cowboys. A four time Pro-Bowler and three time All-Pro selection, Walls is still second in team history in interceptions. He also lead the entire NFL in that category three different seasons. He may be the most under appreciated and underrated Cowboys player of all time due to the time in which he played. Sandwiched between the iconic teams of the 70′s and the resurgent teams of the 90′s, Walls never had the opportunity to showcase his top notch skills on the Super Bowl stage.
A great player, Walls may be an even better person. When former teammate and great friend Ron Springs needed a kidney transplant in order to survive due to his battle with diabetes, it was Walls who stepped up and provided the gift of life by donating one of his kidneys to keep Springs alive.
Here is the full version of my interview with Everson Walls:
TLH: You had the unique experience of playing for three of the greatest coaches to ever run a team in Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells. Can you compare the three coaches, what that was like and how they were different in their approaches?
EW: You know, they ran the gamet. In Tom Landry, you had a very disciplined coach who just believed in the system itself and as far as he was concerned, if you do what he says then the system will work. So you would have to say he was more analytical than any coach I have ever had. You know, we start talking about Jimmy Johnson… totally the opposite. A guy that didn’t really know much about the x’s and o’s, but he was a guy that was able to motivate. He was also able to eye a great talent. He knew the best players out there and he was always able to get those players to play to their full potential. I always thought he was a pro coach that had a college coach mentality because he was able to motivate players not just through positive reinforcement but also through fear and he always kept you on your toes and never allowed you to become complacent as a player. As far as Bill Parcells was concerned, he was one of those coaches that always had good gut instinct. There were just certain things he hung his hat on in regards to football. As he said, he never let the inmates run the asylum, so as a coach, he always wanted to make sure he was in charge, but he was also a guy who understood his personnel could motivate each other and he was very good at delegating certain players with leadership capabilities to influence those players who did not possess those abilities.
You’re forgetting about two other coaches but I also played for Bill Belichick in Cleveland. It was amazing, his research that he had done through all his years of coaching. His father gave him a great coaching background that allowed him to really be a student of the game. He may have been as much a student of the game as Tom Landry. We all know Tom Landry invented the flex defense, that is one of the most amazing things, that just goes back to the genius of the origins of professional football, but Belichick was one of those guys who studied just not just plays and schemes. He also studied intricacies of individuals so if you had a tell, if you had any type of tell as a player, Belichick was gonna weed it out through hours and hours of film. If you tipped off your hand in any way, he was going to anticipate it and take advantage of it and that’s what he was all about.
Now I said two other coaches. It goes back to the beginning, the origin of my ball playing ability as an individual and that would be Coach Eddie Robinson. He was one of those coaches who was able to shape young boys into young men and if it wasn’t for his dedication to me as a person, his dedication to my education and his dedication to Grambling State University. If it wasn’t for him instilling all that pride into me before I made that jump to the pros then all those other coaches, I never would have been able to experience all the other coaches on the professional rank because I never would have made it.
TLH: What would you say was the highlight of your Cowboys career?
EW: Wow, you know I had a lot. A lot of interceptions, a lot of proud moments, you could go any where from my first days in Texas Stadium but I guess it would go back to my first Monday Night game which the second game of the season, the New England Patriots. Of course you had primetime football, all the pageantry and magistry of the NFL at it’s finest and I was able to come off the bench, I wasn’t even starting yet. And amongst those bright lights and screaming fans, I was able to pick of the Patriots quarterback for two interceptions that night. That was the night that Howard Cosell in front of Dandy Don and Frank Gifford and I think O.J. Simpson was there as well, he said “The Cowboys have finally found the cover cornerback they have been looking for since the departure of Mel Renfro.” That is amazing stuff right there, you’re talking about legendary situations and individuals all the way around. That was in the Patriots old stadium. You’re talking Cavanaugh and Grogan as the quarterback. You’re talking Harold Jackson as the wide receiver and I was just one of many stars for the Cowboys that night. Ron Springs and Tony Dorsett ended up having great games. Our defense controlled and you know, I was able to fit right in there as if I had been there four or five years. And so Cosell was right, that was the beginning of a great career for me.
TLH: Was “The Catch” the most disappointing event?
EW: Yeah, I would have to say it was. It’s weird because it was actually one of my better games. And it was because it was one of my better games and it ended in such dramatic fashion and such infamous fashion as far as Cowboys fans are considered. Yeah, it went from being a great high to a great low I’d say in a matter of about, five minutes. Five game time minutes. I just had got an interception to what we thought was going to seal the game for us. Our offense couldn’t go down and capitalize, left the door open for the 49ers offense which was the first taste we had ever gotten of the now “West Coast” offense and we couldn’t hold them down. They marched down the field on us and ended up culminating in the reception in the end zone. Even after that, I grew up a Cowboy fan. I grew up in Dallas. The game is never over as long as there is time on the clock. I knew that as a fan and I believed that as a player. We had about fifty something seconds left in the game and you know we still had a shot. We completed a pass over the middle to Drew Pearson in striking distance and of the course the next play, Danny White fumbled the ball and that was it. That’s when you say, you know what, it’s over. But the score, before that moment, it was like “We’re the Cowboys! We’re gonna march this bad boy down and everything’s gonna be okay.” But this particular time, it did not happen.
