Philadelphia Eagles News

Where Are They Now? WR Wally Henry

Wally Henry didn't listen.

At Lincoln High School in San Diego, California, the speedy wide receiver was told that he didn't have the talent to play college football. He did.

First at San Diego City College and then at UCLA, where he caught two touchdown passes in the 1976 Rose Bowl to help the Bruins upset undefeated Ohio State. Henry was then told he didn't have the talent to play in the NFL. He did.

After he wasn't selected in the 1977 NFL Draft, Henry traveled to Philadelphia where the Eagles were in their second year under head coach Dick Vermeil, one of his former college coaches.

"When he left UCLA, he took a lot of the staff with him," Henry said. "So I had two coaches (Vermeil and Carl Peterson) that knew my ability and consequently that enabled me to get a tryout with the Eagles. I had a few teams that gave me free agent offers, but when you're trying to get into the league it's best to go with people that know your abilities and capabilities."

UCLA's top kick returner as a senior, Henry felt capable of handling the same duties as a pro, and hoped that would help him earn a spot on Philadelphia's roster. That, however, proved to be easier said than done.

"I was the last one to be released after camp and they brought me back," Henry said. "And then going on into the season we had an offensive guard that went down and I was the least expensive guy to let go so they let me go again and I was brought back.

"And then the third time, we needed a receiver and so we got Kenny Payne from Green Bay and they let me go again. But then he had an emergency appendectomy and so they re-signed me.

"I always got released on a Monday night and Tuesday was our day off and I was brought back on Wednesday. That was my first year."

Despite the seemingly all too common 36-hour periods of unemployment, Henry played in 10 games as a rookie. In the following year's season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, he returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown. It was the Eagles' first punt return for a score in 10 years.

But two games later, only moments after returning a punt 55 yards to set up a touchdown in New Orleans, Henry suffered a broken leg and was lost for the remainder of the season.

Healthy again in 1979 and anxious to pick up where he had left off, Henry led the Eagles in both punt and kick returns, and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl.

"I found out when I came into the locker room and Coach Vermeil was naming all the players (who had been chosen) and the last one he named was me," Henry said. "I was pretty shocked. It's kind of hard to think that a free agent can come in and go all the way to being voted to the Pro Bowl.

"Everybody was very happy considering that my first year I had been released three times and was still able to hang on and consequently the third year become an All-Pro."

The Eagles opened the 1980 season with 11 victories in their first 12 games, and finished with a 12-4 record and the conference title when they beat the division-rival Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, 20-7.

"We were highly motivated and we started believing in ourselves," Henry said. "And Dallas being the menace that they were to us, we came out and Wilbert (Montgomery), I think it was the second play of the game, had a great (55-yard) run for a touchdown and we never looked back."

Looking forward, Philadelphia faced its next opponent, the Oakland Raiders, two weeks later in Super Bowl XV. The Eagles lost, 27-10.

"Coming from playing in the Rose Bowl, it was just taking that next step up," Henry said. "The Rose Bowl was like the Super Bowl of college for us, so I kind of had an idea how big the game was. But the Super Bowl, the magnitude of it, when you go in to meet the press a couple of days before the game, I mean, everything was just so huge."

(Wally Henry, second from left, returned to Lincoln High School in 2015 to celebrate the Super Bowl Honor Roll program along with Terrell Davis, Saladin Martin and Marcus Allen.)

He concluded a six-year career with the Eagles in 1982 and left as the franchise's career leader with 148 punt returns, a mark which still stands 34 years later. Henry is also third in franchise history with 1,281 punt return yards.

The father of four - Angelo, Wallkili, Justin and Vanessa - and grandfather of eight, Henry makes his home in suburban San Diego and is a counselor at New Alternatives, a school and housing facility for at-risk youth.

"These kids, a lot of them are homeless, some have drug problems, some are put here by the state and some are put here by the probation department," Henry said. "I just enjoy working with kids, trying to impact their lives in a positive way. More times than not it's gratifying. You have some cases where you just can't reach a kid. I realize that. So the ones I can impact, I'm grateful for that."

Henry also helps coach a Pop Warner football team as well as at his alma mater, Lincoln High School. Last year, Henry was part of the NFL's Super Bowl High School Honor Roll program. Every player or head coach who was on an active Super Bowl roster was presented with a golden football to commemorate the 50th Super Bowl. The golden football is displayed in each of their high schools.

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