Comeback earns ex-Terp Block courage award Bengals' Walker blew out 2 knees

March 09, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

It's almost as if Kevin Walker can't turn on the TV set these days without seeing the replay of Bo Jackson's last play as a football player.

Jackson is trying to make a comeback as a baseball player with an artificial hip, so the injury he suffered in a 1990 playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals still makes all the highlight shows.

"I think I've seen it 100 times," Walker said.

Walker is the player who tackled Jackson in that game between the Bengals and the Los Angeles Raiders.

At the time, neither Walker nor Jackson had any idea the former Raiders running back had suffered a serious injury.

"I went back to the huddle and they stopped the game," said Walker, a linebacker. "I thought he fell on the football and got the wind knocked out of him. I saw him after the game and he said he'd be back the next week. He didn't realize the seriousness of the injury at the time."

Walker can feel empathy for Jackson's comeback attempt. He's been there himself.

The doctors have told Walker that he's the only NFL player to come back from two reconstructive knee surgeries.

His comeback prompted his Bengals teammates to vote him the winner of the team's 1992 Ed Block Courage Award.

Walker and the other 27 winners -- one from each team -- will be honored tonight at the 15th annual Ed Block Foundation Courage Award Banquet at Martin's West.

The award honors the late Ed Block, a Colts trainer for 23 years who also worked with children at Kernan Hospital and John Hopkins Hospital.

The Courage awards have raised over $2 million for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and the eventual goal of the foundation is to open a Courage House in every NFL city. There is a Courage House at St. Vincent's Center in Timonium and others in Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Walker, a former Maryland linebacker, blew out his left knee as a rookie in 1988 when he was clipped while covering a kickoff against the New York Jets. He came back and played in 1989 and 1990 before tearing up his right knee in 1991 while making a tackle.

He had reconstructive surgery on the right knee, and doctors told him nobody had come back from that type of surgery on both knees.

"I looked at it as a challenge," he said. "I gave it everything I had. I didn't want to go through life not pushing myself. There's no question that you never realize how much you miss something until it's taken away from you.

"I didn't want to come back as a reserve or special teams player. I wanted my starting job back. I wanted the peace of mind knowing that I gave it everything I had."

He made it all the way back and was a starter early last season when he injured the left knee again. On a short yardage play, his foot got stuck in the turf. He had to undergo reconstructive surgery for the second time on his left knee.

All the cartilage is now gone from that knee. "There's just some screws and some pins," he said.

Walker, 27, has accepted that his football career is over.

"It'd be very risky to try to come back again. There's not much of a decision left to be made," he said. "It still takes time to get used to. It's time to do other things."

The timing couldn't have been worse. He made $398,000 last year and his contract was up. Now that the NFL has free agency for five-year veterans, salaries are expected to increase dramatically.

But Walker said he isn't thinking about what might have been.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "It wasn't meant to be. God has other plans for my life."

He said he was touched by the fact that his teammates voted him the Block Courage award.

"It's definitely an honor. It's a prestigious award. It means a lot to me," he said.

Walker now works in the insurance business in Cincinnati. He and his wife have five-month-old twin sons, Kendall and Kyle.

Meanwhile, Walker is hoping Jackson does well with hi comeback.

"I feel good that he's having the opportunity to come back," he said.

He said he has no second thoughts about the play.

"Football is a tough sport, a contact sport. It was two men playing the way the game is supposed to played. He was playing hard and I was playing hard. If it'd been a late hit or an out of bounds play, I'd feel differently. But we were playing the game the way it's supposed to be played. It was unfortunate."

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