Friday, Nov. 23, seemed like old times for former Richfield High football coach Dick Walker.
Throughout the state Class 6A tournament at the Metrodome, he was the host for Eden Prairie, the team that eventually won the championship.
More than anything else, Walker appreciated Eden Prairie’s ball-control offense and its stingy defense. The Eagles beat Wayzata 21-7 in the state semifinals Nov. 16 before taking down Lakeville North 28-7 in the Prep Bowl Nov. 23.
“When I stood with the Eden Prairie players before the game, I felt their nervous energy,” said Walker. “For a lot of them, it was their first time down here. But the more experienced players helped them through it … they know what it’s like.”
During his career as Richfield’s head coach, Walker spanned three decades (1972-1992).
In that time, he took two teams to the state Class AA championship game, which was not yet called the Prep Bowl.
His 1975 Spartans lost to Stillwater 20-17 at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis. Back at Parade in 1979, Walker’s crew lost an 8-3 decision to Columbia Heights.
John Alt, who went on to have an All-Pro career with the Kansas City Chiefs, figured prominently in Columbia Heights’ victory.
“Both of those championship games were great games,” said Walker. “Was any team ever bigger than that Columbia Heights team? It was cold and wet that night, and neither team could move the ball much.”
While it was fun playing in state championship games, Walker said the competition with Lake Conference rivals such as Edina and Jefferson was equally fun.
“I always liked the Edina games,” he said. “That was the big rivalry back then. And the games with Jefferson were very competitive. We played hard and shook hands when it was over.”
Walker’s football philosophy was simple: If they don’t score, we can’t lose.
“As a coach, you are only as good as your offensive line, and at Richfield I coached the offensive line myself,” said Walker.
That offensive line helped the Spartans move the chains, most often with 3- or 4-yard running plays.
Walker liked to quote the late Woody Hayes, who was coaching Ohio State in the 1970s: “When you pass, only three things can happen, and two of them are bad.”
As he watched the state playoffs, Walker discussed what he misses most now that he is retired from coaching.
“What I miss is the challenge of melding a whole bunch of kids into a football team,” he said.
As he spoke, Walker saw Eden Prairie run a nice trap play for a 9-yard gain.
“See what I mean about the offensive line?” he asked.
In Walker’s glory days, he seldom used deception to win a game. It was always about blocking and tackling, the endless repetition of those basic fundamentals.
“Football is the ultimate team game,” he said as Eden Prairie scored a touchdown on a running play. “I am impressed with the youngsters today – they are bigger, faster and stronger than most of the kids I coached.
“But my ego tells me that the old Richfield teams could play with any of them.”
Walker looks like he could still be prowling the sidelines even though he’s 82 years old.
“I have been blessed with good health,” he said. “I don’t think I have taken more than 20 aspirin in my life. Being down here reminds me of how much I still enjoy the game.”