Linebacker Wayne Walker Bridged Gap in Lions History

Only two players in Detroit Lions history played with Lion quarterbacks Bobby Layne and Greg Landry: Hall of Fame defensive lineman Alex Karras, and outside linebacker Wayne Walker.

Walker is often overlooked when you consider what he accomplished during his career on the gridiron. He held the team records for games played (200) and most seasons (15 from 1958 through 1972) until placekicker Jason Hanson surpassed him in those categories.  

Drafted by the Lions in the fourth round (45th overall) of the 1958 NFL draft after starring for the University of Idaho, Walker was awestruck when he first walked into Briggs Stadium for a Saturday night exhibition game against the Giants.

“Growing up I was a big baseball fan so I knew about the ballpark,” Walker told me in 1999 when I interviewed him for the Detroit Free Press book, The Corner. “I remember getting off the bus and going through the tunnel and onto the field. To a kid from Boise it was like seeing the seventh wonder of the world. It was just what a ballpark was supposed to look like.”

Wearing number 55, Walker played alongside middle linebacker and Hall of Famer Joe Schmidt, who in the early 1960s led one of the NFL’s most devastating defenses that included the “Fearsome Foursome” of Alex Karras, Roger Brown, Darris McCord and Sam Williams, along with the “4 Ls” defensive backfield consisting of three Hall of Famers, Yale Lary, Night Train Lane, and Dick LeBeau along with Gary Lowe.

A three-time Pro Bowl selection (1964-66), Walker also took on duties as a kicker before first being replaced by Garo Yepremian when placekickers became specialists. Walker ranks ninth on the Lions’ list for career points scored (345). His scoring totals include two return touchdowns, 53 field goals and 172 extra points. He led Detroit in scoring in 1962, 1964 and 1965.

When I was growing up in the 1960s I remember being surprised to see Walker hosting the Baseball Scoreboard Show after Saturday Tigers games on WJBK television before he eventually filled in as a weekend sports anchor during the football offseason.

The opportunity to enter broadcasting was provided by Tiger broadcast and WJBK sports anchor Ray Lane.

“I remember interviewing Wayne at training camp and he was so good at adlibbing. I thought this guy could get into broadcasting,” told the Detroit Free Press in 2017. “When our station general manager Bob McBride asked me if I could find an athlete who could fill in on the air I suggested Wayne and he hired him. Wayne was a tyrant on the football field, but he was one of the friendliest persons you could ever meet, and was always nice with the public.”

When Walker announced his retirement from the Lions following the 1972 season, he held the news conference at the famous Lindell AC bar in downtown Detroit, where he donated his jock strap for the bar’s memorabilia collection. The unique, bronzed item hung prominently in the bar until it closed in 2002. Walker was extremely close to the owners Jimmy and Johnny Butsicaris who had befriended him when he first arrived in Detroit in 1958.

“Basically, I grew up in Detroit and just loved this area,” Walker told the Free Press in 1993.  “The Sixties were a sensational and exciting time to be here.”

After his retirement, Walker went on to spend 20 years (1974-94) as the sports director for KPIX-TV, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco. He also was a commentator for San Francisco 49ers’ broadcasts and Oakland A’s games. For 11 seasons, Walker served as a color commentator on regional NFL games for CBS. 

In 2001 Walker was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame which was an embarrassingly long overdue honor.

In 2007, Walker was diagnosed with throat cancer and the following year was selected as a member of the Detroit Lions’ 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. In 2015 he announced he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Two years later he passed away at age 80.

2 replies on “Linebacker Wayne Walker Bridged Gap in Lions History

  • Sam Gallagher

    Thanks for this article Bill. I saw one of his TDs in the first game I ever attended. He picked up a fumble and ran 34 yards for the TD vs. the Giants. I saw him one night at Strikes & Spares during training camp in ’72. He was at the bar standing there dazzling some young doll. I moved to the Bay Area the next year and saw him a few times in The City. He lived in Livonia, where I grew up and he ran the track that went around the football field at Franklin High School with Dick LeBeau and Sam Williams. They wore those raincoat style sweat suits. This was way before the running craze, so it was quite a novelty at the time. Thanks again for all your articles from the good old days.

  • Charlie Hench

    Good article. Wayne was a good man and a great Lion. He used to practice kicking at my high school (Livonia Franklin – 1975 State champions in football) . I played against his son in Little League.

Comments are closed.