TLH: So piggybacking off of that, would you say Jerry Rice was the toughest receiver you faced during your career or if not, could you throw out a name we might not think of?
EW: You know, I’ve gone against Jerry Rice three or four times in my career. I’ve never had a problem with Jerry. I don’t know what it was, you know, I matched up very well with him. I never had any fear of him, He was never successful against me. That’s just the way it was. I don’t know why. But when you talk about my toughest opponent, mostly it’s always the guys you are going to play against more than once a year. Consequently, that player was Roy Green of the St. Louis and Phoenix Cardinals. Yeah, that guy was the Steve Smith of his day. Compact, strong, fast, fearless. Can go deep and over the middle. Competitive, just an amazing player. A play maker, especially during crunch time. The one guy who just ate me alive and I never wanted to see him again. I went against him one time… Carlos Carson from the Kansas City Chiefs. Oh my God, that guy right there, he was really somethin’. He was just so fast. He was so deceptive. He had great hands. Great speed. Wasn’t necessarily strong but oh my God, he was just so amazingly accurate in his routes. He was with a great system that allowed guys like he and Stephon Paige to just run roughshot through any secondary they went up against. We won that game but I was so glad I didn’t have to see that guy again the rest of my career. I’ve never talked to Carlos again. You know I don’t think I’ve ever seen Carlos off the field. If I do, I’m gonna give him all kind of crap for toasting me the way he did.
TLH: What was your favorite stadium to play in terms of being on the road?
EW: My favorite stadium… always loved grass stadiums so you could take your pick, anywhere out in California. I just had a ball. Always played well against the Chargers. Always played well against the Raiders. Always played well against the 49ers with the exception of one game during 1981, which wasn’t “The Catch” game by the way. They blew us out earlier in the year. I mean blew us all the way out. Anaheim… I played well there even though Eric Dickerson used to run roughshot over us but man… individually? And being on that grass and just loving getting off that turf and being able to play on that natural grass. I think the advantage for me was it actually slowed the game down for me even more. I was able to think quickly so once you get them off that turf and get em on that grass, the game slows down just a tick to where I was so far ahead of the receivers and their intentions that I was pretty much able to dominate against whoever I went up against. It didn’t matter.
TLH: Many people think that Dallas has their next stand out cornerback in Morris Claiborne. What do you see in him that reminds you of you?
EW: You know, one thing about a good defensive back is of course you gotta be physical, there’s no doubt about it. You gotta be physical and these days, they don’t allow you to be a Deion Sanders. They don’t allow you to play pass and not really tackle anybody. You couldn’t even make that statement back with Tom Landry or Bill Parcells. They’d cut you right there. So I like his physicality. I like his ball-making skills. I just wish he’d exhibit them more in the pros. You saw it a lot at LSU but we have not seen that in Dallas yet. I think he needs to assert himself more over the wide receivers. It’s not just about being physical. It’s about anticipation. It’s about having a feel for the game that will allow you to not be so intimidated in the moment. And right now, he’s kind of just reacting as opposed to being proactive. I think he needs to learn a little bit more from his corner mate, Brandon Carr. Cause Brandon is a very physical, very instinctive player on the other side as far as cornerbacks are considered. I just look for big things from both of them this year. I think Claiborne has got a little more practice in during the offseason. Last year, he had some injuries so he wasn’t able to hone in on his skills. This offseason is a focus for him to be able to remedy that situation.
TLH: Have you had the chance to lend some of your expertise to him?EW: I have. I interviewed the guy actually with a television show called DFW Sports Beat. I interviewed him extensively (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnWnDEquefk&feature=player_embedded). I just let him know, even off camera that you cannot be intimidated. I honed in on certain things that I did well and I tried to polish those skills. I knew I was good at backpedalling. I knew I was good at route anticipation. I knew I was good with my hands as far as interceptions and quickness of the hands. I told him that whatever you do best, do that first before you are able to evolve into a more complete player. Whatever you do now, whatever you do best, you have got to excel at that early on and from there you grow as a player. I don’t think he was able to do that last year. Because what he does well is interceptions and making plays on the ball so you got to be able to that confidence in him to be able to carry those skills forward.
TLH: Like Tony Romo, you have the experience of being an undrafted free agent and fighting your way up to becoming a great player. Do you feel that he gets too much blame for things that go wrong?
