SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
March 07, 1983
By signing Heisman Trophy Winner Herschel Walker to an out-of-this-world contract, the U.S. Football League put a lot more kick into its debut this week
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 07, 1983

A New Round Of Star Wars?

By signing Heisman Trophy Winner Herschel Walker to an out-of-this-world contract, the U.S. Football League put a lot more kick into its debut this week

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5

"I looked into challenging the system after my junior year," SMU Tailback Eric Dickerson said. "The lawyers tell you court settlements could take three years, and by that time you're out of college anyway."

Simmons' credibility has evaporated, and the feeling among many NFL people is that he's merely a figurehead, that the real power in the USFL is wielded by Chuck Fairbanks, the Generals' president, coach and part owner. "Around our place we call him the commissioner," Finks says. "George Allen is deputy commissioner and [Oakland Invader Coach] John Ralston is the secretary."

"Just look at their Competition Committee," another NFL official says. "Chuck is the chairman. Three of the other six people on it worked for Chuck in New England—Pete Hadhazy, who was his assistant general manager, Denver Gold Coach Red Miller, who was Chuck's line coach, and the Boston Breakers' part owner, Randy Vataha, who played for Chuck. Chuck orchestrated this whole Walker thing. Why else do you think he stayed so far in the background?"

What a nice scenario has emerged from the Walker signing. Herschel says he might well have been ineligible for college football—because of earlier contacts with pro teams—long before he signed his first Generals contract, the one he tried to disown. The day following that first signing, the USFL says, its legal counsel, Steve Ehrhart, told Georgia Assistant Coach Mike Cavan that Walker had indeed signed. This happened right after Walker's Feb. 18 press conference, at which he and his coach, Vince Dooley, had denied there had been any ink on paper. Dooley says Cavan told him nothing about it, presumably because he didn't believe it. The NCAA, which will investigate everything from an illegal sweat suit to an extra campus visit, stonewalled. The USFL panicked. Was their prize catch going to wriggle off the hook? So on Feb. 21 Ehrhart showed Cavan the actual document, to get the hook more firmly planted. Dooley says it was not until the following day, four days after Cavan had first received word of Walker's signing, that Cavan told him about it. Meanwhile, Manton—who had placed Walker with the team he wanted, at the price he wanted; who'd shaken hands with that nice old Mr. Duncan and assured him that Herschel would make him proud to have him on his team—had one more piece of business left. He tried to sell Walker to the NFL. "He called on Tuesday night [Feb. 22] and then once again an hour or two before the signing on Wednesday," NFL attorney Jay Moyer says. "When we told him we weren't changing our rules he said, 'O.K., see you in three years. You can count on it.' That was the last phrase, 'You can count on it.' "

Well, time cures many things, and the first time Herschel rushes for 200 yards in the USFL people will start forgetting how he came into the league. "We ran Herschel out of the I formation and the pro set and the slot, and he did everything perfectly," the Generals' backfield coach, Mike Stock, said after Walker's first practice, last Saturday afternoon. "He picks things up fast."

Three of the Generals' offensive linemen, Center Kent Hull, Right Guard Wayne Harris and Left Tackle Bryan Millard, are rookies whom the NFL scouts liked for their run-blocking potential. Sullivan, a 5'10", 210-pounder who was drafted by the Cowboys in the eighth round out of North Carolina State last year, spent his last college season as an I formation blocking back. Quarterback Bobby Scott is an 11-year NFL veteran who won't let his ego get in the way of 40 handoffs a game.

Fairbanks has predicted a brief appearance for Walker against the Los Angeles Express on national TV this Sunday, but that statement was probably for L.A.'s benefit. "Herschel will carry 25 times and I'll carry 10," says Sullivan.

The opening game that had loomed as the best on the board BW (Before Walker) was Allen's return to Washington—the Blitz against the Federals. League officials are worried about the possibility of a Blitz blowout, which doesn't bother Allen in the slightest. The Blitz and the Generals are the USFL powers, but blowout football is not what will send the fans to their wallets or TV sets in the springtime.

Elsewhere? The Michigan Panthers are an interesting team, if only because they have the multitalented Carter. The Philly Stars have Kelvin Bryant. The Denver Gold is the league's anomaly—poor signing record and few name players but 30,000-plus season tickets. The Boston Breakers, with the league's smallest stadium, Nickerson Field, capacity 20,000, look like the league's poor boys. As for Washington, L.A., Oakland, Arizona, the Birmingham Stallions and Tampa Bay Bandits, only time will tell.

How will Walker do in the USFL? Just fine. How much is he really worth? "I guess we won't know," says Philly Wide Receiver Rodney Parker, "until somebody hits him and we see how many thousand-dollar bills fall out of his pants."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5