Wesley Walker is no stranger to the Jets since his retirement following the 1989 season. He was one of our broadcasters for a while, he was inducted into the Ring of Honor last year, and he still comes to many games, most recently to watch the Jets-Steelers on Sunday and be on the field for Marty Lyons' Ring of Honor ceremonies.
But Wesley made a trip to one of our games this year with not only football but reminiscence and thanks on his mind. It was to see first-year general manager John Idzik on the field before the Jets-Jaguars preseason game on Aug. 17.
"I'm reading the newspaper one day back in January," Walker told me from the Chase Club in MetLife Stadium before Sunday's game, "and I see the Jets hired this guy John Idzik. I said, 'That's an interesting name. I knew a John Idzik.' "
And how. Idzik Sr., John's father, was the Jets' offensive coordinator for the 1977-79 seasons, and in that role he received for his unit in the '77 draft a second-round speedster wideout from Cal by the name of Wesley Walker.
Walker said he never knew that one of the ballboys at our offseason practices and training camps in those years was the OC's son. But when he found out the son had become his team's new GM, he had to set up a meeting.
"I wanted to meet John and tell him I had nothing but the most respect for his father," Walker said. "When you're a player trying to reach a certain level, you only meet so many coaches that really taught you something. John put me on another level. I can actually say, as a coach, 'You're supposed to get something from that guy and make him something else, take him from point A to point B.' And pretty soon you're performing on another level. That's what John did for me."
Walker also said Idzik Sr. listened to suggestions from his players, perhaps another rarity among coaches then and now. Walker suggested a certain series of plays that he remembered was called "85 Option" or something like that. The wideout and his QB, Richard Todd, knew the adjustments to Idzik's offense would help them maximize their receptions. Idzik agreed.
In his first three Jets seasons, Wesley totaled 106 catches for 2,478 yards (23.4-yard average) and 16 touchdowns. When "85 Option" kicked in in Walker's third season, he recalled one of its spectacular successes.
"It was right after my All-Pro year , we're playing Houston. They put it in the game plan and it's working," he said. "I got 100-something yards and the second quarter's not even over. Then boom! I get a knee injury, out for the season."
John Idzik Jr., as a budding young Dartmouth College wideout himself at the time, saw many admirable traits in Walker.
"Wesley was more than just a speed guy — he was a real good technician and his routes were great," Idzik reminisced. "He's an awesome guy and not a bad player, either. It was great seeing him again."
Several things impressed Walker about the OC's son back in August and guarantee that No. 85 will continue to come to Jets games in the future.
"Back in August, the Jets were trying to work something with some of the alumni and they had a sitdown with Rex Ryan at Florham Park, and I couldn't make it that day," he said. "So the next game was Jacksonville and I was able to come over. "I was about to look for John, but he saw me first and came over to me and I had a big hug for him. I was not only pleased that I got to see him, but he made the effort to come find me knowing that. Hopefully for him and the Jets, they keep winning this season. It's a whole different situation when you start winning. I have nothing but props for John and the Jets."