In this edition of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we go back to the fabulous fifties to pay tribute to a legendary Texan who helped make the Lions the NFL’s most dominant team of the decade.
14. Doak Walker
Halfback / Flanker / Kicker. 1950-55 Detroit
Doak Walker was a pigskin legend long before he donned the Honolulu Blue and Silver. He was a three-time All-American, and the 1948 Heisman Trophy winner at Southern Methodist University. He was the first college junior to ever win the Heisman. As a college junior in 1949, Doak was drafted by the NFL’s New York Bulldogs, as well as the Cleveland Browns, who were then part of the rival All-American Football Conference.
While at the time it was illegal for college players to enter the NFL before their freshman class had graduated, it was not illegal for teams to draft players before their college eligibility had expired. In Doak’s case, he was eligible because he had spent a year in the service prior to his college career. So while Doak spent his senior year at SMU, the AAFC folded. The NFL absorbed the defunct league’s aforementioned Browns, as well as the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts. In the process, Detroit coach Bo McMillin was able to obtain Walker’s draft rights. He did so by trading quarterback Johnny Rauch, the Lions’ 1949 first-round pick, to the Bulldogs for Walker, as well as concocting a behind the scenes deal with Cleveland coach Paul Brown to wave the Browns’ claim on Doak. It would prove to be one of the best of many personnel moves McMillin would make during his three-year stay at the Lion helm.
Doak would arrive in Detroit to start the 1950 season and would promptly lead the league in scoring with a rookie-record 128 points. He would be named All-Pro and Rookie of the Year, as well as garner a Pro Bowl trip for his efforts. He would only finish lower than third in the NFL scoring-race one time during his six-year career. That year was 1952, when Walker missed the last five regular season games due to injury. However, that year he did return in time for the NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns. It looked as if he hadn’t missed a beat when he broke free in the third-quarter on a 67-yard touchdown romp (watch at the 47 second mark in the first video below) that helped the Lions to the 17-7 victory. In a rematch with the Browns in the 1953 title game, Doak scored eleven of Detroit’s seventeen points as the Leos came from behind in the final minutes to defeat Cleveland 17-16.
Walker was a do-everything performer for the Lions. He played halfback, flanker, situational defensive back, returned kickoffs and punts, and served as the Lions’ primary kicker and field goal specialist. He is still fifth on the Lions’ all-time scoring list with 534 points, behind only Jason Hanson, Eddie Murray, Barry Sanders and Errol Mann. He also shares the Lion single-game scoring mark of 24 points with Dutch Clark, teammate Cloyce Box, and Barry Sanders.
With the exception of his point totals, Walker’s overall statistics are not overly impressive. However, he was one of those rare athletes who would always be at his best when the stakes were highest. His lifelong friend and Lion teammate Bobby Layne summed it up in these terms: “If we were ahead 28-0 or somethin’, you might not notice Doak on the field. But if it was a close game, everybody knew he was there – and he would be the difference.”
- 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions: #27 Les Bingaman (waketheherd.wordpress.com)
- 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions: #33 Bob “Hunchy” Hoernschmeyer (waketheherd.wordpress.com)
- 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions: #28 Cloyce Box (waketheherd.wordpress.com)
- 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions: #32 Dick LeBeau (waketheherd.wordpress.com)