Still has Skip in his step

EARL MCRAE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

OTTAWA -- Lansdowne Park, October 1983. A crisp, sunlit afternoon, a bracing wind high in the leaves of the poplar trees along the canal. The Ottawa Rough Riders and the Toronto Argonauts. The stadium packed.

Ottawa on Toronto's 45. First and 10. Watts over the ball. He takes the snap, turns, hands off to Walker. Walker breaks through the middle, he fakes left, he goes right, he's GONE. The 35, the 25, the 20, the 10 -- TOUCHDOWN. Skip Walker!

Over the phone I say to him: "I'm glad I found you. I need you to clear up the mystery of your shoe. It once got me in big trouble with the CBC."

Skip Walker. Now there was a running back. The last of the great, running backs in the long history of the Ottawa Rough Riders. When an injury forced his retirement after the 1984 season, the team never again -- right up to when it folded in 1996 -- had a running back as dominant as Alvin "Skip" Walker, carrying the torch passed down through the ages from Andy Tommy and Tony Golab and Howie Turner and Dave Thelen and Ronnie Stewart.

The legacy of Skip Walker, who left Ottawa 26 years ago, never again to be heard from in these parts, is only in the record books.

A power back for the Texas A&M Aggies, he was an 11thround draft pick of the Houston Oilers in 1976, cut before the season began. He taught high school biology, rking out, and in 1980 was signed by Saskatchewan. In training camp, he was traded to the Alouettes, played two seasons, and got traded to Ottawa when the Larks signed running back David Overstreet.

Walker played for Ottawa only three seasons -- 1982- 1984 -- and in two of them consecutively led the CFL in rushing: 1,141 and 1,431 yards. The two-time CFL all-star was twice named Riders' player of the year.

At the death of the club, only Reggie Barnes in team history, almost a decade after Walker, had more rushing yards in a single season (1,486) -- but it took Barnes 53 more carries for his 55-yard advantage over Walker.

Skip Walker is tied with Dave Thelen for most Rough Rider 100-yard rushing games in a season: Eight. Reggie Barnes is second: Five.

But Skip Walker, I'm sure, holds another record you won't find in the books: Loss of shoe. For some strange reason, one of his shoes kept coming off in games, sometimes two and three times a game, prompting broadcasters to say: "Oh, no -- Skip Walker's lost his shoe again."

* * *

"Skip, how are you doing these days?"

"Fine. Just fine. How are things in Ottawa?"

Walker, 56, lives in Austin, Texas, where he's manager of a restaurant called Hoover's Cooking. At 5-foot-10, when he left football he weighed 195. He's now 245. He and his wife Kimberly -- second marriages for both --have a combined seven children, all girls except for Skip's 15-year old son Joshua, a star basketball and baseball player.

"I had to call it quits with the Rough Riders after I got a bad injury, a helmet to my foot that broke bones. I tried out with the Green Bay Packers in '85, but I hadn't fully recovered. I couldn't plant. It still bothers me some days. My back was another problem from all the pounding. It still is."

He went back to teaching biology for 13 years before getting into the restaurant business.

He's not been back to Ottawa since he left. "I'd love to one day." And then, laughing: "It's hard to get that many kids in the car." I say it'd be nice to see him back for the opening ceremonies of Ottawa's new CFL team.

"I'd be honoured. I really enjoyed the CFL and playing for Ottawa. I loved how the kids would all be in the end zone before games asking for autographs. I loved seeing them and talking to them.

"My roommate was Jon Sutton. Kevin Powell. Tim Hook. A lot of great guys. J.C. Watts was quarterback. I haven't had any contact with any of the guys since I left, but I saw J.C. recently when he was in Austin."

His coach with Ottawa was George Brancato. "I liked George a lot. He was also the backfield coach. He was a good man, a fair man, and an honest man. He was a players' coach. He motivated me, he gave me my shot."

He asks about Jim Reid, Rider teammate and fullback. "He was my right-arm man. The best fullback I ever played with. Jim was the man. I'd love to get in touch with him."

* * *

The Shoe. In 1983 I was doing the evening sportscast on CBLT, Toronto's flagship TV station. I followed each sportscast with a commentary, McRae's McWorld. One night I did it on Walker chronically losing his shoe in games. To illustrate, I heaved my leg in the air and kicked my loafer across the studio.

"The next morning," I tell Walker, "the executive producer gave me hell. He said what I did was inappropriate for the CBC."

"Yeah, it was weird with my shoe," says Skip Walker. "It wasn't on purpose or anything. Maybe it had to do with me hating to have the outside of them taped up. Or just the hard way I planted, I dunno. I'm sorry you got in trouble."

We both laugh.


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