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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."


COLOR PHOTO: ANDY HAYT [Cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED featuring Walter Abercrombie]