Bainbridge resident Bobby Walden’s passing inspires look into storied football career

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Football legend, Bobby Walden, who died at age 80 on August 27, 2018, will long be remembered for his achievements on the football playing field. He won multiple awards for his football prowess, including leading the NFL in punting in 1964, helping the Pittsburgh Steelers win two Super Bowl 1X and X,  putting to rest a 40-year drought the Steelers had experienced.

Bobby achieved his personal goal to have a long career in professional ball. He played with some of the best-known names in the NFL during his 14 years with the organization.

Fran Tarkenton, a teammate from his days at the University of Georgia and again with the Minnesota Vikings, once credited Walden as being the greatest punter he had ever seen.

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Prior to Walden’s days with the Vikings, he was the punter for three years in the Canadian Football League, as a member of the Edmonton Eskimos. 

Somewhere along the way he garnered the nickname The Big Toe from Cairo, a reference to his professional skill at punting and the name of his hometown. Even before he joined professional ball teams, he played for three years for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, led the nation in average yards per punt during his sophomore year and in 1960 he set an Orange Bowl record of 46.9 yards on seven punts.

He was inducted into the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, where he was  sponsored by Tommy Lasorda.

Through the years, Walden remained friends with many of his old teammates, especially Terry Bradshaw, described as “a best friend.” Bradshaw reached out to the family to share his condolences.

Walden also loved country music, especially Hank Williams. He was a fishing friend of Williams as well as his son. A beautiful floral arrangement with a fishing line and a big fish catch intertwined was sent to the family by Williams.

Walden’s funeral was held Thursday, August 30, 2018, at Family Worship Center.

His wife Scarlett said he had only two requests for his funeral—that only Hank Williams music be played and that there be an open keg of beer for his friends.

“We did have Williams recorded music playing, but of course, we couldn’t have the beer at church,” she explains with a laugh, while adding, “It was a beautiful ceremony,.

Aside from Walden’s football fame, the family was asked what it was like to live with an NFL champion. Scarlett said when they were first married it was dream-like. “I traveled with him for 13 years between his team’s home and our home here.” Of course they also travelled to the games as well. She declares it as “a long honeymoon. He always treated me like a princess”

After little Bobby came along, he went everywhere with his parents and the team.

Scarlett’s brother Jimmy Boyett was in the Walden home at the time of the interview and he told how much he was impressed by all of it when he was but a child. “It didn’t matter whether the team was winning or losing, the players were all my heroes.” He said in those days when a player joined a team he stayed with it throughout his career, unlike today when they move from team to team. “I remember going to practices and seeing the pro-players. We were all for the Pittsburgh Steelers.” He was also thrilled to get to go to the Super Bowl games.

Scarlett recalled that when her husband was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the family had no clue of what all he had accomplished. “He never bragged about it. But the biggest honor was when they named the highway (Rt. 84 near Cairo) after him. He went to his knees exclaiming he hadn’t done anything to deserve it; but he was very honored.”

The Walden’s son, called “Little Bobby” by family and friends, spoke of the influence his father had on him. “I went to practices with him until I was age 12, and to all the games. We would fly with him on the chartered planes, and I was even allowed to sit in the cockpit with the pilot sometimes.

He credits his father for his love of athletics and his development into a star player in his own right. Little Bobby was a starting quarterback on the Bainbridge Bearcat state championship team in 1982. “I played all sports and loved them all.”

He also credits his father for teaching him honesty and good sportsmanship. “Dad taught me at an early age that I would have to own up for anything I did wrong.

He and his mother both say lots of people didn’t know Bobby Walden the way they did, nor did they see the loving side of him.

Little Bobby explained, “He had the softest heart of anyone I know, but I didn’t realize it until years later, when I was in my 30’s.”

However you knew him, he will definitely be long remembered.