Two days after being discharged from the Merchant Marine…Doak Walker appeared in his first college football game for Southern Methodist University….while playing in just five games for the Mustangs in the 1945 season….but was sufficiently impressive as a halfback and placekicker as to win All-Southwest Conference honors and a spot in the annual East–West Shrine Game in San Francisco….when he threw a tying touchdown pass for the West team….for Doak Walker signified what football legends are all about in the football crazy State of Texas.
Walker did not play college football in 1946, as he was inducted into the U.S. Army in March 1946. His stint was brief, playing football for the Brooke Medical Center service team in San Antonio before being discharged in January 1947….when following his discharge he would re-enrolled at SMU….and rejoined the Mustangs football team. As a sophomore, he led Southern Methodist to a 1947 SWC championship and was named to a myriad of All-American teams….of which he gained similar All-American honors in 1948, and 1949…..while winning the Maxwell Award as a sophomore in 1947….and the Heisman Trophy in 1948 as a junior….when during his award-winning season, Doak would gain 532 yards on the ground….while having 108 carries with a 4.9 yards per carry average….as he also threw 6 TD passes from the halfback position…after going 26-for-46….and gaining 304 yards in the air. As a receiver, Walker hauled in 15 passes for 279 yards and 3 TD’s….while on defense, he intercepted 3 passes. He also punted for a 42.1 yard average for the Mustangs….plus he returned punts and kickoffs….and did duty as the SMU placekicker. Walker finished the year with 11 touchdowns scored….which combined with his kicking put 88 points on the scoreboard for the year. Doak Walker’s impact on SMU and football in the Dallas area led to the Cotton Bowl’s expansion and nickname: “The House That Doak Built.”….and as icing on the top of his “college cake” lettered on the SMU basketball and baseball teams.
Following his junior year at SMU…Doak Walker was selected by the Boston Yanks with the 3rd pick of in the 1949 NFL Draft….then the Detroit Lions acquired Walker’s rights from Boston in exchange for Johnny Rauch….who the Lions had selected with the 2nd pick of the Draft behind Walker. The Cleveland Browns held the AAFC to arbitrate their conflicting claims or flip a coin. Instead, the Browns agreed in January 1950 to forego their claim to Walker in exchange for the Lions’ second pick in the 1950 NFL Draft.
In Detroit, Walker was reunited with former high school teammate and Texas football legend,Bobby Layne….who the Lions acquired by trade in April 1950….and the two Texans led the Lions to one of the top scoring offenses during the 1950 NFL season….as Layne led the NFL with 2,323 passing yards and Walker led the league with 128 points on 5 rushing TD’s….6 receiving touchdowns….38 extra points….and 8 field goals. Walker appeared in all 12 games for the 1950 Lions at the left halfback position….while rushing for 386 yards on 83 carries (4.7 ypc)….caught 34 passes for 534 yards….and totaled 1,262 all-purpose yards. He was selected by both the Associated Press (AP) and United Press (UP) as a first-team player on the 1950 All-Pro Team. His 128 points in 1950 was the second highest single-season total in NFL history to that time.
Walker had another strong season in 1951….as he appeared in all 12 games at left halfback while totaling 1,270 all-purpose yards (4th best in NFL)….scoring 97 points (3rd best in NFL)….and leading the NFL with 43 extra points. He was again selected by the AP and UP as a 1st-team All-Pro.
Walker suffered leg injuries that limited him to 7 games during the 1952 season….but was fully recovered in time for the post-season….in which he rushed for 97 yards and caught 2 passes against the Browns in the 1952 NFL Championship Game.
Healthy for the full 1953 season….Walker helped lead the Lions to their 2nd consecutive NFL championship….when he ranked 3rd in the NFL with 93 points scored and totaled 978 all-purpose yards…. including 502 receiving yards and 337 rushing yards. In the 1953 NFL Championship Game, he scored a touchdown and kicked a field goal and an extra point to account for 10 of the Lions’ 17 points. At the end of the 1953 season, Walker was selected by the AP as a first-team All-Pro and by the UP as a second-team All-Pro.
In 1954, Walker helped lead the Lions to their third consecutive NFL Western Division championship. He led the NFL with 43 extra points (out of 43 attempts) and an average of 14.4 yards per touch. He ranked 2nd in the NFL with 106 points scored and 3rd with 11 field goals. He also kicked a field goal and an extra point in the 1954 NFL Championship Game and was selected by the AP, UP, and The Sporting News as a 1st-team back on the 1954 All-Pro Team.
In July 1955, Walker signed a contract worth $27,500 to play a final season for the Lions….and to serve as a special scout for the Lions in Texas in 1956 and 1957….and at age 28….Walker retired, not because his abilities had diminished but because of the need to attend to multiple business interests in Texas. In his final season in the NFL….he appeared in all 12 games for the Lions and led the NFL in scoring with 96 points….to include scoring 11 points in the final game of the season to secure the league’s scoring title. His 1955 scoring title was remarkable given the fact that it was achieved while playing for a team that won only 3 games and compiled the worst record in the NFL.
On the day of Walker’s final regular season game in December….the Lions held a “Doak Walker Day” at Briggs Stadium….at which he was presented with a silver football engraved with the names of his teammates and coaches….as Doak Walker’s jersey # 57 was also retired as part of the ceremony. Walker’s final NFL appearance was in the 1956 Pro Bowl at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 15, 1956.
At the time of his retirement, Walker ranked 3rd in NFL history with 534 points scored (not including 21 post-season points) in 6 NFL seasons….as only Don Hutson (825 points in 11 seasons) and Bob Waterfield (573 points in eight seasons) had scored more points. Walker also totaled 1,520 rushing yards on 309 carries (4.9 yards per carry) and 152 receptions for 2,539 yards (16.7 yards per reception).
Walker has received numerous honors for his football career. His honors include the following:
In 1955, the Detroit Lions retired his jersey (No. 37) in 1955, the first number retired by the Lions.
In 1959, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
In 1986, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame….as Bobby Layne presented Walker for his induction and said of Walker, “He was the greatest clutch player I ever saw. . . . I’ll tell ya, if we were ahead 28-0 or somethin’, you might not notice Doak on the field. But if it was a close game, everybody knew he was there and he would be the difference.”
The Doak Walker Award, first awarded in 1990, is presented annually to the best running back in college football.
In 2007, Walker was ranked No. 4 on ESPN’s list of the top 25 players in college football history.
A statue of Walker was placed between Gerald Ford Stadium and SMU’s Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports.