October 13th, is the 28th anniversary of one of the biggest trades in NFL history so the Talk of Fame Network decided to sit down with its principal player, running back Herschel Walker, to see what it was like to be traded for five players and eight future draft picks that ultimately laid the foundation for the Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty of the 1990s.
On Oct. 13, 1989, Walker, then the NFC’s leading rusher as well as one of the Cowboys’ leading receivers, was sent to the Vikings in a blockbuster trade that shocked the NFL. Ultimately, Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones would use those picks to acquire the draft rights to Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, Pro Bowl safety Darren Woodson and overall No. 1 pick Russell Maryland. Things didn’t work out so well for the Vikings but Walker played 12 years in the NFL, retiring in 1997 ranked 16th on the all-time rushing list and only the fifth player in NFL history to gain 16,000 all-purpose yards and the 19th to rush for over 8,000.
Add to that his three years as the biggest star in the USFL and you begin to wonder if Herschel has been shortchanged by the Hall of Fame. Add Herschel to those wondering.
“This year I had a call that I was on the (preliminary) list (of 108 nominees) and it hit me,’’ Walker said. “Why am I not in it? If you look at my stats, they’re pretty good.’’
Walker rushed for 8,225 yards in the NFL and 5,562 in the USFL for a total of 13,787 yards, which would rank him fifth all-time in professional football. If you Google “single-season rushing record’’ what comes up is Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 yards gained for the Los Angeles Rams in 1983. But a year later Walker rushed for 2,411 for the USFL’s New Jersey Generals in a season in which he rushed for over 100 yards 14 times. Was breaking that record a coincidence?
“As I was getting close (the record) was on my mind,’’ Walker admitted. “If you play football, you want to be the best for your team.’’
Walker was certainly that both with the Generals and later when he rushed for 1,514 yards for the Cowboys in 1988 after two years at fullback net to future Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. That versatility probably hindered Walker’s Hall of Fame chances because Dallas used him at seven different positions at various times – fullback, halfback, flanker, tight end, H-back, slot receiver and kickoff returner – on his way to producing 2,095 total yards that season.
“I loved it,’’ Walker said of being used in multiple fashion. “I just wanted to be one of the best at it.’’
He certainly was but one wonders if he’d not gone to the USFL for his first three seasons after winning the Heisman Trophy might he by now be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? We’ll never know but as much as Walker would love to reach Canton, he has no regrets.
“I get asked the question ‘do you regret going to the USFL?’’’ Walker said. “No I don’t. If I’m the No. 1 draft choice in the NFL I might have gone to a team not that good and gotten beaten up. I never have regretted it. I got to play for the President of the United States (Donald Trump owned the Generals at the time).’’
Former Redskins’ general manager Charley Casserly knows a thing or two about Washington, even though he never worked for the President, so we invited him to close out our series on the 1987 strike that shut down the NFL for four NFL weekends and led to the invention of “replacement players.’’
Casserly, then the Redskins’ assistant GM, was with a team that took those three games and assembling a roster of competitive players seriously. Washington won all three replacement games, including beating a Cowboys teams that had many of its veterans (including Tony Dorsett, Randy White and Too Tall Jones) in their lineup when they faced the Redskins. They crossed the picket line while no one from Washington did.
“Nobody thought we had a chance,’’ Casserly recalled. “I remember Joe Gibbs told our players ‘Men, this is exactly the situation you wanted. You came here to prove you could play in the NFL.’ It was one of the most emotional games I’ve ever been in.’’
There have been some who argue the replacements should have received Super Bowl rings for helping to propel Washington to the Super Bowl that season but as much as he admired those players Casserly disagrees, saying, “It was a very explosive situation…that would not fly then. Personally, I’ve always lauded what they did. Our (NFC East) lead (over the Giants and Eagles, who did not take those three games seriously even though they counted) was insurmountable. But I have a hard time with the ring thing.’’
One guy who never won a ring but was one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks, Y.A. Tittle, passed away this week so to honor him we visited with writer Seth Wickersham, who three years ago wrote a poignant piece about an aging Tittle suffering from dementia and the effort of his daughter to take him back to his hometown of Marshall, Texas, for a final family party.
Seth came by not only to recall it but to explain the relationship that grew between himself and Tittle, who passed away at the age of 90.
“Dementia didn’t subtract from his humanity,’’ Wickersham said of Tittle. “He had a child-like innocence and was incapable of being mean.’’
Among Tittle’s many awards and memorabilia in his trophy room, Wickersham recalled, hung a copy of the iconic photograph of an aged and beaten Tittle, knocked to his knees and wearing a stunned look on his face with his helmet ripped off and his bald head bleeding after being sacked by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“He had a love/hate relationship with that picture,’’ Wickersham said. “He hated what it came to symbolize – a quarterback defeated. But he also came to be proud of (that) he got up and played the next week with a broken sternum.’’
Kicker Nick Lowrey never had to play with a broken sternum but he did have to survive being cut by 11 teams before finally finding a home in Kansas City. Once there, Lowrey kicked for 17 seasons. His 383 field goals rank 12th all-time and according to footballperspective.com, which analyzes kickers on its website, make Lowery the greatest kicker of all-time based on his productivity and the average length of his makes and misses.
Lowrey isn’t sure about that but he’s sure glad to have made the HOF’s preliminary nominees list a year after the game’s all-time leading scorer, Morten Andersen, became only the second pure kicker to gain admittance to the Hall last year.
In our weekly State Your Case segment, co-host Ron Borges argues that if Terrell Davis can gain admittance to Canton despite having only three Hall worthy seasons due to injuries, perhaps they should take a look at Bo Jackson, who once was just as dominating, Bo knows. Do you?
Borges also declares the 2017 New York Giants season is not only officially over but also officially bogus, arguing that maybe Ben McAdoo, who replaced Tom Coughlin to great fanfare two years ago, may not be quite the offensive guru today he was when working for Coughlin.
There’s that and more and you can hear it all on SB Nation Radio Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. and on 75 radio stations around the country or you can download the free podcast at iTunes or by using the TuneIn app. You can also hear the show or any past shows whenever you’d like on our website, www.talkoffamenetwork.com.