Kevin Walker makes the tackle on Bo Jackson that ended Jackson's career.
Kevin Walker maintains there is no "Curse of Bo" and, in fact, he believes the Bengals have a great shot of winning Saturday's AFC Wild Card game (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Houston.
"We're going to get a couple of the old guys together and go somewhere and watch the game and cheer on the boys," Walker said Saturday from Cincinnati's Northern suburbs. "The defense has played tremendously and it seems like the teams with the most solid defenses have the best chance of advancing. It should be fun to watch."
As every Cincinnati school kid knows, Walker was an inside linebacker on the last Bengals team to win a playoff game back on Jan. 6, 1991 at Riverfront Stadium against the Oilers. He didn't play that much against Houston's run-and-shoot offense as the Bengals rolled to a 41-14 victory over the Warren Moon-less Oilers.
But he played plenty the next week in Los Angeles in the AFC Divisional game against running back Bo Jackson and his punishing Raiders ground game. And Walker was the guy that made the last tackle on one of the greatest running backs that ever lived. It was just another tackle, just another play. But Jackson suffered a career-ending hip injury, Marcus Allen came off the bench to rush for 140 yards to bail the Raiders out in a 20-10 victory, and the Bengals haven't won in the postseason since.
Curse of Bo?
"I better maintain a low profile," Walker said with laugh.
No curse and at 47 life is good for Walker. He owns K-Cor, a commercial construction business that installs reinforced steel, and the kids have taken their skills to college. Son Kendall is a 6-0, 220-pound sophomore linebacker at Indiana State, twin Kyle runs the 110 hurdles and 200 at Akron and daughter Khara is a freshman sprinter at Ohio State.
"They got their speed from their mother," Walker said of Carmen, a high school track athlete.
Walker didn't have a lot of speed, but he had a lot of smarts and heart and, like Jackson, injury problems. His knees limited him to five seasons and 44 games, but he was a rookie on the '88 Super Bowl team and he started 15 games for the '90 AFC Central champs that blew out Houston twice in three weeks, the last in the Wild Card game.
"There was no love lost between the two coaches, so it was always a real tough game," Walker said of the feud between Cincinnati's Sam Wyche and Houston's Jerry Glanville. "It was always a battle when we played Houston."
The next week in The Coliseum, the maligned Bengals defense gave the Raiders all they could handle and were within 7-3 of the Silver and Black when Jackson lined up for the second snap of the second half and took a pitch around the right end, finally breaking one, a screeching 34-yarder that displayed all the great back's awesome speed, power and size.
"We were lined up overloaded to the left side, so we knew the only place they could go was to the right," Walker said. "I was lined up as an outside backer on the left and came all the way from the other side. I knew I had saddle up. He had great turbos."
Walker knew he had to get there because it looked a lot like the play Jackson broke the month before in the regular-season game the two teams played in the Coliseum. Except on that play, Jackson went left, reversed across the field and bolted 88 yards up the right sideline until Bengals cornerback Rod Jones caught him at the 1.
"Rod Jones could fly," Walker said. "That's the fastest I've ever seen a human being run anywhere."
So Walker knew he had to get there, and he did, taking down Jackson as they fell on the sideline.
"I hit him with the shoulder and then slid down to grab his legs because that's what you'd had to do with him," Walker said. "And I when he tried to step out of it, I guess that's when he hurt the hip. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary. It was another tackle."
Walker sees the play from time to time on TV, most recently on ESPN's piece on Jackson in their 30 for 30 series.
"It was an amazing show," Walker said. "It's just hard to believe that could have been his last play."
Walker has never bumped into Jackson in the 22 years since. He heard he was at a golf outing in Cincinnati about 15 years ago, but it wasn't one Walker attended. Life moved on and it takes him to another Saturday afternoon with the guys.
"I've only heard back from Joe Kelly and he's going to be there," Walker said of the Bengals linebacker who mentored him. "But I've got a call in to Ira Hillary, Barney Bussey, and I'll see what Ickey (Woods) is doing. I think they've got a good shot today."
GRUDEN PURSUED: ESPN reported Saturday that the Eagles are expected to seek permission from the Bengals on Monday to interview offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for the head coaching job. Gruden signed a three-year extension in last January after he turned down an offer to interview in St. Louis.
"I'm new to this. If I'd been in the league 25 years, I would have interviewed," Gruden said then. "I just got here. I want to focus on the job at hand. There's no guarantee you're going to get the job. I just wanted to put it to bed and move on with what we've got going here."
But he may feel differently now that he's been on the job two years.