This past weekend, on Evan Moore's weekly WagerWire Live Sunday Twitter space, 'Do You Want Moore', Wali Rainer, former Virginia Cavalier, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Detroit Lions middle linebacker, sat down for an epic conversation filled with fascinating stories from his playing days and life after the game. Here's the recap!
Wali Rainers NFL Career started with the Cleveland Browns. Fresh out of The University of Virginia in the 4th round and straight to the field, Wali enjoyed personal success early and often. In 1999, his 136 tackles as a rookie was the most of any Browns defender and tied for 4th most in the NFL.
The Cleveland Browns would go 2-14 that year, with Wali Rainer as one of their only bright spots, but Wali says he was just grateful for the opportunity to be drafted and live out his dreams of playing in the NFL. Even though Wali had a tendency to make thinks look easy on the field, competing in the AFC North was no walk in the park.
"I was excited as hell to get drafted and go to the NFL. Not soon afterwards, you start to understand the NFL is a violent game. The first game we had, we played the Steelers on Sunday night, the first game of the NFL season. I think I had about 17 or 18 tackles but I was hooked up to IV's after the game, me and Jamir Miller. I remember thinking to myself like Damn, I love the game, but that was the toughest game I ever played."
The key to success in the NFL for Wali was toughness. Not size or strength, but the ability to physically assert his presence onto another human for a longer duration than they could physically assert theirs onto him. However, toughness is just as much mental as it is physical and Wali understood that better than anyone.
"Everybody is tough in the 1st quarter. That's why you rarely see teams get blown out in the 1st quarter or 2nd quarter. It's that 3rd, 4th, or 5th quarter. You see what I'm saying? Where is your toughness at from a psychological basis?
At the middle linebacker position, Wali Rainer has had to square off with his fair share of powerful running backs, so when he made it a point to share one specific sorry about one specific running back, Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I thought, "Wow. This going to be a great one," and man, Wali's story did not dissapoint.
As a rookie, Wali wasn't getting much press coverage from the media. Being a 4th round draft pick with a lot to prove, the recognition wasn't there yet, so it came as a surprise to Wali when the media came knocking the week Cleveland was set to square off against Pittsburgh.
Why would the media want to talk to Wali Rainer now? Jerome Bettis made a mistake, one that Rainer hoped he could make Jerome regret. When Bettis was addressing the media, he mistakenly called Wali Rainer, "Walter Rainer" and Wali took it personal when media members rushed to get a quote out of Wali regarding the situation.
"What? I'll tell you what... Jerome Bettis is gonna' know my name. Tell him he's gonna' know my name by the end of this game."
The story doesn't end there, in fact, it just began. Wali was determined to make sure Jerome Bettis would always remember Wali Rainer. Wali says he remembers thinking, "Rookie or no rookie he said he didn't know my name. I'm coming! My mother is listening. My mother is going to read this paper."
"I remember Chris Palmer being the coach at the time and he called me up saying, "You can't say that." I said, "Coach I feel you, but I'm gonna' tell you the same way I told him. He's gonna know my name."
The Browns would ultimately get blown out by the Pittsburgh Steelers 43-0, but the battle between Jerome Bettis and Wali Rainer was Wali's own personal victory. Bettis rushed for 89 yards on 18 attempts with no scores, while Wali compiled 14 total tackles. One tackle in particular though, put Rainer on Jerome's radar.
"Every time I hit him I thought about my mother. One time I hit him and his mouth was bleeding.... I'm like, I love it..... This guy, he's not backing down.... I'm hitting him and his mouth is bleeding and he's still coming. I love this game of football, this is what it's about, but he's one of those guys that I don't think people would want to bring down nowadays."
Wali Rainer retired from football in 2006, but football is still a huge part of his life today. Currently, Rainer is the co-defensive coordinator at Trinity Episcopal High School in Richmond, Virginia where he's had the opportunity to coach his two sons Elijah and Zahir.
Elijah Rainer, class of 2023, has committed to William & Mary to play linebacker, while Zahir plays safety and has one more year of High School ball to play before he makes his college commitment.
As well as being a High School football coach and helping mold kids into solid football players and stand up human beings, Wali Rainer made a positive impact in the community by putting on a mentorship program for young kids during the Covid-19 pandemic along with former University of Virginia teammate and ex-NFL player, Billy McMullen.
I can't say enough about Wali Rainer as a guest on Evan's show. His charisma and story telling ability coupled with great questions from Evan, Zeke, as well as the listeners who participated when the floor was open, all grabbed my attention from minute one.
These are just some of the many incredible stories he shared on the WagerWire Live Twitter space 'Do You Want Moore?' with host Evan Moore. If you'd like to catch the recorded Twitter space where you can hear Wali tell some stories in his own words, click the link below!
Catch the audio interview here! https://twitter.com/i/spaces/1lPKqBQZpvAGb
Photo credit via: https://twitter.com/rainerwali