Didinger: Bobby Walston gets his due

On the Eagles’ 1960 NFL Championship team, there were four players who now have busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen, center-linebacker Chuck Bednarik, and flanker Tommy McDonald. Three others are in the Eagles Hall of Fame – end Pete Retzlaff, halfback Timmy Brown, and cornerback Tom Brookshier.

That’s a lot of star power but you would expect that from a team that defeated the Green Bay Packers in the title game and handed the great Vince Lombardi his only postseason defeat as a head coach. The Packers had 10 future Hall of Famers on their roster including quarterback Bart Starr, halfback Paul Hornung, fullback Jim Taylor, linemen Jim Ringo, Jerry Kramer, and Forrest Gregg, as well as linebacker Ray Nitschke.

It is easy to be overlooked when you share a stage with that many great players and that’s what happened with Bobby Walston. He was one of the most valuable players on that 1960 Championship team and one of the best dual-purpose players of his era, but he did not get the acclaim he deserved – until now.

On Sunday, Walston will be inducted into the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame. It is an honor that is long overdue.

Walston was six-feet tall and played tight end at 190 pounds. That’s not a misprint. He was roughly the same size as the Eagles’ current punter Cameron Johnston. Smaller, actually. Johnston weighs 194. Walston was listed at 190 but Van Brocklin insisted “that’s with rocks in his pockets.”

However, if you take a close look at the photograph of Ted Dean’s game-winning touchdown run against the Packers, you will see Walston throwing the key block on linebacker Bill Forester, who was 6-3 and 240 pounds. Walston pinned Forester inside and allowed Dean to turn the corner.

“Bobby is not really big enough to do the job,” head coach Buck Shaw said, “but he’ll do it anyway. He’ll bite and scratch and fight at every turn and he’ll get it done. He’ll just plain out-nasty anyone he’s up against, no matter how big.”

“Pound for pound, Bobby is one the toughest guys in the league,” Bednarik said. “He broke his jaw (in 1954) and kept playing. The doctor wired his jaw shut and told him to take a month off. Bobby got a pair of pliers and took the wire out himself in the locker room so he could play against the Giants.”

Walston played 12 seasons with the Eagles and never missed a game. He made 148 consecutive starts, the fourth-longest streak in team history. He was a sure-handed receiver and a clutch kicker who booted a 38-yard field goal in the closing seconds to lift the Eagles to a 31-29 win over Cleveland in the drive to the ‘60 Championship.

“It was a funny kick because it looked like a knuckleball,” Brookshier said. “Most kicks tumble end over end. This (kick) was kind of flat and with the way the wind was blowing, I didn’t think it had a chance. But it just kept carrying and went through the uprights. When I saw that I thought, ‘This might just be our year.’”

Walston, who passed away in 1987 at the age of 58, was born in Columbus, Ohio, and played his college football at the University of Georgia. He was a running back and safety for the Bulldogs, but it was his kicking ability that caught the eye of Eagles general manager Vince McNally.

“I saw him in a Georgia-Maryland game,” McNally said, “and he never left the field. He played every snap and made every kick. He wasn’t the biggest guy but he was the best player on the field.”

McNally selected Walston in 14th round of the 1951 draft. He went on to win NFL Rookie of the Year honors that season. McNally was the Eagles’ general manager for 15 years and he drafted more than 400 players, but he called Walston “the best draft pick I ever made.”

In 1954, Walston led the league in scoring with 114 points, a club record that stood for 30 years. He had the Eagles’ career scoring record with 881 points until David Akers finally passed him. When Walston retired following the 1962 season, he was the second-leading scorer in NFL history trailing only the legendary Lou “The Toe” Groza of Cleveland.

Walston still holds the Eagles’ record for points in a game scoring 25 against Washington in 1954. That was the game in which quarterback Adrian Burk tied an NFL record by throwing seven touchdown passes. Walston caught three of the scoring passes in addition to kicking all seven extra points in the 49-21 victory.

Walston caught 311 passes for 5,363 yards and his career average of 17.2 yards per reception is among the best in team history. It is the same yards-per-catch average that DeSean Jackson had in his first six seasons with the Eagles. It is more than every Hall of Fame tight end including Mike Ditka (13.6), Kellen Winslow (12.5), Shannon Sharpe (12.8), and Ozzie Newsome (12.1).

“Bobby was the best all-around athlete on our team,” said McDonald. “He could do everything: baseball, basketball, boxing. If we stayed at a hotel with a pool, he’d put on a diving exhibition. You’d think he was in the Olympics; he was that good. He had unbelievable body control.”

The Eagles and San Francisco 49ers had a bench-clearing brawl in a preseason game and Walston squared off with the 49ers’ Charlie Powell, who was a professional boxer in the offseason. Powell once fought a young Cassius Clay, but he didn’t know Walston was a successful Golden Gloves boxer in his youth. Walston dropped Powell with a single left hook.

In the offseason, Walston worked as a deputy sheriff in Georgia. He told the Eagles’ front office it was a desk job, just a lot of paper shuffling. In truth, he was chasing down moonshiners in the hills of Tattnall County.

After he retired as a player, he stayed in the game as a scout working for the Chicago Bears. In 1985, when the Eagles celebrated the 25th anniversary of the 1960 Championship, it was Walston who stood and offered the toast: “Here’s to 1960. To the Champions.”

An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History columns here. He is also the author of The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which is in bookstores now.

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