State Your Case: Herschel Walker


(Herschel Walker photos courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

When former running back Herschel Walker retired after the 1997 season I remember people asking if he was Hall-of-Fame material. I laughed at the idea then. I’m not laughing at it now.

It’s not because I believe Walker should be in the Hall; it’s because I believe he should be in the conversation. And here’s why: His USFL resume. He put up ridiculous numbers in a league that gave us Hall-of-Famers like Reggie White, Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Gary Zimmerman, and I know what you’re thinking.

Yeah, so what? It’s the USFL.

Well, it’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame, too … not the NFL Hall … and last time I checked the USFL was a pro football league. That, plus Walker’s tenure in the NFL, makes him Hall-of-Fame worthy, and if you don’t believe me let’s start dissecting a few of his accomplishments.

He not only won two rushing titles and ran for over 5,500 yards in three USFL seasons; he set a pro league record with 2,411 in 1985, a year when he produced over 4,000 yards in offense. Think about that: Over 4,000 freakin’ yards. Then he goes on to the NFL where he puts up 18,168 all-purpose yards – second all-time when he retired – to push his total to over 25,000 in both leagues … and rushes for another 8,225 yards.

Now, combine his USFL and NFL resumes, and the guy runs for 13,787 yards, catches 642 passes and produces 143 touchdowns. That would put him fifth on the all-time rushing list, third on the receptions list for running backs and seventh in career scores, two behind Hall-of-Famer Marcus Allen.

Nice, huh? There’s more. He’s the only player to gain 4,000 yards three different ways – rushing, receiving and kickoff returns. He’s the only player in NFL history to have a run of 90 or more yards, a catch of 90 or more and a kickoff return of 90 or more … all in the same season (1994). And he’s the only NFL player to have a touchdown run of 84 or more yards and a touchdown catch of the same distance in the same game.

Connect the dots, people.

“I’m deserving for the Hall of Fame,” Walker told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “And that’s just from the NFL. Look at what I did. I’m in the top 10 in combined yards, rushing receiving and return yards. I caught over 500 passes. I don’t deny that I was a heckuva football player, and I think what the Hall of Fame is looking for is good football players because I played every aspect of the game.”

He’s right about everything except what the Hall is looking for. It’s after great … not good … players, and Walker qualifies there, too. Heck, the guy was so accomplished Minnesota gave away five players and eight draft picks to acquire the guy in a 1989 trade that backfired on the Vikings and planted the seeds for the Cowboys’ Super Bowl dynasty of the 1990s.

The knock on Walker, of course, is that he was named to only two Pro Bowls in the NFL and never played on a championship team. OK, I get it. He never was dominant in one area there. But remember: This is the Pro Football Hall, and no running back in the USFL was better or more dominant than Herschel Walker.

In fact, when we had former USFL executive Carl Peterson on the Talk of Fame Network last month and asked him to name his All-USFL club, the first back off the table was Walker. No surprise there. When fans were asked to name the all-league team, Walker was their slam-dunk pick, too.

He’s not, of course, a slam dunk for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he should be a consideration. Herschel Walker was a great player who put up prodigious numbers in every phase of the game. I don’t care that he didn’t win a championship. What I do care is that when his USFL and NFL resumes are combined he’s what you thought he was when you watched him.

Hall-of-Fame material.

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19 Comments

  1. Rob
    June 7, 2016
    Reply

    How much of him getting traded to the Vikings in 1989 affected his candidacy?

    • June 7, 2016
      Reply

      My opinion? A lot. Every time there’s a bad deal people always reference the Herschel Walker trade, as if the Vikings dealt all those players and draft picks for a bunch of doorknobs. Herschel Walker was a great player, one reason the Vikings mortgaged the future for him. But, yeah, I do think it’s tainted his reputation, so that people only think of Herschel as the guy who never should have commanded the price that the Vikings paid.

  2. bachslunch
    June 7, 2016
    Reply

    Agreed, Herschel Walker has a HoF case at some level. He spent prime years of his career in the USFL, — and even taking just his NFL stats into account, he was a strong player who amassed a load of all-purpose yards with a significant portion of them gained via rushing and receiving. He’s somewhat like Timmy Brown or Jon Arnett in that regard, though arguably better. And one can argue that HoF voters take AAFL and AFL stats into account in HoF cases, so the USFL stats might at least get some consideration. Though I’m not keen to entertain thoughts of including CFL play in cases where it might apply (in case anyone makes that argument) as the leagues are more distinct and the CFL has its own HoF.

