January 7, 1985
When Walter Abercrombie entered the NFL 15 years ago, talk was of his being a member of the greatest running-back class in league history. He and fellow draftees Marcus Allen, Melvin Carver, Larry Cowan, Dwayne Crutchfield, Joe Morris, Mike Morton, Darrin Nelson, Rick Porter, Barry Redden, Gerald Riggs, Robert Weathers and Butch Woolfolk constituted a new breed of speedy, powerful, somewhat boastful rushers who were expected to run defenses ragged for the next decade or so. One problem: They didn't turn out to be that good. Outside of Allen, members of the class of '82 need to pay full-price admission to Canton. Abercrombie, the Pittsburgh Steelers' top pick out of Baylor, had a decent pro career, rushing for 3,357 yards and 22 touchdowns in six seasons with the Steelers and another with the Philadelphia Eagles. "You have a window of opportunity for greatness," says Abercrombie, 38, now director of education and special projects for the American Football Coaches Association in his hometown of Waco, Texas. "I didn't step through that."
He did come close. On Dec. 30, 1984, Abercrombie's 75 yards rushing and 18 receiving lifted Pittsburgh to a stunning 24-17 playoff win over the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium. The performance was gritty and explosive enough to land Abercrombie on our cover, and the win catapulted the Steelers to their first AFC Championship game in five years. Although Pittsburgh wound up getting beaten by the Miami Dolphins a week later—Abercrombie rushed for 68 yards in the 45-28 loss—his day of glory still glows brightly. "It's my Number 1 highlight," he says. "Playing in a high-pressure playoff game with a lot on the line. I think of guys—O.J. Simpson, Archie Manning—-who didn't have much, if any, postseason play. I had the honor of playing with guys like Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris and Mike Webster on very good Steelers teams. I can't complain."
After Abercrombie's career was cut short by knee injuries, he returned to Baylor for a master's in athletic administration and then worked for the school as an academic counselor. In his current position he coordinates a game-tape exchange program between the NFL and major colleges and heads an operation that arranges coaching seminars. "I love being a part of football's policymaking," says Abercrombie, who, with his wife, Kim, has two sons, Wesley, 4, and Warren, 1. "I'm able to see different football perspectives. For 23 years I played the game. Now, it's still exciting. Football means so much to me, I have to be a part of it."