Doak Walker

Doak Walker

refer to caption

circa 1948
No. 37
Position: Halfback, kicker, punter
Personal information
Date of birth: (1927-01-01)January 1, 1927
Place of birth: Dallas, Texas
Date of death: September 27, 1998(1998-09-27) (aged 71)
Place of death: Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Height: 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Weight: 175 lb (79 kg)
Career information
High school: Highland Park (TX)
College: SMU
NFL Draft: 1949 / Round: 1 / Pick: 3
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards: 1,520
Average: 4.9
Rushing touchdowns: 12
Receptions: 152
Receiving yards: 2,539
Receiving touchdowns: 21
Player stats at

Ewell Doak Walker Jr. (January 1, 1927 – September 27, 1998) was an American football player.[1][2] He played college football as a halfback at Southern Methodist University (SMU), where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1948. Walker then played professionally in the National Football League (NFL) with the Detroit Lions for six seasons, from 1950 to 1955.

Walker was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1959 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. The Doak Walker Award, awarded annually since 1990 to the top running back in college football, is named after him.

Early life

Born in Dallas, Texas, Walker's father was the assistant superintendent of schools for Dallas, serving as director of personnel.[3] Walker attended Highland Park High School in University Park, where he was a five-sport athlete in football, basketball, baseball, swimming, and track and field.[3] In 1944, Doak Walker led his high school football team to the State Championship, where the team fought valiantly for a tie. He and future college and NFL star Bobby Layne were teammates at Highland Park; Layne played college football at the University of Texas in Austin.

Following his graduation from high school in 1945, Walker joined the Merchant Marine as part of the American effort in World War II.[3] The war was coming to a close, however, and Walker was discharged at the end of October 1945, at which time he decided to enroll at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.[3]

College career

Walker was able to play in five games for the SMU Mustangs as a freshman during the month of November 1945 and was sufficiently impressive as a halfback and placekicker as to win All-Southwest Conference honors and to win a spot in the annual East–West Shrine Game in San Francisco.[3] In the Shrine game he garnered notice, throwing a tying touchdown pass for the West team.[3]

Walker did not play college football in 1946, as he was called up by the U.S. Army in March 1946.[3] His stint was brief, playing football for the Brooke Medical Center service team in San Antonio before being discharged in January 1947.[3]

Following his discharge, Walker re-enrolled at SMU and rejoined the Mustangs football team.[3] As a sophomore, he led Southern Methodist to a 1947 SWC championship and was named to a myriad of All-American teams.[3] He gained similar All-American honors in 1948, and 1949. Walker won the Maxwell Award as a sophomore in 1947 and the Heisman Trophy in 1948 as a junior.

During his award-winning 1948 season, Walker gained 532 yards on the ground, carrying the ball 108 times for a 4.9 yards per carry average.[3] He also threw six touchdown passes from the halfback position, going 26-for-46 and gaining 304 yards in the air.[3] As a receiver, Walker hauled in 15 passes for 279 yards and 3 touchdowns.[3] On the defensive side of the ball, he intercepted three passes.[3] He also punted for a 42.1 yard average for the Mustangs, returned punts and kickoffs, and did duty as the SMU placekicker.[3] Walker finished the year with 11 touchdowns scored, which combined with his kicking put 88 points on the scoreboard for the year.[3]

Walker's impact on SMU and football in the Dallas area led to the Cotton Bowl's expansion and nickname: "The House That Doak Built."[1] He was also a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, the men's society Cycen Fjodr,[4] and lettered on the SMU basketball and baseball teams. In 2007, Walker was ranked No. 4 on ESPN's list of the top 25 players in college football history.

NFL career

Following his junior year at SMU, Walker was selected by the Boston Yanks with the third pick of in the 1949 NFL draft, held in December 1948. Following his senior season, the Detroit Lions acquired his draft rights in January 1950,[5] where he played with former high school teammate Layne. Although Walker was only 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m) and 175 lb (79 kg),[6] he was voted All-Pro four times, and he helped lead the Lions to consecutive NFL championships in 1952 and 1953. Walker also led the NFL in scoring twice (1950 and 1955) and tallied 534 points in his career (330 on field goals and extra points).