EW: Well, you know, like any other quarterback, too much blame and too much credit. So I would have to say no. Too much money (laughs). You know I’m a defensive back man, as far as I’m concerned all quarterbacks are overrated. I don’t care who they are. I don’t care if they are the greatest quarterback ever, they still get too much credit and consequently too much blame. I always believed, I don’t care, you can pick the greatest players, Roger Staubach. I’m picking Super Bowl winners, people who have culminated to the highest point. Joe Montana. There are moments during the game where it is out of your hands as a quarterback and you have to depend on your teammates on the other side of the ball, okay. You have to depend on your defense and that defense has to give you more opportunities to make those great plays that you are accustomed to making. Dwight Hicks and Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright and Fred Deane were able to do that for Joe Montana. Mel Renfro, Randy White, Harvey Martin, those guys were able to make it happen for Roger Staubach. All the great players, you can even get to the sub par Super Bowl quarterbacks, Trent Dilfer. Trent Dilfer would have never stepped foot on anybody’s Super Bowl football field if it wasn’t for the great Ravens defense. Jim McMahon with the Chicago Bears. Now, those are extreme situations but even if you pick the Joe Montana situation. We picked off Joe Montana five times. I believe I had a fumble recovery in that “Catch” game as well. We had, I believe, five to six turnovers against that great San Francisco offense. The mind of Bill Walsh and the talents of all these great players on the San Francisco roster. We had either five or six turnovers. Any time you give a Cowboys offense that many turnovers, this game should be a blow out. But what kept that game in check was that San Francisco’s defense repelled our offense over and over again to where they cut down the touchdowns and kept us (for the most part) to field goals. And those kinds of stats are what let you know that offense do sell tickets but it’s the defense, no matter what the quarterback did. The defense are the ones the ones that win the championships.
TLH: How do you feel about the current state of the Cowboys? With multiple 8-8 seasons, do you see them finally breaking through or are we heading more towards a down turn?
EW: Well if you go by the pattern, it doesn’t look like a change if you just go by the pattern. If you look at the draft, not at any moment did they stick to the draft plan that they set forward for themselves. The free agent signings were disappointing for the most part but the problem you have is the NFC East itself is such a competitive division. You got Philly and New York, you got Dallas and the Redskins. Whoever comes out of the East victorious, they are playoff ready. And that’s why the Giants are able to win against the Patriots with barely getting out of the NFC East. Any one who comes out of the NFC East, their record won’t be great but boy they are going to be probably a favorite to go further than any team that might have a better record from another division. So that is the main problem for the Cowboys. The fact that the NFC East still and has always been one of the more competitive divisions in all the NFL. And breaking out of there, if we can just break out of there and get that one more win or two more wins as opposed to the 8-8, go to a 9-7 or 10-6. We gotta get past that one game hump. It’s always that one game that we hang our hats on and we can’t win it. Redskins last year and it’s been the Giants the two previous years.
TLH: Have there been any rumblings about a possible inclusion onto the Cowboys Ring of Honor?
EW: Yeah, that’s a tough one right there. I have been looking forward to it for a number of years. I think the best thing that gives us of old heads hope, when I say old heads, I mean guys under the former regime. I would have to say the introduction of Drew Pearson gave a lot of guys hope who feel they should be in. Guys like Cornell Green. Guys like Harvey Martin, the late, great Harvey Martin who I thought should have really gone in with Drew Pearson. Too Tall Jones, Charlie Waters, those guys, myself of course, we’re all guys who played with the Cowboys for almost 10 years or more and if we didn’t, we contributed to the Cowboys success on a legendary status. So you would hope Jerry would eventually honor us with I don’t know, even a rumor of getting into the Ring of Honor. He’s got a lot of catching up to do and I’m going to say this before I finish my statement. A lot of those guys that are not in the Ring of Honor should have been in the Ring of Honor before Jerry Jones even bought the team. A lot of that you can’t put on Jerry. Harvey Martin should have been in the Ring of Honor. Cornell Green, first guy to make All-Pro at cornerback and safety should have been in the Ring of Honor, okay? I know my Cowboys history. Charlie Waters played in at least two Super Bowls. The fact that it take Drew so long… These are things that Tex Schramm, because he was of the one man voting committee at the time, should have taken care of that a long, long time ago. Even though Jerry has his own people, like or not, whether he likes it or not, it’s up to him to right the wrongs of Tex Schramm.
The fans remember that stuff. Jerry, right now, has a major PR problem. I don’t know if he cares or not, you know how it goes, if your Fortune 500 sports team is ranked in the top five then I’m sure you look at yourself as successful, regardless of what anybody thinks and I understand that but I think he would really ingratiate himself to the fans, the more guys he puts in from the old regime because those are the WINNERS. Those are the Super Bowl champions for the Cowboys. I’m not fortunate to do that but the other guys I mentioned are the champions of Cowboy folklore and people remember that and Jerry would be good to remember that as well.
TLH: Is there anything you have been working on recently that you would like to let fans know about?
EW: Well, you know, I got my book out there, “A Gift For Ron.” I’m going to buy the rights to it and publish it myself so if people want to buy the book they can always Facebook me or write me. I have a website, eversonwalls.com where I will be selling the book as soon as I’m able to buy the rights to my book. I’m also dealing with charter schools as well. I’m about to start a business called “Champions of Character” to where we sell a component to the charter schools and we are actually Federally mandated so we will be part of Champion school curriculum. That’s a passion of mine to keep the kids, no matter what the students are like to keep them on the straight and narrow because if you don’t take care of them now, then they are going to be a problem later. I’ve known that from a personal stand point and I’m going to do my best to remedy that.