Walker Gets Along Just Fine Without Football in the Fall
The throne is currently being kept warm by Eric Dickerson, a royal runner.
The man who would be king, though, does not play football on NFL Sundays. Instead, Herschel Walker is busy carrying the ball for Adidas and several other businesses.
No injuries, no contract holdouts. Walker, perhaps the world’s best running back, just refuses to look for a hole in his U.S. Football League contract.
“I can’t say I miss it because I don’t keep up with it,” Walker said of the NFL. “I’m happy to be playing with the Generals. I’m the kind of guy who does what he’s told to do. I was happy playing in the spring and now I’ll be happy in the fall.”
The line of progression should have been natural for Walker. He was the greatest runner in high school football history (3,167 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior at Johnson County High School in Georgia). He moved on to become the best college back of all time, leading a typical Georgia team to a national championship as he set a freshman running record.
In three years he set 11 NCAA records. But that was just it, he did it in three years. And as all the previous members of the royal progression--Jimmy Brown, Gale Sayers and O.J. Simpson to name a few--know, the road to the palace is four years in college (graduation is not essential) before entering the NFL.
Walker took a hard right and a three-year contract at $1.2 million annually in February, 1983 to forgo his senior season at Georgia and join the USFL Generals.
“Right now, I’m four years ahead of myself,” Walker said. “When people think about it they’ll know the salary structure then is nothing like what it is now. I’m in such a great position with pay and feeling comfortable in life. Coming out early gave me a head start.”
But it also meant that his professional talent would not be understood. In his first two USFL seasons, Walker rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a matter of habit. Despite the more than 3,100 combined yards he gained, Walker was criticized for not being super human as he had always been.
So in 1985 Walker became super human. Combining his world-class speed with his awesome power, the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder rushed for a professional single-season record of 2,411 yards. But as Dickerson, whose record he broke, said, it was accomplished in the “minor leagues.”
Walker has said he disagrees with Dickerson’s assessment. However, each time he referred to the USFL it was as “they” not “we.” But he did recently sign a four-year personal service contract with Generals’ owner Donald Trump that begins next year.
The USFL’s life expectancy, shaky to start with, is definitely in critical condition with its switch from the spring to the fall.
The uncertain status of the league led the Dallas Cowboys to make what may turn into the best NFL draft choice of all time--taking Herschel Walker on the fifth round last April.
Since NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle has warned league members about being careful when discussing USFL players under contract while the USFL’s billion dollar lawsuit against the NFL is still on, Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm and vice president-personnel development Gil Brandt remain silent on bringing Walker to Dallas.
“I was very honored to be drafted by Dallas,” the 23-year-old Walker said. “I’m with the Generals, though. My name’s on the contract and my frame of mind is Generals, Generals. I won’t look astray because that’s when you become unhappy with yourself.”
The unhappy people now are football fans who want to see Walker against the best.
“It depends on what type of team he went to,” said Maurice Carthon, who was Walker’s General running mate for three seasons before jumping to the New York Giants. “The Dallas Cowboys wouldn’t draft him on the fifth round if they didn’t think he could help a lot. I think he’d be one of the top backs in the league. I talk to him a lot, but we don’t talk much about the NFL. He doesn’t ask.”
Walker said: “I’m not going to start any controversies that I’m the best running back around. Then again I’m not going to shy away from any competition. I’m the kind of guy that tries my very best, strives to be top in his craft. I want to show people I’m still around, but it’s not the idea of showing other people, but showing yourself.”
Walker will soon return to Georgia to complete the several hours he needs to get his degree in criminal justice. There is business, a new book (Herschel Walker’s Basic Training) and several track meets coming up.
And maybe, just maybe, the king will someday complete the journey he has always seemed destined to in the NFL.