Bobby Walden, Steelers Punter, 1968-1977
Bobby Walden’s sitting on his porch on a hot Georgia day….
First, what are you doing with yourself these days Bobby?
Well, I’m 72 years old, so not too much (laughs). I help my brother in law who’s on the industrial business – cleans up tanks for other companies, that kind of thing. I do that two and a half days a week – otherwise I’m fishing or staying at the house.
Many may not realize that you played in the CFL for a few years before coming to the NFL –and that you led your team in rushing and receiving yards as well as punting. How was that CFL experience and what made you leave?
Well, when I left college no one was being paid good money in the NFL – I got a lot more playing in the CFL so I went to Canada. I played there for three years before going to Minnesota.
Did you miss being a part of the running and receiving game?
Hell no (laughs) – I was beat up by the time I went to Minnesota. Those guys in the CFL liked to kill me – I didn’t miss it a bit. When I got to Minnesota Coach Van Brocklin originally wanted me to be a running bank and flanker – but changed his mind and just had me punt.
What made you come to Pittsburgh?
Well Bud Grant came in as the new coach and traded me to Pittsburgh after his first year. I was not happy at all at first – didn’t like it at all. I knew he was going to do it and asked him to trade me anywhere but Pittsburgh- Pittsburgh was just awful then – no one wanted to be there. But, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
You were there when the Steelers turned things around and saw the bad and the good. How did the organization turn it around?
My second year Coach Noll came in and everything changed. Not sure how it happened really.
It was just so much different – Noll’s manner and way of getting everyone together to play his way – and he had a lot to do with those great drafts I think too. He was a lot better man to play for than anyone else except maybe Van Brocklin.
Did you remember when you first realized that this team had turned the corner –that it had become a championship team?
I could tell – just something about the air – but I don’t have a time when I remember it exactly. Coach Noll – well, it’s hard to describe it exactly – he was just fair and didn’t beat around the bush. He was calm and quiet – no shouting or screaming.
Who were the players that you remember most from those Steelers teams?
One of the guys was from Oklahoma – only played for a year in Pittsburgh (Clendon Thomas) – but I became good friends with him before he was traded. Ray Mansfield and Andy Russell I got along with, probably because they were some of the only guys my age! I was one of the oldest guys on the team then – I might have been older the Chuck Noll. We didn’t have any blame or riff-raff on that team – we all got along.
Did Coach Noll ever give you a chance to run the ball?
All I did was punt – some times in Minnesota I got to run some fakes – but Chuck never had me fake a punt. A punt was not a crime to Chuck – it could be a good play.
Do you still follow the Steelers?
I still follow the team – I like the people there – great fans. Once in a while I’ll call Bradshaw and Tommy Mason – he was a friend of mine as well. We graduated college the same year and played in Minnesota together. We were real close too – both of us were single so we’d go out horseback riding and stuff then.
Who was the locker room leader of those teams?
To tell you the truth there was nobody that was. Chuck set the rules and we all went by them. We were all leaders – we didn’t need any leader. Somehow we all just gelled.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken some heat for his changes to the NFL. What are your thoughts on those changes?
Well, I don’t like a lot of things he’s done, but I won’t get into details. I don’t want to do that in public. You gotta have a boss though, and he’s it!
Any thoughts on today’s NFL players?
Too much “me” and not enough “we”. It still takes eleven on each side. There shouldn’t be one “me” – even if you are just a kicker – it takes the whole team.
Any last thoughts for readers?
The fans in Pittsburgh made my ten years there enjoyable. Whether we won or lot they were good people – they stuck with us. I still run into Steelers fans here that remember me, believe it or not. I even still get letters asking for autographs – 7-10 a week. If I had $5 for every one I signed, I’d be sitting on a gold mine!