Batesville, Mississippi native Wesley Walls was an incredibly versatile high school football player. He was South Pontotoc High School’s quarterback for three seasons. After transferring to another school before his senior year, he made the switch to fullback and earned all-state honors in the process.
In this exclusive interview with SC Daily, Walls talks about his time at Ole Miss, seeing his 1989 Pro Set rookie card for the first time, his massive “I Love Me Room” and his memorable time with Favre.
Tony Reid–Do you remember the very first time you were asked for your autograph?
Wesley Walls-I think it would be back in college at Ole Miss. We used to have a fan day during two a days right before the season started. Some of the big Rebel fans would come in. I have a picture somebody sent me when I was a freshman with a little bitty girl. She was probably six years old. I took a picture with her and signed an autograph. I will claim her as my first autograph I ever gave.
TR–What has been the most memorable fan interaction from your time in the public spotlight?
WW– I think the fans are a very important part of the game. I tried to be as nice to them as I would be to a teammate. They fill the seats. They buy the tickets and support us in a way that gives us energy on the field. I just did an autograph session yesterday with another player for a corporation. It’s good to hear some of the old stories. Someone said to me ‘Hey I was a Panther PSL owner from day one. I never missed a game, not even in that 1-15 year.’
There was a young man who had leukemia and through Children’s Miracle Network and Make a Wish I spent some time with him. Those interactions with those people that are sick and to see how appreciative they are, I am the one that is grateful. I come out of there with the best part of that experience, in getting to know them better and understanding what they are going through. To see the gratefulness they have in their heart is special. I have had some great interactions with a lot of different fans.
TR–Speaking of inspiration, who did you look to as a young kid to emulate on the football field?
WW– We only had three channels over in Mississippi. We had ABC, NBC and CBS. I watched the Dallas Cowboys and number 12, Roger Staubach. I watched Archie Manning, old number 8 down in New Orleans. I had one relative that actually went to college, Uncle Pete. I was always an Ole Miss fan. I grew up wanting to go play there. I used to hate the Steelers because it always seemed like it was the Cowboys and Steelers in the Super Bowl in the 70s and the Steelers seemed to get the best of them. We would go out in the back yard and have a neighborhood game. One team would be the Steelers and one team would be the Cowboys. That’s how it was. We got the best of them in the back yard, I can tell you that. We would all put on old t-shirts that you didn’t care about ripping. We played a little tackle. That didn’t last long because somebody always got a bloody nose.
TR– You’re a four-time Pro Bowler, multiple time All Pro, a Super Bowl champion, a Panthers Hall of Famer, and so much more. Who inspired you when you got to the NFL?
WW– I was like a sponge soaking up everything I could learn from the pros. When I walked into the San Francisco 49ers huddle and there is Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. Then when we snapped the ball there are Charles Haley and Ronnie Lott are on the other side of the ball. Jerry Rice’s locker was just a few down from mine. I watched how he dressed, how he practiced and he set such a great example for a young player. Somebody as successful and talented as Jerry Rice, he went to work every day. He practiced on Monday just the same way he played the game on Sunday. He was a great example. Joe Montana was such a great leader. One of the best compliments I can give Joe is that he was his best when it counted the most. He rose to the occasion.
When I got to New Orleans it was Sam Mills. He was undersized and outperformed and overachieved. I looked at myself like that.
TR–Your rookie card is found in 1989 Pro Set. You are pictured in your Ole Miss gear that we’ve talked so much about. Do you remember seeing yourself on a trading card for the first time?
WW-It was that one! I was drafted in the second round by the 49ers. I was honored by that. I had my own trading card. That was pretty cool. I got three of my best buddies from high school. They couldn’t believe it. I told them I would be glad to sign it for them. To this day, none of them have asked for one. They never asked for a card. In that picture, you can see my helmet. I had a big bar down the middle. I was a linebacker. I had hand pads on. Nobody wears hand pads. I had big thick thigh pads and shoulder pads on that weight about 45 pounds. It was a different time back then.
TR–You have almost 700 different cards produced over the years. Did you manage to hold on to your cards and or memorabilia from your great career?
WW-I’m sitting in it right now, Tony. I’m looking at Jerry Rice’s jersey, Joe Montana’s jersey, Kevin Greene, Brett Favre, Kerry Collins, even Jim Thome. As far as cards, the NLFPA would send me packs and boxes of every version of my cards. I have a big container full of football cards. I’m just going to hold on to them. Some of them are mine. They used to send me Everson Walls. They would send them to me accidentally. If Emerson wants some cards I have some, too.
I went to five Pro Bowls. I would bring helmets and jerseys and we would trade. I have Reggie White’s helmet. I have Michael Strahan. I have Shannon Sharpe. I have Barry Sanders. I have a lot of this stuff scattered between my home office in Charlotte and I have a little condo at Ole Miss. I go to more college games than I do pro games. It’s decked out. My wife lets me get away with it little more down there at the condo more so than here in Charlotte.
TR–What is the prized possession in your collection?
WW-I have the football that I caught from Brett Favre on the Monday Night game after he lost his dad on Sunday, back in December of 2003. That was my last NFL season. It was a great story of the tragedy of his dad passing the day before and then his heroic performance with the team rallying around him and guys making pays. He was making incredible throws.
He told us the night before the game. He told us about his dad and their relationship. He told us what he was going to do. He said he was going to play his best game and I think, statistically, it was the best game to that point in his career. Man, those memories will never fade. I have a picture, a photographer caught the interaction after I caught the touchdown, the very first one of the game, I turned around and Bret jumped into my arms. I offered to give him the ball. He said “No, man. I finally got you one. You keep it’ I had him sign it after the game. I have it here in my “I Love Me” room. It still has the white chalk on it from when I rolled over in the end zone. It’s pretty special.