So here was Herschel Walker riding along Route 169 outside Minneapolis. He was on his way to pick up a car in which to tool around this latest state to be in the palm of his hand. Walker was thinking. It was Saturday, 23 hours before he would touch the ball for the first time for his third professional team, and he was a little nervous.
"My father used to tell me I was only worth a quarter," he said with a nervous laugh. "That's still about what I'm worth, I think. I'm ashamed to be here, almost. Ashamed in a sense that the players here have earned their stripes and I haven't. I'm cheating. I'm sneaking in. But the situation's going to inspire me to work harder."
The largest Metrodome crowd ever to see the Minnesota Vikings play—62,075—saw that inspired work firsthand on Sunday. The first time Walker touched the ball—it also happened to be the first time he returned a kickoff in the NFL—he advanced it 51 yards (it was brought back 24 yards because of a penalty). The second time he touched the ball, he took a handoff from Viking quarterback Tommy Kramer, skated right, burst into a hole punched out by tackle Tim Irwin, sprinted straight up-field, broke tackles by Green Bay Packer defensive backs Dave Brown and Mark Murphy, had his right shoe stripped off by Murphy and sprint-hopped a few more lengths before getting caught by linebacker Tim Harris. The gain: 47 yards. "Not bad," said Minnesota general manager Mike Lynn, the man who made the deal possible. "Two plays, a hundred yards."
Grateful Minnesotans found out what Georgians, New Jerseyans and Texans already knew: With Walker, all is possible. After two hours and 20 minutes of practice with the Vikings, he produced the best rushing game by a Minnesota back since 1983, gaining 148 yards on 18 carries in a 26-14 win over Green Bay. He did it while playing only 33 of the Vikes' 68 offensive plays.
The NFL is often maligned for its bland corporateness, but here was some real excitement. It was one of those you-had-to-be-there things. The crowd in the south end zone gave Walker a standing ovation when he lined up for the kickoff after Green Bay had scored to go ahead 7-0. The whole place went nuts on the lost-shoe run. And for no apparent reason—or maybe just because Walker was there—the joint broke into spontaneous applause for him during a TV timeout in the third quarter. "Herschelmania!" screamed some guy in Section 108 right about then.
"I had to take time away from my defense today because I had to see Herschel run," said Minnesota defensive coordinator Floyd Peters afterward. "He popped through the middle a couple of times, and—whoooooosh!—I thought he'd be gone."
And whoooooosh! was the way he had arrived from the Dallas Cowboys three days before the game. Ah, the trade—the weird, weird trade. It was one that had to happen, but it nearly unraveled at the last minute. Actually, to call the Walker deal a trade doesn't do it justice. Consider:
•Dallas received Minnesota's first-round draft choice in 1992, linebackers David Howard and Jesse Solomon, running back Darrin Nelson, cornerback Issiac Holt and rookie defensive end Alex Stewart. All five Viking players are tied to conditional draft choices—Solomon and Howard to first-round picks in '90 and '91, the others to second-and third-round selections in the early '90s in a complicated formula that neither team has fully disclosed.
By Feb. 1, Dallas will have to make five decisions. If the Cowboys cut all five players, Dallas will get all five picks; if the Cowboys cut fewer they'll keep fewer picks.
•Dallas may try to keep the players and the picks by dealing with Lynn after the season. Here's where the trade gets weird. Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson said, "We get players now, and we get ones and twos [in the draft] for the next three years to help us win. We're going to make those picks."