Catching Up With ... former Maryland, NFL tackle Walter Rock

His name epitomized his style of play. A solid and steadfast lineman, Walter Rock starred at Maryland in the early 1960s, then thrived in the NFL for 11 years. A Pro Bowl tackle, he anchored Washington's offensive line when the Redskins reached the Super Bowl in 1972.

Now 73, Rock lives near Williamsburg, Va., where he spends his retirement (1) building a boat and (2) kibbutzing with a group of oldtimers over coffee each morning.


"About 12 of us meet at Starbucks and, in two hours, solve all of the world's problems," said Rock, who is still 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds. Then it's off to a friend's garage where several buddies are building an 18-foot skiff in which they'll putter around the James River.

"I have no complaints," Rock said. "I didn't get rich, but I don't live an extravagant life. Health-wise, I have a little acid reflux. I'm surprised I'm as old as I am and I don't see why I can't live another five years."

A native of Elyria, Ohio, he grew up attending Cleveland Browns games, where his future was set.

"At halftime my grandfather would say, 'You'll either play football or end up as that drum major,'" Rock said. "As a kid, I thought those were my two choices."

At Maryland (1960-62), he helped the Terps win 19 of 30 games but acknowledged they should have won more. Rock and 11 teammates reached the pros, including wide receiver Gary Collins, quarterback Dick Shiner, defensive back Tom Brown and tackle Roger Shoals. Yet in college, they never played in a bowl game.

"We'd have gone to the Gator Bowl in 1961 if we hadn't lost our last game to (underdog) Virginia," Rock said. "The week before we played the Cavaliers, coach Tom Nugent ran us into the ground in practice like it was training camp. He mentally destroyed the team; the seniors didn't care if they ever put on a uniform again."

San Francisco's second-round draft choice in 1963 — he was the 21st player selected — Rock signed for $13,000 plus a $6,000 bonus. Married and with his wife expecting, he bought a 1960 Oldsmobile station wagon from Shoals and headed west.

"They (the 49ers) didn't win much but they were great guys," he said. "Once, at a cookout at my place, [running back] Ken Willard admired the fish in my aquarium, said 'Give me one of those,' and ate it on the spot. He needed something to go with the alcohol we were consuming."

Rock's goal was "to play five years and get a pension." But his star kept rising and, in 1967, the 49ers agreed to fly Rock back east for two days each week so he could work in the family's garage door business in Bethesda. A year later, having demanded a trade to either Baltimore or Washington, he was dealt to the latter for a No. 1 draft pick.

He helped the Redskins reach Super Bowl VII where they lost, 14-7, to the Miami Dolphins, still the only undefeated (14-0) championship team in NFL history.

"We were flat-ass flat that day," Rock said. "We'd been the last team to beat Miami, in preseason, that year but the Super Bowl was one of those days where we couldn't get started. How else do you explain [Washington quarterback] Billy Kilmer hitting the goal post instead of a wide-open Jerry Smith in the end zone?"

Rock retired in 1974 to run his company, of which he still owns half. Several years ago, he and his wife moved south from their longtime home in northern Virginia to escape traffic, snow and liberals.

"It's at least 5 degrees warmer in Williamsburg — plus there are more conservatives," he said. Enough, at least, to fill a table at the local Starbucks.