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When the Minnesota Vikings gave the Cowboys all those players and draft choices for running back Herschel Walker last October, people around the league figured, AHA! The Vikes are finally making the kind of deal only Super Bowl-caliber teams make, mortgaging the future for instant gratification. Minnesota general manager Mike Lynn reinforced that thinking when he said, "If we don't go to the Super Bowl, it's a bad trade."
But the cynics—and you can include me among them—felt that the deal was primarily a money-saver. Pay for one big package now, and then for three years you're free of all those hefty salaries, holdouts and the other headaches that accompany high draft picks.
No one, though, envisioned the disruptive effect the trade would have on the Vikings. Walker got his yards (669 in 11 games), but his average per carry (3.9) was the lowest of his NFL or USFL or any other FL career. One year he caught 76 passes for the Cowboys, but last season he caught more in five games with Dallas (22) than he did in 11 games with Minnesota (18).
Offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker was booed unmercifully. Coach Jerry Burns, who labored as an NFL assistant for 20 years, was sad that Schnelker had to take such abuse. And Lynn packed up the whole club in mid-May and took it to the Pecos River Learning Center in New Mexico for three days of rope climbing, cold flapjacks and what he called "improving the lines of communication."
Well, Walker is still the keynote back, and Minnesota has two new men joining Schnelker for offensive strategy—Tom Moore, who coordinated Pittsburgh's offense into last place in the NFL in '89, and Marc Trestman, who was canned as offensive coordinator in Cleveland. All three coaches agree that they have to figure out how to use Walker more effectively, so people won't boo anymore.
A pass-catching Walker should help Wade Wilson, who last season slumped to his lowest quarterback rating in five years. But even worse, Wilson seems to have lost his scrambling and escape skills, which once were a big part of his game. Young Rich Gannon, whom they're pushing hard to replace Wilson, has no trouble in that department, but he's still not in sync with the passing attack.
Last September a lot of people thought the Vikings would be a Super Bowl contender, but by season's end they were teetering on the brink of playoff elimination. At least they know each other better now.
I never really understood how good CHICAGO BEARS defensive tackle Dan Hampton was until he was lost for the season after four games last year. With him the Bears were 4-0 and didn't give up more than 27 points in a game. Without him they went 2-10 and allowed more than 30 points five times. Well, Hampton is back, but how much does he have left after 10 knee operations?
Coach Mike Ditka was rough on his team last season and rough on his offensive coordinator, Greg Landry—too rough at times. Ditka has promised to calm down. Jim Harbaugh is said to be ready to make his move at quarterback. No more just throwing bombs and scrambling and dumping off. We'll see. Perhaps the most ominous sign from this organization is what it did on draft day. The Bears, who had the sixth pick in the draft, shopped around until they found the right guy who would come in at their price. They settled for safety Mark Carrier, a head-scratcher of a pick.