    • June 7, 2016
      Reply

      Point is, he deserves to be considered. Staggering numbers when you put them together.

  3. Frank Summers
    June 7, 2016
    Reply

    Definaely does not belong in HOF. Biggest achievement was being over paid for in a trade.

    • June 7, 2016
      Reply

      Maybe he doesn’t belong, Frank. But I’d like to see his case argued in front of the board.

    • Geo
      June 9, 2016
      Reply

      Yes but even so how many backs currently in the HOF have ever been traded for that many players? None were good as him.

  4. June 7, 2016
    Reply

    Can you provide a source for the 4,000 yards in 1985 statistic? I have seen this number repeated all over the internet, but I cannot find any evidence to suggest it actually happened. I’m hoping you can help me out.

    • June 7, 2016
      Reply

      Well, we’re two-thirds of the way here with this: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/W/WalkHe00.htm

      • June 7, 2016
        Reply

        PFR doesn’t include his USFL stats, and Walker has never gotten 2/3 of the way to 4,000 yards in any season as a professional as far as I can tell. I honestly think this 4,000 yard figure was presented on Wikipedia and accepted by several websites without verifying its authenticity.

        • June 13, 2016
          Reply

          I did a deep dive and found no evidence to support the 4000 figure. I went ahead and fixed the misleading Wikipedia entry for Herschel Walker.

  5. Geo
    June 7, 2016
    Reply

    I agree it is well deserved to be in the Hof and Herschel should be in it!

  6. Rasputin
    June 9, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks for posting this. He has an unusual case but I think Walker does belong in the HoF. If he had played his entire career in the NFL he’d probably already be in.

  7. Rasputin
    June 9, 2016
    Reply

    Walker might be the most freakishly athletic pro football player of all time. I’m not sure anyone has possessed his combination of power and world class track speed, much less if you add his traits of excellent receiving skills and overall ruggedness. He’s one of the few NFL players I’ve seen whom it seemed could credibly play any position on the field if allowed to try. It wouldn’t shock me if he had excelled on defense. A testament to his unique athleticism is his undefeated foray into MMA at almost 50 years old. At 54 the guy still looks like he could play.

  8. bachslunch
    June 10, 2016
    Reply

    Clark: being traded for a lot of players doesn’t have to hurt someone’s HoF chances, as Ollie Matson was traded for 9 players and Les Richter was traded for 11.

    • June 13, 2016
      Reply

      Except this is somehow held against the guy, and his name is invoked more with horrible trades than it is with greatness.

  9. ProfPoobah
    August 6, 2016
    Reply

    I think that since the Cleveland Browns HOFers who played in the AAFC had their stats considered, and the AFL has its 1960-1965 stats included, that the USFL stats also need to be taken into consideration. I will be the very first to say that I don’t know “how much” credit they should receive, but if you tried to figure out some metric of “how much should they count for?” and that number was virtually anything above 0, then he’s in. He had 1000 all-purpose yards in every NFL season but one (when he only had 950 or so), his Pro Football Reference comparables are nearly all members of the HOF, or at least the “Hall of Very Good” (Dickerson, Allen, Riggins, Gore, George, Taylor, Lewis). He probably will never get in due to the proliferation of offensive stats that began as he was finishing his career, but even late in his career, he passed the “eye test”.

    Quick true story – 1997, Walker’s last season, and me and a couple of buddies are watching Dallas play Jacksonville on TV. I have just finished making a case for Walker as a HOF candidate, to much derision. Less than a minute later, Walker catches a pass from Troy Aikman and takes it to the house. My memory tells me it’s about 350 yards (not that I’m biased…), the internet tells me 64 yards, but whatever. I look at my buddies with a manure-consuming smile, and they concede that there is a place for Walker in the argument. Maybe that argument will best happen as a Senior candidate.

  10. September 6, 2016
    Reply

    25,000 career yards as a pro. Who has more?

    • September 8, 2016
      Reply

      Who has more professional yards than Herschel? NO ONE. Walker gained more than the NFL leader, Jerry Rice.

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