Standing shirtless in front of his locker following Sunday’s AFC wild-card victory, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Erik Walden describes the lineage of a few of his tattoos.
Unwilling to ink his skin until he turned 21 out of respect for his mother, Shirley, Walden has absorbed almost as many needles as he has hits during the past eight years.
“Mamma wasn’t having that. No way,” he said, smiling. “I had to make sure I was at college.”
Assorted tattoos are present on Walden’s chest, biceps and shoulders. Messages of determination are on the front of both muscular forearms.
Walden knows a thing or three about persistence. The Colts, after all, are his fifth team in seven NFL seasons.
Drafted by Dallas in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Walden failed to make the Cowboys’ roster but was immediately picked up by Kansas City.
Life as a Chief encompassed all of nine games before he again found himself being waived.
Stints with the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers ensued, both filled with the typical highs and lows. Indianapolis signed him March 13, 2013.
It’s here Walden has found a home. At least he hopes.
“It’s just a blessing. I just try to do my job. Instead of just being a guy out there … I’m not into accolades and all that. But as long as I get respect from my peers and coaches and teammates, that’s all that matters to me,” Walden said. “Being patient was something I had to learn. It was tough, especially early in my career.
“Throughout the years you learn everything happens for a reason. You’ve just got to stay patient; and when it’s your time, take advantage of it.”
The 2013 and 2014 postseasons are not Walden’s first playoff rodeo, so to speak.
His time in Green Bay (2010-12) produced a total of 26 starts, 131 tackles, nine sacks and two interceptions.
Walden’s final game in green and gold was anything but his best outing. That was the day San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards in the Packers’ 45-31 loss in an NFC divisional playoff game.
His latest postseason go-round took place Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium, where he contributed two tackles and plenty of pressure on Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton as Indianapolis’s defense limited Cincinnati to only 254 yards of offense in a 26-10 victory.
“We didn’t want to have a letdown at home. I felt it was supposed to be this way at home, so we just wanted to make sure we came out and played hard,” Walden said. “We made some mistakes, but we’ll get that corrected when we head to Denver.”
Sunday will be the Colts’ second flight to mountainous terrain this season, having opened the regular season with a 31-24 loss on the Broncos’ field Sept. 7.
Walden tallied three tackles in that one, his season-high total being four apiece in road victories at Houston and, more recently, Jacksonville.
He looks forward to playing the Broncos again — this time with a berth in the AFC Championship Game on the line.
“Last time we played them we started slow, and then we had a chance at the end,” Walden said. “If we start fast and handle our responsibility, I think everything else will take care of itself.”
THE WALDEN FILE
Name: Erik Walden
Born: Dublin, Ga.
High school: Dublin (2003)
College: Middle Tennessee State (2008)
Major: Physical education
Draft status: Taken by Dallas in Round 6 of 2008 NFL Draft.
Did you know? Also an all-state selection in basketball as a junior and senior at Dublin High School … left Middle Tennessee State as the program’s career leader in sacks with 22.5 … now has 18 career quarterback sacks as an NFL player.