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Peter King
October 23, 1989
A megadeal sent Herschel Walker to Minnesota, where he ran wild
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October 23, 1989

Sudden Impact

A megadeal sent Herschel Walker to Minnesota, where he ran wild

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Dallas could approach Lynn in January with this idea: Look, we could cut these guys and take our five picks, and you would end up with neither players nor picks. Instead, let us give you some thing—say, five middle-round choices—and you erase the condition of the trade that says we have to choose either the players or the draft choices. When told this scenario was suggested on Sunday, Lynn arched his eyebrows and said, "No comment."

But Lynn is, ahem, a hardline fellow. When this deal was close to completion on the night of Oct. 3, the guaranteed first-round draft pick in 1992 wasn't included. Johnson and Cowboy owner Jerry Jones told Lynn over the phone they liked the deal but needed something more. "I'll give you our Number One in '92," said Lynn, "but if I do, that's it. There's nothing else. That has to be the deal, and we have to do it now." Jones and Johnson said they would do it. Now if they come back asking for still more, Lynn may well play hardball, even at the expense of all those draft picks.

•According to Lynn, he has already stared down Jones once, over a final, almost fatal snag early last Thursday morning. Jones had negotiated an agreement with one of Walker's agents, Peter Johnson, under which Walker would receive $1.25 million from the Cowboys to accept the trade. That is another remarkable part of this story: Walker didn't have a no-trade clause in his contract, yet Dallas had to pay to get him to report to the Vikings. After finishing negotiations with Peter Johnson, Jones got Lynn on the telephone at 8 a.m. Lynn says he was dumbfounded when Jones asked him to help cover the $1.25 million. Then, says Lynn, Jones wanted to talk about the terms again. Lynn feared Jones might start calling other teams, so he told Jones he wouldn't let him off the phone until they had made an absolute agreement. Walker had already come to clean out his locker at 6:15 that morning. Jones agreed to pay the entire $1.25 million. He wired the money to Walker's agents in Cleveland the next day.

•Walker, according to his Viking contract, gets two big perks: a house that must be comparable to his home in Dallas and "a new Mercedes Benz automobile of the player's choice." Lynn said he planned to talk with former Viking Ahmad Rashad, who lives in Mount Vernon, N.Y., about allowing Walker and his wife, Cindy, to live in Rashad's part-time home in Minnesota this fall.

•Despite reports to the contrary, rookie Steve Walsh, Dallas's backup quarterback, who is expected to be traded after the season, isn't part of the Walker deal. "I can 100 percent give you my word that Walsh was never mentioned in the deal and is no part of it," says Jimmy Johnson. But who knows what will happen after the season? Five years ago, Walsh—then a quarterback at a St. Paul high school who was headed to the University of Miami—was told by Lynn at a sports banquet that someday he would come home to play for the Vikings. Although no groundwork has been laid for such a transaction, it's possible that Walsh could be sent to Minnesota in January in return for the Cowboys' being allowed to keep the five players as well as the five draft picks.

Trading Walker was the smartest move Dallas could make. They had gone 1-16 with him over the last 13 months, and he hadn't had a 100-yard rushing game since Week 14 last year. "You always hate to lose a tremendous talent like Herschel," says Johnson, whose Cowboys fell to 0-6 on Sunday with a 31-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in their first game of the Post-Herschel Era. "What saddens me more is to lose football games. The applecart was already upset, and it was going to be difficult to rebuild without trading Herschel."

Minnesota had been getting killed by its inept running game. Since the start of 1988, the Vikings have ranked 25th in the NFL in yards per rush (3.65). Until Sunday they hadn't had so much as one 80-yard rushing game by a back since '87. "We had to do something," said Lynn on Saturday. "We had the Number One defense in the league, and we were keeping it on the field too long. Our guys were gasping. Look at the great teams of the '80s. They all had great backs. We needed one. As I told Herschel, 'We've got one missing spoke in the wheel, and you're it.' "

Walker got to Minneapolis at 5:30 p.m. last Thursday. Over the next day and a half, he would spend five hours talking to reporters, more than twice his practice time. Still, he learned 12 plays, most of them rushes taught to him by running-backs coach John Brunner. Walker was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Minnesota offensive system is numbered similarly to the one he had mastered under Tom Landry at Dallas, so the learning wasn't hard. Understanding Kramer's San Antonio drawl was another matter. Kramer worked with Walker on the snap counts during Friday's practice. "Herschel had a hard time understanding me," says Kramer, who concentrated on enunciating the counts more clearly. "He told me, 'The quarterbacks in Dallas talk slower.' "

The plan was to play Walker on 12 to 15 downs, giving him six or eight carries so he could get familiar with his blockers. He would have a big role beginning with the next game, against the Detroit Lions. By Saturday, Walker was pretty comfortable. "I can adjust to almost anything," he said. "My life has always been wild, always exciting. All I can do is make the best of this. That's the way I live. I lived that way at Georgia for three years, with New Jersey [of the USFL] for three years and with Dallas for three years."

And with Minnesota for how long? Walker says he doesn't want to extend his contract now. He'll be 28 next season, and he won't need the money. Next year will be his eighth pro season, and he will have earned, including incentive bonuses, something like $17 million directly from playing football.

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