Starting Over

June 28, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

More than anything else, Alvin Walton wanted to walk away on his terms.

What he didn't want was to be carried out on the waiver wire, which is what happened two years ago when the Washington Redskins deemed him expendable and slow, and then released him.

That designation is why Walton has spent the past month at Towson State, trying to reclaim lost territory with Baltimore's Canadian Football League team. It's why he's willing to play a foreign position in a foreign league, why he's acting like a raw recruit, not an embittered old pro.

After six years in the NFL and two Super Bowl rings, Walton, at age 30, is starting over at outside linebacker in the CFL.

"A lot of people have been on top," said Daryl Edralin, linebacker coach for Baltimore. "Everything else is not the same after that. But he's like a first-year player who's gotten a chance to play in the Canadian league. He's one of the guys. He'll do anything to help us win."

Walton contributed an interception, two impressive special teams plays and one brief face-to-face confrontation in Baltimore's 33-18 exhibition victory over the Shreveport Pirates last week.

"He's a football player," said an approving Don Matthews, Baltimore's coach. "He did very well. He got a pick and decked a bunch of people."

Said Walton: "It was hard trying to adjust to the speed of the game. As far as playing, it was the same as the NFL. Everybody was out there trying to kill each other."

Walton's game is smash-mouth football. He was a big hitter as a strong safety during his Redskins career, collecting 630 tackles and 12 interceptions. In the CFL, his outside linebacker position is not terribly different than playing strong safety. He plays near the line of scrimmage, drops into coverage and picks off running backs.

That he is willing to do it for a salary of under $40,000 a year is remarkable. Especially when that represents less than one-tenth of what he once made in one season in the NFL.

He said he and his new wife, Janet Marie, don't need the money. And he doesn't need the drain of two-a-days in June. Why, then, is he starting over?

"I love the sport," he said, flashing his infectious smile. "I can't get enough of it. And I want to retire when I want to retire."

For Walton, the beginning of the end of his Redskins career came in the team's last Super Bowl season of 1991. He went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury he suffered against the Dallas Cowboys and missed 12 games. When he was activated in December, he played behind Danny Copeland. And when he was deactivated for Super Bowl XXVII, he asked to be traded.

"I felt like they were trying to keep me down and give my job to Copeland," he said.

He was released the next summer when, he said, he refused to take a pay cut. He failed a physical with the Los Angeles Rams, then tried futilely to land with another NFL team. There were no takers.

For two years he waited. He held jobs with the post office and Federal Express and went to school to get his barber's license. Not until former teammate Vernon Dean intervened on his behalf was he able to get a tryout with the Baltimore CFL team.

Even that was difficult. He strained a hamstring right before the workout, but decided he couldn't postpone: "I told them I'd work out, anyway, because I knew it would be my last chance."

Defensive coordinator Bob Price saw enough in the limited workout to warrant a camp invitation. Out of shape when he reported, Walton has worked back into shape through nearly five weeks of camp.

The CFL, his last chance, has become his saving grace.

"Being out two years, I knew no NFL team would take me to camp at age 30," Walton said. "I hope I can make it here, get some film and get back to the NFL. If not, I'll just stay here. But I want to stop playing because I want to stop, not because of them telling me."

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