In 13 seconds, Fulton Walker ran from being a cog on a very good team to being a chunk of NFL and Miami Dolphins history celebrated mostly for one moment.
That living piece of history died Wednesday at 58, as first reported by The Martinsburg Journal, the newspaper in Walker’s West Virginia hometown.
And, about now, Dolphins fans middle aged and older are searching YouTube for those 13 seconds, when Walker became the first player to return a Super Bowl kickoff or punt for a touchdown. The electric moment shot the Dolphins back into Super Bowl XVII’s lead, 17-10, 1:38 before halftime. The Dolphins never scored again in a 27-17 loss to Washington.
Before Walker’s 98-yard kickoff return, he’d shown impact play potential. In his rookie season, after the Dolphins drafted Walker in 1981’s sixth round out of West Virginia, he’d scored on a 90-yard kickoff return. He finished the strike-shortened 1982 season with three interceptions in nine games, second on the Dolphins, despite not starting a game for the NFL’s No. 1 defense.
Then, in those 13 seconds, Walker became a name connected to a Super Bowl Sunday moment, like “Jack Squirek” or “Jim O’Brien” or “David Tyree.” That the Dolphins lost mattered not. The breathtaking, unexpected thrill remained connected with Walker’s name the rest of his six-season NFL career. And beyond.
He’d make one more interception, in 1983, when he averaged a career high 26.7 yards per kickoff return. He returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown for the then-Los Angeles Raiders in his last NFL season, 1986. But those 13 seconds prompted the West Virginia Sports Writers Association to name its recently created high school special teams player of the year award The Fulton Walker Award.
After his career, Walker lived in Martinsburg. The peers and family who knew him for everything but those 13 seconds called him by the nickname “Brother.” And one posted a very personal anecdote via Facebook to the comments section of The Martinsburg Journal’s obituary.