There was the backflip after a touchdown grab in New Orleans, and the sensational game-winning punt return for a touchdown against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. For Walter Stanley, however, his most memorable Packers moment is emerging from the tunnel at Lambeau Field two years ago in his No. 87 jersey and being greeted by a lengthy roar from the crowd.
Stanley, who played wide receiver for the Packers from 1985-88, was struck by the way the fans remembered him and the other alumni.
“We walked out onto the field, and to see how many fans still remember you and cheer for you is priceless,” he said. “My family was with me, and that makes it special. I played for other organizations, and I always tell people the Packers are the best in football with the way they treat alumni.”
Stanley was selected by Green Bay in the fourth round in the 1985 draft. Tightly-wound at 5-9, 180 pounds, he was a raw talent when he arrived after playing wingback at Colorado, and only served as a kick returner as a rookie. Throughout his career with the Packers, he would continue as a returner and developed into a solid wide receiver during a period when the club’s passing attack slipped sharply from its exploits just a few seasons prior.
He only appeared in 48 games in Green Bay, but Stanley formed a list of superlatives. In his first season, he set a team record for rookies with a punt return average of 12.8 yards. In ’86, he finished second in the NFL with an average of 20.7 yards per reception. The following year Stanley led the club with 38 catches – the team only completed 234 passes in ’87 – including a 70-yard touchdown. In ’88, he had 28 grabs in only seven games.
Then he was placed in the history books in Green Bay, waived prior to the next season’s opener. It wasn’t the end of his career. Stanley would play for the Lions, Redskins, Chargers and Patriots until ’92. He had a solid run as a player, but he wished he had come along during the pass-happy days that followed his career in the NFL.
“Sometimes it’s all about timing,” he said recently. “If you are a wide receiver, the game is about right place, right time and right quarterback. I’ll never take anything away from my years as a player, it was the best time of my life and you enjoy what you were able to do. But as receivers, we used to make comments to each other, that if we could just get four balls thrown to us in a game, we’d be happy.”
Though the contest was between a pair of downtrodden teams, few veteran Packers fans will ever forget Stanley’s 1986 performance against Detroit in a remarkable 44-40 victory that remains the NFL’s highest-scoring game on Thanksgiving. Stanley accounted for 287 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns. He caught four passes for 124 yards, including a 62-yard reception and 21- and 36-yard touchdowns, but it was the 83-yard punt return for a score with under a minute to play that won the game.
“Philip Epps was injured, and when a wide receiver is down, they have to use everyone else more on offense,” Stanley said. “On the return, the Lions were about to punt, and we had an all-out block on based on the time remaining. When the ball came off Jim Arnold’s foot, even though I didn’t have any blocking, I felt like could get around the corner.
“I came out at 100 mph and went left, and we were on turf so I was able to stop on a dime, so I spun the other way. When I reversed my field, I placed my hand on the ground, so I came out in more of a track stance. It gave me a fast jump around the corner and I made a few moves to get downfield. There was no possibility for a flag to be thrown because there were no blockers down there with me.”
Arnold was taken out by a teammate, giving Stanley plenty of room to cruise the final 20 yards or so and savor the accomplishment. Stanley had two punt returns for touchdowns called back earlier in the season because of penalties.
That year he finished with 1,617 total yards to lead the team. It was also his first season as a full-time wide receiver, and he had a career-best 723 yards on 35 receptions. In ’87, he may have had his most consistent year while leading Green Bay in catches, and Stanley was off to a solid start in ’88 before suffering a shoulder injury against the Vikings in Week 7. In that game he had five catches for 101 yards, and it would be his last with the Packers.
He signed with Detroit in ’89 and led the NFL with a punt return average of 13.8. Despite his stints with the Lions and other teams, Stanley’s allegiance is with Green Bay.
“The Packers are the team that drafted me, believed in me and let me show who I was on the field,” he said. “I rarely recognize the other teams I was with. My son’s room is a Packers room. My best friendships are from Green Bay. Those are the guys who at the drop of a dime if I need them, they will be there.”
Stanley now lives in the Denver area and is a district manager of KeyBank after 10 years with the company.
“I’m on the corporate side now,” he said. “I have an office, but I’m rarely in it because I’m kind of all over the place. I’m one of those laptop guys who can plug in anywhere. I’m in charge of quite a few locations.”
He gets to Lambeau Field as often as he can, but Stanley also has his hands full with two promising athletes. His daughter, Daisha, is a sophomore in high school who ranks fifth in the state in the 100-meter sprint and also plays soccer. Stanley’s 12-year-old son, Dimitri, is on national traveling teams in basketball and baseball and recently played in the Little League World Series, where his team placed fifth.
As for the celebratory backflip that Stanley unveiled in full pads in the Superdome during a four-catch, 109-yard day that included a pair of touchdowns in the ’87 finale, he claims he might still be able to pull it off.
“I can do it on a trampoline for sure,” Stanley said. “I haven’t had a reason to try one. I’m still in pretty good shape. I can still jump, but I don’t know if I can jump that high anymore. I always had something up my sleeve in those days.”
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