Even if Walker gets back on track, it doesn't appear that he will ever be the focal point of the Viking offense as long as Burns is the head coach. "In my optimum offense," Burns says, "I'd like my receivers [Anthony Carter and Hassan Jones] and tight end [Jordan] to catch five or six passes. I'd like each back to carry the ball six to eight times and get 50 yards. If you do that, everybody will be fresh and everybody will be happy."
So why did the Vikings trade for Walker in the first place? Sources say Lynn did not consult with Burns before making the deal. Several Viking players believe Lynn used Walker to mend his public image. Before the trade, a handful of black players had charged that Lynn was a racist in his contract dealings with players. By obtaining Walker, a positive black role model with a large contract, Lynn could wipe away the racist label.
"Herschel Walker didn't make this trade," Millard says. "Mike Lynn did. If anybody should take the blame, it's Lynn. If anybody could bring the heat down right now, to have the fans and press leave Herschel alone, it's Mike Lynn."
But another question remains: What will the Vikings do with Walker at the end of the '90 season? They have four choices—trade him, waive him, make him a Plan B free agent or re-sign him. But how could the Vikings justify paying Walker another $2.25 million in '91?
In the meantime Walker operates in a five-back rotation every day in practice, trying to work himself into more playing time. He also runs before and after practice with Al Capone. He plans to study old game films of himself to try to analyze and imitate his running technique. The Vikings believe this difficult period might be a great equalizer for Walker.
"Herschel now has to be like everybody else," Huffman says. "He has to wait for his opportunity and make the most of it. We've got a saying here: The ship's sailing—be on board or be left behind. He has to be ready when he's called upon."