"If I continue to stay in the shape I'm in now, I know I can play when I'm 50," Walker insisted yesterday during a teleconference to promote his Saturday bout with 27-year-old Scott Carson in a Strikeforce event in San Jose, Calif.
"Right now, if you asked me if I can play today, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind I can play football, that I can help a team out," said Walker, whose spent his final three NFL seasons primarily as a receiver and kick returner for the Giants and Cowboys. "I can 100 percent guarantee you I can help a football team out . . .
"I think I'm a better conditioned athlete right now than I was when I was playing. I'm 48 now, and I'm in better shape now than I was in my early 20s playing football."
A remarkably versatile athlete who flashed Olympic-level sprinter's speed for the Georgia track team and made it to the 1992 Winter Olympics as a bobsledder, Walker's latest - or, more accurately, most enduring - competitive passion is mixed martial arts. A student of MMA since he was 15, he holds a fifth-degree black belt in tae kwon do and also has trained in such varied fighting disciplines as Muay Thai and Kenpo.
The matchup with Carson (4-1), originally scheduled for Dec. 4 but postponed when Walker (1-0) was cut above his eye in training, is the second with Strikeforce for the 1999 College Football Hall of Fame inductee. He made his debut by scoring a third-round technical knockout over another opponent more than 20 years his junior, Greg Nagy, on Jan. 30, 2010.
Walker and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker were on the teleconference to promote a Showtime-televised card headlined by the matchup of welterweight champion Nick Diaz and Evangelista Cyborg. But Walker is the major attraction, at least with casual viewers unfamiliar with more established MMA stars, as Coker noted in calling him "arguably one of the greatest athletes of the century." He didn't say whether that was the 20th century, or the 21st.
Some of the questions Walker fielded were about his relative neophyte status in MMA, and he answered them with appropriate humility.
"I want to step into that cage on Saturday and have people say, 'Hey, this guy can really fight,' " said Walker, who added that "I can never say I'm a great MMA fighter, but I can still say I have a lot of athleticism."
But when the talk got around to football, as might be expected the day after the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers advanced to Super Bowl XLV, Walker was in more comfortable territory.
"I picked Green Bay and Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, and I got it right," said Walker, who likes the Steelers to win their seventh Lombardi Trophy.
Walker is a two-time Pro Bowler who ranks eighth on the NFL career list, with 18,168 all-purpose yards, and led the USFL in rushing twice in his first three seasons as a pro.
He clearly longs to play in the Super Bowl, something he never accomplished. He said he was clocked in 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash last February, and "I think if I can get back to my track work, I can run it pretty fast. I know I can run it better than a 4.5."
Walker did, however, contribute in his own way to three Super Bowl victories for the Dallas Cowboys. The retooling Cowboys traded him to the Minnesota Vikings five games into the 1989 season, acquiring five players and six draft choices (including one that became Emmitt Smith, now the NFL's all-time leading rusher), which laid the foundation for the Dallas dynasty of the mid-1990s.
Walker never thought he was used properly in Minnesota, which is a part of the reason he so welcomed his time with his next team, the Eagles.
"I had a great time in Philly," he said. "I didn't know what to expect when I first went to Philadelphia. I knew they had some real tough fans, but I fell in love with the fans there. They got on your case when you didn't play well, but they cheered you on when you did.
"To be honest with you, I think Philly rejuvenated my football career. Philadelphia gave me an opportunity to play with somebody like Reggie White, who I consider to be one of the finest defensive linemen ever. I got to play with Randall Cunningham, Seth Joyner, all those guys. I love Philly. I tell everyone Philly is a tough city, but they know their sports and they love their sports."
Asked what team he would like to play for if he returned, Walker said: "I'd say either Minnesota or Atlanta. Probably Atlanta the most, since it's home for me. Being a Georgia boy, and all. It's just home for me."
Although it's highly unlikely a pushing-50 Walker would ever be offered an NFL contract, consider this: The cover of the Dec. 12, 1983, issue of Sports Illustrated had a then-47-year-old Jim Brown in a Raiders uniform. Alongside Brown's photo was a headline that read: "You serious? A comeback at 47? HEY! You're just what the borrr-ing NFL needs!" *