Johnnie Walton fond of time with Philadelphia Eagles
ECSU great spent four seasons with Eagles
By Malcolm Shields
Sunday, February 4, 2018
Nearly 40 years after his last game in the National Football League, Johnnie Walton is content with his time with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Walton, a former standout in college at Elizabeth City State, spent four seasons in Philadelphia as a backup quarterback.
His time with the Eagles was his longest stint in the NFL with one team.
Today, his former club takes on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Philadelphia Eagles, which was established in 1933, has never won a Super Bowl.
Walton, who played with the Eagles from the 1976 to 1979 season, noted that one of his proudest achievements with the Eagles was being part of the turnaround of the franchise.
Before the 1978 season, the Eagles had not earned a bid to the postseason since the franchise won the NFL Championship in 1960.
The NFL merged with the American Football League (AFL) in 1966, which began the Super Bowl era.
In 1978, the Eagles finished second in the NFC East, but earned a bid into the playoffs as a wild card.
Philadelphia built off of that success in the 1979 campaign with a first-place tie in the standings with the Dallas Cowboys, but lost out on a tiebreaker with Dallas to take second in the division for playoff purposes.
The Eagles defeated the Chicago Bears in the wild card round in 1979, but lost the next week to the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round.
“Both of those years were pretty satisfying years,” Walton told The Daily Advance at Roebuck Stadium on Friday.
During Walton’s time in Philadelphia, the Dallas Cowboys ruled the NFC East with four consecutive division titles.
Dallas won a Super Bowl in the 1977 season and lost in the big game in the 1978 campaign.
Walton had the moment of his NFL career against Dallas on Monday Night Football in 1979 at Texas Stadium.
Walton noted that he came into the game for an injured Ron Jaworski.
“The biggest pass of my life, I threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Smith,” Walton said.
The touchdown pass gave the Eagles a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
Also in that second quarter, Philadelphia added a field goal to take a 17-7 lead at halftime.
Walton noted that the 10 consecutive points in that time frame helped the Eagles to the 31-21 win.
Following the 1979 season, Walton decided to step away from the NFL to become the head coach at Elizabeth City State.
Philadelphia coach Dick Vermeil felt the then 32-year-old Walton had some years left to play.
“Coach Vermeil tried to talk me out of retiring,” Walton said. “I knew that this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Plus I knew that the Eagles were getting better.”
Walton took over the Vikings for the 1980 season.
During that same time, the Eagles won the NFC East and captured the NFC Championship to secure a berth in Super Bowl XV.
Philadelphia lost to the Oakland Raiders 27-10 in the title game.
Walton said that he has no regrets about stepping away from the game when he did.
Walton acknowledged that he thought about what if he would have played another year in Philadelphia.
“Through my life, I’ve asked God for direction and he directed my path,” Walton said. “That is the path I decided to take.”
Walton noted that he could have been a play away from potentially being the first African American quarterback to play in the Super Bowl in 1981 if Jaworski would have sustained an injury.
The distinction of the first black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl would go to Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams in Super Bowl XXII in 1988.
“He had a tremendous game with the Redskins to cap off a great season for himself,” Walton said of Williams.
Walton finished his Eagles career with 338 passing yards with three touchdowns, three interceptions and a 59.6 completion percentage.
During his time coaching the Vikings, Walton led ECSU to an at-large berth into the 1981 NCAA Division II playoffs against Northern Michigan in the quarterfinal round.
Walton noted that the team flew out from the Elizabeth City Coast Guard Base to their destination in Michigan.
Walton added, for some of the players, it was their first time on an airplane.
The former ECSU great added that the roughest part of the flight was at the end in Michigan because there was ice on the runway.
“You couldn’t even see the landing strip,” Walton said. “Everybody was on pins and needles.”
Walton noted that snow played a factor in the contest.
The Vikings lost to Northern Michigan 55-6.
Walton, who was inducted into the ECSU Sports Hall of Fame in 1985, would return to professional football in the USFL in the mid-1980 to conclude his professional career.
The quarterback had a slow start as a professional.
After Walton completed his all-CIAA senior season under center at ECSU, he was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Los Angeles Rams in 1969.
Walton noted that then Rams coach George Allen favored veteran quarterbacks, but might have saw potential in him.
At the time Roman Gabriel was the starting quarterback for the Rams.
Walton would spend the 1969 season leading the Indianapolis Capitols to the Continental Football League championship.
When Allen left L.A. to take over Washington, Walton could not break through with the Rams.
Walton spent time in the World Football League in the mid-1970s, where he had his most success as a professional, before getting his second shot in the NFL with the Eagles.
As for today’s game, Walton, who is currently the City of Elizabeth City Fourth Ward Councilman, is picking the Eagles to win 24-21.
“They have a good squad,” Walton said.
Walton noted that Carson Wentz was doing a good job for Philadelphia before his knee injury in Week 14 against the Rams ended his season.
Walton added that Wentz’s ability to run provided a different dimension to the game for the Eagles.
Walton believes that current Eagles quarterback Nick Foles will play an in the pocket game that mirrors New England quarterback Tom Brady.
“It’s going to be an interesting game,” Walton said. “Foles has good talent surrounding him. He has the tools to win this game.”