Lusher High School/Tulane University/NFL
To be honest, Lionel Washington can’t decide which is more amazing: the fact that he has a street named for him in his hometown of Lutcher, or the fact that, this summer, his name will be added to the list of greats in the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.
Both get him emotional.
“Everything’s starting to slow down for me now, so I really have some time to think about everything that I have accomplished and what I’ve done,” Washington said. “And, it’s not bad for an old boy from Lutcher.”
By his own admission, Washington was a somewhat reluctant football player.
A stand-out in basketball and track back in the day, Washington actually preferred the hardwoods to the gridiron, and he was a state champion hurdler. Then-Bulldogs coach Frank Monica had to practically twist his arm to get him just to go out for football. Then, when he did, the still-growing youngest of 10 was considered by many to be “too small” to ever make it.
“Everybody thought I was a good football player,” Washington said. “But a lot of college coaches thought I was too small. I was maybe 155 pounds soaking wet. That caused a lot of schools to back off of me. All I wanted to do is go to school because my daddy had said to me, ‘If you don’t go to college, I’ll give you six months then you’ve got to move out.'”
Fortunately for Washington, Tulane thought he was good enough and big enough. And even after playing the game of his life in the 1979 Louisiana High School All-Star game and increasing his college offers from beyond the borders of Louisiana, Washington honored his commitment to the Green Wave.
Over the next three decades, Washington set out to prove those detractors wrong. He was a four-year letterman and a three-year starting cornerback at Tulane, racking up 192 tackles (130 solos, 62 assists), six tackles for loss and eight interceptions.
In 1983 he was a fourth-round draft pick of the then-St. Louis Cardinals, the start of a 15-year career in the NFL – one of the longest for a defensive back in pro football history. He spent four years with the Cardinals then eight with the Los Angeles Raiders. After one season with the Denver Broncos, he returned to the Raiders in 1997, his final season. In 204 games (165 starts) he intercepted 37 passes, with a career-high eight in the 1985 season with the Cardinals. He had at least one interception in 13 of his 15 seasons.
When his years as a player came to an end, he turned to coaching, spending 10 years with the Green Bay Packers and two more with the Los Angeles Raiders. In 2012 he returned home to Tulane to coach under fellow River Parishes alum Curtis Johnson, serving as the team’s cornerbacks coach and co-defensive coordinator.
“I’ve been knowing Lionel most of my life,” Johnson said. “We’ve been friends since high school. He’s a great guy, a great player. He’s probably one of the best players ever to play, and to play 15 years in the NFL, that’s just unheard of. When I was interviewing guys (at Tulane), I never thought I’d be able to get a guy like Lionel. He’s a great fit. He’s very intelligent, very organized and has a great knowledge of the defense.”
Story submitted by Lori Lyons of the Greater New Orleans Sports Selection Committee.