Walker's message to Broncos: It's personal
Al Davis isn't the only Bronco hater in Oakland. Wide receiver Javon Walker has an avid distaste for his former club and is counting down the days until the season opener, writes Bill Williamson.
Walker wants to make it clear he still loves the city of Denver. He has decided to make it his home after playing there for two seasons. Yet a residence in the Rocky Mountains is the only positive experience the former first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers said he got out of his Denver days.
That's why Walker is so looking forward to the 2008 season opener. It's more than proving he can still be a dominant No. 1 receiver, and it's more than proving Oakland wasn't out of its financial mind by giving him a six-year, $55 million deal (with a staggering $16 million in guarantees) despite his history of knee trouble.
Walker is looking forward to the opener because he gets to face "that team."
On Sept. 8, on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," Denver will visit Oakland in what is one of the game's most heated rivalries. Walker is all aboard the spite train. The day after the game was announced at the NFL owners' meetings, Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said he texted his new No. 1 receiver about the news. He said Walker sent back a spirited text that displayed just how ready he is for that game.
Two months later, the fire is still burning in Walker, who practiced just once a day during the team's just-completed minicamp and is still shaking off the effects of his second knee surgery in two years. Kiffin has twice said this offseason that Walker needs to lose some weight. Still, Walker said he'll be 100 percent ready to face Denver.
"That team is going to see me in the opener," Walker said. "They are going to see me, I'll tell you that. They'll see what they are missing."
It seems Al Davis has a new fellow Bronco hater in Oakland. That alone might be worth the $55 million Davis is paying Walker.
When Walker arrived in Denver, it was supposed to be a perfect match.
The Broncos, coming off a trip to the AFC title game, needed a playmaker at receiver and Walker wanted out of Green Bay after the 2005 season in which he suffered a torn ACL in the first game the season. Walker's first season in Denver was successful as he had 69 catches and eight touchdowns and seemed on his way to a solid marriage in Denver.
Then, things started to fall apart. Walker was sitting next to Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams in a limousine when Williams was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. Walker was filmed hours after the shooting wearing a shirt with Williams' blood on it.
Walker still downplays the aftereffects of the tragedy as being part of his unhappiness as a Bronco. On the last day of the year, the day after Denver finished the season 7-9, Walker exploded, saying he wasn't a good fit for the Broncos in a rambling diatribe. Broncos insiders said the team's brass was already tiring of Walker and that episode sealed his fate. Denver unceremoniously dumped Walker in February.
Walker's attributes his demise in Denver to the Broncos and the way they handled his knee injury. While in Dallas for some training camp work against the Cowboys last summer, Walker experienced swelling in his surgically repaired knee. He said he dealt with the issue and kept practicing daily.
In the first two games of the season, two Denver wins, Walker looked like the same player he was the season prior, grabbing 17 balls and being a key offensive component. However, in the third game, a home loss to Jacksonville, Walker had just two catches.
He said that was the beginning of the end of his time in Denver.
"I was open and they didn't get me the ball," Walker said. "Here I was busting my butt, draining my knee, to be able to go out and make plays and they didn't get me the ball. After that, I started to take care of my knee."
Shortly after the Jaguars game, Walker had arthroscopic surgery and missed the next seven games. When he returned the Broncos were 5-5, but he made little impact on the team that went 2-4 down the stretch. Walker had just seven catches in the final six games.
That made him even angrier at what was soon going to be his former club.
"I was ready in those final games and they just didn't want me to be a part of the offense," Walker said. "It just didn't work for me there with that team. They wanted me to take a pay cut in the middle of the season. They just didn't care about me. I'm glad I'm out of there."
Privately, the Broncos are happy Walker is gone, too. Team insiders said Walker, who wore out his welcome in Green Bay as well as Denver, was selfish and was more interested in his personal numbers than the team's success.
Walker insists he is a team player and is looking forward to an Oakland renaissance, both personally and for the franchise.
"'This team gets me," Walker said. "They know what I can do for them. The coaches want me to get the ball here. I just can't wait to show what I can do in the first game against that team."
Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.