At age 28, Walker announced that 1955 would be his final season, and his number 37 was retired by the Lions during his final game on December 11, "Doak Walker Day" at Briggs Stadium in Detroit.[7][8][9] In that last game, a loss to the Giants, he scored 11 points (touchdown and three kicks) to win the league scoring title.

Life after football

Walker left pro football in 1955 to concentrate on his private business interests in sporting goods and as a sales executive with an electrical contracting company.[10] He later founded Walker Chemicals in Denver, a company he sold upon retirement.[1]


Walker married his college sweetheart, Norma Peterson, and they had four children.[1] After their divorce, Walker married Olympic ski racer Skeeter Werner in 1969, and they lived in her hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.[11][12][13]

Death and legacy

Walker died at age 71 in September 1998 as a result of paralyzing injuries suffered in a skiing accident eight months earlier.[14][15] His death came 50 years to the day that he was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1948.

In honor of his achievements, the Lions retired his number 37 in 1955, the franchise's first,[7] and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

Walker is immortalized by the annual Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back in college football, and by a statue placed between Gerald Ford Stadium and SMU's Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports.

Award-winning Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly said of Walker shortly before his death:

"He's Doak Walker, and he was as golden as golden gets. He had perfectly even, white teeth and a jaw as square as a deck of cards and a mop of brown hair that made girls bite their necklaces. He was so shifty you couldn't have tackled him in a phone booth, yet so humble that he wrote the Associated Press a thank-you note for naming him an All-American. Come to think of it, he was a three-time All-American, twice one of the Outstanding Players in the Cotton Bowl, a four-time All-Pro. He appeared on 47 covers, including Life, Look and Collier's. One time, Kyle Rote, another gridiron golden boy, saw a guy buying a football magazine at a newsstand. 'Don't buy that one,' Rote said. 'It's not official. It doesn't have a picture of Doak Walker on the cover.'" [16]

However, fellow Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman cited Walker as the least deserving member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[17]

Shortly after Walker's death in 1998, Texas running back Ricky Williams wore Walker's number 37 in a game as opposed to his customary number 34 in remembrance of Walker. Williams would go on to set the NCAA all-time rushing record that season (though it has since been eclipsed by Ron Dayne), winning the Heisman Trophy in the process.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Wallace, William N. (September 28, 1998). "Doak Walker, 71, standout in college and pro football". New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  2. Weller, Robert (September 28, 1998). "His college's only Heisman winner; played for Detroit Lions". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. p. A14.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 "In the Air or On the Ground, Doak's Game is Close to Perfect", Stanley Woodward's Football – 1949. New York: Dell Publishing, 1949; pg. 11.
  4. SMU 1946 Online yearbook
  5. "Detroit obtains draft rights to Doak Walker". St. Petersburg Times. Florida. Associated Press. January 22, 1950. p. 33.
  6. Nicholson, Norman (October 3, 1955). "Pro Football: Doak Walker". Sports Illustrated. p. 42.
  7. 1 2 "Lions to retire Doak Walker's jersey number". Victoria Advocate. Texas. United Press. December 4, 1955. p. 14A.
  8. "Doak Walker Day set". Sunday Herald. Bridgeport, Connecticut. United Press. December 4, 1955. p. 45.
  9. "Doak Walker Day". Milwaukee Journal. United Press telephoto. December 12, 1955. p. 15, part 2.
  10. "Lion star ponders big offer by team". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Washington. Associated Press. April 6, 1955. p. 25.
  11. "Remembering: Skeeter Werner". Skiing Heritage: 36. September 2000.
  12. "Doak Walker dies of paralysis injuries". Reading Eagle. Associated Press. September 28, 1998. p. D9.
  13. "Friends, family honor Walker". Victoria Advocate. Associated Press. October 1, 1998. p. 2B.
  14. "Ex-Lion Doak Walker injured critically in skiing accident". Ludington (MI) Daily News. Associated Press. January 31, 1998. p. 7.
  15. "Doak Walker dies at 71". Observer-Reporter. Washington, Pennsylvania. Associated Press. September 28, 1998. p. A-13.
  16. "1998 Year in Review – Saying Goodbye – Saying goodbye to Doak Walker". CNN/SI. 1998-12-16. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
  17. Paul Zimmerman (2007-08-03). "Latest Hall of Fame class deserving but incomplete". Retrieved 2007-08-26.
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