Walker developed a passion for refurbishing “junk” cars during his youth in Pomona, Calif.
“I think it’s just taking something that we look at as ancient and making it something that we see as beautiful today,” Walker said. “To me, it feels like I’m bringing something back to life, something that was beautiful back then and now it’s ugly but I make it beautiful again.
“It’s just so much joy in that when you can get in a car and work in it and when you start it up, you’re like, ‘I did that. I made it sound like that. I made it ride like that,’” Walker added. “When people see that you’ve done something like that, they know that you’re not just a football player. You can do other things.”
|Delanie Walker catches a touchdown against the New York Jets.|
Walker’s favorite automotive reclamation is a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442. It’s been about a six-year process, and is scheduled to be finished in the next couple of months. The final details are being handled in California since Walker is busy with football, but he plans to bring the car to Tennessee upon completion.
Walker is familiar with other refurbishing projects. He helped the resurgence of the 49ers after arriving in 2006 as a sixth-round draft pick. He and his teammates endured five straight seasons without a winning record (far removed from the five Lombardi trophies claimed by San Francisco) until the 49ers broke through under Jim Harbaugh and went to the past two NFC Championship games and Super Bowl XLVII.
San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis, a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro, used to sit next to Walker on 49ers team flights. Willis said Walker combines versatility, intensity and commitment to the team.
“He was willing to sell out for his teammates, and I think that’s what made him the kind of player he is, that he’s just willing to go out and do whatever needs to be done to help the football team,” Willis said. “He’s certainly one of those guys that will forever, as long as I live, be a teammate of mine given that I was with him my first six years. We’ve been together through the good times and the bad times.”
The Titans evaluated Walker during free agency and viewed “The Swiss Army Knife” as a versatile player who would bring physical blocking ability, as well as abilities that can create mismatches in the passing game.
“Leaving the Niners and coming here, it was a great opportunity for me to be part of a great organization and have the ability to make plays and be that guy that the quarterback throws the ball to, be the first option,” Walker said. “They gave me a great opportunity to be a great football player and a nice salary, and you just look at it as them respecting me. I see them respect me and I can see coaches respect me. They give me the opportunity to make plays and I go out there and fight as hard as I can for them because they fought for me to get here.”
Walker is the type of player teams need in a sport where toughness and determination can cause separation. The Titans want him to help re-establish the team’s identity as one of the toughest in the NFL like they were reputed particularly from 1999-2003 when they went 56-24 in the regular season and made four trips to the playoffs.
That would be fine with Walker, who remembers the excitement leading up to the Super Bowl and the way that crowds along the streets of New Orleans opened just long enough for the motorcade to pass through. The close loss left him with an unsatisfied appetite.
|Walker spent his first seven pro seasons with San Francisco, which culminated in a trip to Super Bowl XLVII before he joined Tennessee.|
“Now you’re hungry for it and that’s all you strive for. I think once you get there, you think you’ve got to get there all the time,” Walker said. “That’s all I want to do. When I lose, I don’t know how to take it because I feel like losing is a notch that takes you off that Super Bowl list.”
Harbaugh said Walker is “certainly missed” for what he helped the Niners accomplish. Harbaugh said Walker is “smart, tough, loves football, was a great teammate.”
“I don’t enjoy seeing him in a team jersey for the Titans as we prepare to play them this week,” Harbaugh said. “He’s played very well as he did here. It’s no surprise, but I have great memories of Delanie Walker as a teammate and friend. I wish him a long and healthy career.”
Successful seasons are often defined by plays made at critical moments, and Walker has begun delivering those. In addition to the versatility and beneficial matchups, Walker has shown a knack for disrupting potential problems.
Walker recorded the Titans’ longest catch in the season opener, hauling in a 25-yard pass from
Walker also showed incredible awareness against San Diego to break up what appeared to be an easy interception after the ball bounced off him during what became the game-winning drive. Walker did a similar breakup of a pass against Kansas City on a play that drew a penalty against the Chiefs.
“I think he’s just a refuse-to-lose kind of guy,” Munchak said. “Those are the kinds of plays that are contagious for the rest of your teammates to see the kind of effort guys are putting out on a play-by-play basis to win the football game.”
Walker said he is proud of the “refuse-to-lose” compliment from Munchak “because I feel like that’s why they brought me here.”
“They know my attitude just from previous years of playing with the 49ers,” Walker said. “I am the type of guy that hates to lose, and sometimes I’ve got to control that because I get upset on the field and I feel like I need to do more and sometimes you make mistakes by doing more.”
Walker said the awareness comes from understanding the game and angles on plays and the determination comes from his mother, Vicy Walker.
“My mom always told us, ‘Never give up, never let somebody tell you that you can’t do something.’ It’s kind of funny because she said, ‘If somebody hits you, hit them back,’” Walker said. “I think that’s been imbedded in me and I go and play that way on the field. I take whatever my mom taught me and carry it over into my daily life.”
The influence of Walker’s mother has been strong. He and his brother grew up in a single-parent home. She was so busy working two jobs to provide for them that she at first didn’t notice Walker got her name tattooed on his left elbow when he was 13. She was upset when he brought it to her attention, but that passed. Other tattoos have followed, including the most recent on the right side of his upper body that’s a reminder to respect women for their power.
When Walker visits high school students, he equates his journey from where he was at their age to the NFL as a trip down the “yellow brick road” from The Wizard of Oz.
“I was trying to find several different things: heart, courage, being a leader and stuff like that,” Walker said.
Walker said watching other players leave high school for universities while his only option was junior college at Mt. San Antonio Community College helped him understand he hadn’t done the things he needed to do in the classroom. After two seasons, he received an offer to go to Central Missouri, a Division-II school halfway across the country. While there he learned “courage to become bigger and understand football might not be something that was going to lead me to the NFL” so he focused harder on school.
It was a drastic change of environment that he didn’t love but stayed with because he didn’t want to let his mother down.
“I wanted to go back home,” Walker recalled. “The first two weeks, I was like, ‘I can’t do this,’ but she told me, ‘You need to better yourself.’ ”
He did so there and in preparations for the NFL Combine, which led to his selection by the 49ers, and together they reached the pinnacle game of professional football last February.
“Every time I step on the field I think of them because they passed away after coming to watch me play,” Walker said. “That’s why I do what I do when I score a touchdown, and with MADD, I try to give back to them and the community because if this would have never happened, I would have never known about all the incidents that happen with drinking and driving. Now that I know, it’s like football, I hate to lose and I feel like I’m losing this battle, so whatever I can do to help prevent this from happening, then I’m going to do it.”