During the off-season, Dr. Mark Schottenfeld, the Generals' orthopedic surgeon, slapped Walker into Newark's University Hospital and spent a little more than an hour reconstructing the capsule and the muscle of the shoulder to prevent future dislocations.
At this year's preseason camp, Walker tapped his new shoulder and told running-back coach Clark Gaines, "This is going to be the year of Herschel Walker." Then he started the year by carrying five pitiful times for six pitiful yards against Birmingham. Fortunately for him, all eyes were on Doug Flutie that day anyway. Flutie says, "I didn't think he was that impressive when I first saw him."
These days Walker is thoroughly impressive and not the least bit defensive. "I'm catching. I'm blocking," he says. "Those are two things that are unique for a running back of my nature." Offensive line coach Larry Story agrees and says, "He has great talents and now he's putting them to great use."
Michaels, meanwhile, is positively elated. He says, "Herschel can be the greatest back in the history of the game in a short period of time." Already, Michaels says, Walker is more punishing than Jim Brown was—and Michaels played with Brown at Cleveland.
The run-pass-scramble threat of Flutie eases some of the pressure on Walker, though Flutie says, "I think the philosophy of other teams now is to stop Herschel first and worry about Doug later." But Walker has made huge strides since becoming a pro, Flutie notwithstanding. At Georgia, he ran mostly as an I-back. That's still where he appears most at home. But he has learned how to run out of splitback, single setback and wideout alignments. He's the club's leading pass catcher with 29 for 412 yards. Marvels Flutie, "He doesn't have exceptional hands, but that's Herschel. Whatever he does, he is good at."
Even the NFL is paying grudging, very grudging, respect. Giants G.M. George Young says, "He's playing very well—in that league. He has shown the potential to be successful in the NFL." The Cowboys think so; they picked him in the fifth round in this year's draft. Brandt says with a straight face that the fifth round "was a good place to roll the dice" considering that 47% of all fifth-rounders make NFL rosters. In truth, Walker is anybody's first-rounder, and the Cowboys are taking a chance that the USFL will fold, thus making Walker their own. Brandt got Walker on the phone right after Dallas drafted him (Herschel was watching the soaps, not the draft) and said, "We'll wait for you." Said Walker, "I hope to be around."
He should be around for quite a while. A rare and wonderful mixture of grace, slambang and brains, he describes his running style as "surprising." It's a style that lulls, then explodes.
"I've been learning a great deal," he told Gaines not long ago, "but now the young blood is out of me. I'm ready." He has got his money in order, too, under the guidance of the Cleveland-based International Management Group. Indeed, in March 1984 he signed a four-year, $6 million deal with Trump that runs from 1986 to '89; he has a $1.8 million arrangement with Adidas that goes seven more years; he has a five-year, $100,000-a-year package with Franklin Sports Industries; he owns a restaurant in Athens, Ga.; and he has a new $45,000 Mercedes. His prime investments are in marketable securities, oil and gas and real estate.
"The only problem about having money to buy anything I want is I don't want anything," he says. "I just bought the Mercedes because Cindy [his wife] asked if there was any way we could get one. So I figured out a way. I bought it."
For a player of star stature, Walker hasn't let New York's bright lights do him in, a common problem for young, rich athletes in the area. He makes occasional forays to the city (recently to see The Tap Dance Kid on Broadway), but he's not fodder for the gossip columnists. At home in Verona (he and Flutie live in the same building), he sips yet another orange juice and says, "I don't know what rich is, but I know what comfortable is, and I'm comfortable. What I really want is to be the very best I can be at everything I do. Being a good football player is easy. Being a great football player is hard."