The CR Interview

Walter Lewis

One of Alabama’s greatest quarterbacks talks about his pioneering career in Brewton and Tuscaloosa, a tense moment during Coach Bryant’s final game, and the controversial finish against Penn State in 1983
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Photo courtesy of University of Alabama.
In a memorable comeback against Penn State that fell short, Lewis completed 25 of 35 for 336 yards and three touchdowns.

Walter Lewis will forever be remembered for two singular distinctions: He was the first African-American starting quarterback in Alabama history and the last man to fill the position for Paul “Bear“ Bryant. During a record-setting career from 1980-83, Lewis, a native of Brewton, Ala., amassed 5,620 all-purpose yards, including 2,329 during his senior season of 1983, when he earned Second Team All-America honors. Lewis later played for the Memphis Showboats of the USFL and spent several years as a coach before moving into the banking industry.

 

CR: Growing up in Brewton, who influenced you the most?

Lewis: There were several people in the community that impacted me. My dad for one. He was a man who believed in hard work and doing things for his fellow man. That was a big influence for me. When I was younger, the pastor of my church, Jim Sutherland…was a really big influence in terms of bringing truth to me at an early age to where it helped me in my decision-making process. Then a man that I didn’t hang out with a whole lot but I worked around him in the summer, was actually the person my dad worked for: the late Jack Hines. He had an impact on me. The list can go on and on and on…I had little league football coaches, doctors, lawyers, families…

CR: Tell me more about your dad.

Lewis: My dad was a hard worker [who] believed in providing for his family and did an excellent job there. He believed in helping others. He actually held three jobs while I was growing up. He was a policeman during the night and was a bricklayer during the day. I would work on the bricks during the summer with him. That was a great time, because he and one of his workers…we’d work and talk about various things. That was just a source of fun and entertainment for me during the summer months, but it was also an opportunity to get physical in terms of strength, because I did a lot of the labor stuff. The labor guy that actually worked with my dad, he’d actually just sit back and let me do the work with my dad, which was fine with me. I just enjoyed the camaraderie…and learned a work ethic from doing that…My father was just a hard worker and that was something that was passed down to me.

CR: How did you get involved in the Punt, Pass & Kick competition?

Lewis: A had a friendship with the McMillan family. Ed and Dan are my age. We still do a lot of things together. We hunt together. [When I was eight] they invited me to go down to the local Ford [dealership] on Friday, the last day to register [in 1970] because they were going down to register. The competition was actually the next day and I went out there, and the abilities God gave me came forth and I was able to win in Brewton. Went to Prattville, competed there, won there, and then went to Atlanta to compete for the zone, won in Atlanta, and they invited me back and at that point, I was going to represent the Atlanta Falcons and perform before the crowd at halftime of a game. Won the fourth level and then was able to go to New Orleans representing the Atlanta Falcons to compete against all of the players in the Eastern sector. Was able to compete twice in New Orleans: once that morning before the game and then that afternoon during the game. That was my toughest competition. I can’t remember where the young guy was from, but it was very close. But I won at New Orleans and then it was the East against West and went out to Los Angeles during the Pro Bowl to compete at halftime and was fortunate to win. It was interesting. I was a little bitty runt guy at the age of eight and the guy I was actually competing against, I think he was from Connecticut. His voice was changing at the age of eight. I mean, looked to be about six foot. And I was a little bitty scrawny guy. I don’t know how old he was but he was sure bigger than I was. He had a deep voice…One of the things that was key to that competition was accuracy…I accumulated the most points and won that competition. Everything started from there. Got back to Alabama [and received] a proclamation from the state. [City fathers instituted] a Walter Lewis Day in Brewton. Got a letter from Coach Bryant. One from Ara Parseghian…That was a great experience for me…Looking back at it now, I see it as a stage that God was preparing me to deal with [what I would face] at the University of Alabama.

 

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