SI Vault
Jill Lieber
November 12, 1990
Herschel Walker says his critics are barking up the wrong tree when they blame him for the Vikings' troubles
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November 12, 1990

'i Am Not A Dog'

Herschel Walker says his critics are barking up the wrong tree when they blame him for the Vikings' troubles

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But he hasn't had another day like it, and he has failed to rush for more than 90 yards in any game since. Walker had trouble finding holes behind the Vikings' bread-and-butter, trap-blocking scheme. He became a part-time player, often serving as a decoy for fullback Rick Fenney on third down. In goal line situations, Walker was on the sidelines. He finished the '89 season averaging just 14.8 carries and 58.2 yards in 12 games with Minnesota, including a nine-carry, 29-yard performance in the Vikings' 41-13 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

"I never felt like I fit in with the team," Walker says. "I don't go to bars. I don't hang out. This is a big hangout team. They like to go out together. I'm private."

It's not surprising that Walker hasn't felt right at home with the Vikings. First of all, he had never been asked to be a team player or one of the guys. He had always been a superstar, the focus of every offense in which he played. When he was in the USFL, he was coddled by New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump; in Dallas, he was the pet project of general manager Tex Schramm and coach Tom Landry.

Second, the Vikings have a reputation for being one of the most selfish teams in the NFL. They are a group of talented individual stars—there are 12 Pro Bowl players on this year's team—who lack team chemistry. Yet none of these stars has ever stepped forward to be the strong leader needed to meld the Vikings into a cohesive unit. Burns, though he is liked by his players and loyal to them, is not a fiery leader, either.

As for the Vikings' offense, Walker was a bad fit from Day 1. "We are a pass-oriented offense," Huffman says. "We have never had a big-name, marquee running back, at least not since Chuck Foreman in the '70s. In our system, nobody carries the ball 30 times. The running backs are interchangeable parts. The system takes precedence over the individual players. With Herschel, what we have is a collision of systems. Where does it come together? We have so many offensive weapons. Who gets short-sheeted?"

Last April the Vikings made some adjustments in an effort to fit Walker into their offensive scheme. They took the play-calling duties from longtime offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker and hired Tom Moore, the Pittsburgh Steeler offensive coordinator, to serve as assistant head coach for the offense. Moore promised to utilize Walker as the Cowboys did in 1988, when he led the NFC in rushing with 1,514 yards and had 505 yards receiving. During that season Walker played at seven different positions: halfback, fullback, tight end, H-back, wide receiver, slot and flanker. Moore's mission was to create a scheme that would keep both Walker and tight end Steve Jordan on the field for every offensive down.

In training camp this summer, Moore made good on his promise. The Vikings worked a lot of I formation and power-running plays into the offense and used them effectively throughout the preseason and the first two regular-season games. Then the team was hit with two key injuries: Quarterback Wade Wilson tore a ligament in his right thumb and won't be back until at least Dec. 1; Millard tore ligaments in his right knee and is lost for the season. The Vikings' defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the NFL in '89, started slowly, even with Millard, and has dipped to 16th overall. Because the Vikings have fallen behind in many games and have had to play catch-up by throwing the ball, they've abandoned the I formation and, along with it, Walker.

"I'm confused," Walker says. "I don't know where I'm supposed to be playing from week to week."

Three days after the Detroit loss, Walker visited Burns hoping to clarify his role on offense, offering to carry the ball more, and assuring his coach that, contrary to what the media was saying, he was dedicated to football. Burns raved about how hardworking Walker was, and even quizzed him about the nuances of bobsledding. Walker also tried to reach Lynn to ask how he could better attune himself to the offense. Lynn was unavailable, busy with his new added duties as president of the World League of American Football. Walker hasn't tried to phone Lynn again.

Instead he stands quietly on the sidelines, frustrated. "What can I do? I'm not a coach," Walker says. "I can't put myself into the game. I can't say, 'Psst. Rich, give me the ball.' "

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