Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In college football, he played running back for the University of Georgia, where he was an All-American and won the 1982 Heisman Trophy. In the formation of USFL, he saw an opportunity to do something then forbidden by NFL rules, namely turn professional after the end of his junior season rather than waiting for his collegiate class to graduate (four years after the high school graduation of his peer group). He also sought to choose where he would play professionally, as he felt he could make considerable money from product endorsements, being quoted on one occasion as saying: "I don't know if I would want to play in the NFL unless it was for the two New York teams or the Dallas Cowboys" (as it turned out, however, Walker landed only one major advertising role, in a joint promotion by McDonald's and athletic-shoe manufacturer adidas; in the ad, Walker's line was, "First the Big Mac meal — then the adidas deal," referring to discount coupons on adidas merchandise that could be obtained by purchasing a Big Mac at McDonald's).
With these considerations in mind, Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals (who, like the NFL's New York Giants, played their home games at the Meadowlands Sports Complex) in 1983, owned by flamboyant real estate enterpreneur Donald Trump. Although this move was challenged in court, Walker (and Trump) prevailed and Walker began play with the Generals, winning the USFL rushing title in both 1983 and 1985 and in the latter year also gaining over 2,000 yards.
The NFL's Cowboys suspected that the USFL was not going to last. They acquired Walker's NFL rights by selecting him in the fifth round of the 1985 draft. When the USFL in fact succumbed after its essentially unsuccessful antitrust suit against the NFL in 1986, Walker went to play for the Cowboys, but was notably less successful than in college or with the Generals. The Cowboys eventually traded his rights to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for the rights to a total of five players. This was judged to be one of the seminal events in the return of the Cowboys to the top echelon of the NFL.
Walker did quite well by most standards for several seasons with the Vikings before his rights were later acquired by the Philadelphia Eagles, and, subsequently, the New York Giants. Eventually and ironically, he was acquired by the Cowboys again. In this second tour with the Cowboys, he was used as a flanker and other offensive postions, not exclusively at running back.
If Walker's USFL and NFL numbers are combined, he ranks as one of the most productive professional football runners in history. Many are reluctant to do this, however, because of the disagreement as to whether the level of play of the USFL was in any way comparable to that of the NFL. Most football experts rank Walker's professional career as something of a dissapontment. This must be due to the high, perhaps unrealistic expectations that were placed upon him due to his college career and the scrutiny which was entailed by so much being traded for him by the Vikings. Some observers, however, claim that Walker was at least in part a victim of the package of rules changes the NFL had adopted in the spring of 1978, which were widely assumed to discourage offenses from running (rather than passing) most of the time; in addition, the NFL teams on which Walker played seldom used the I-formation, out of which Walker ran so successfully at Georgia.
Walker was a highly popular and visible personality, even in his college days, as evidenced by the fact that both a thoroughbred and a standardbred race horse were named after him, the former while he was still in college; the thoroughbred, whose name was officially spelled as a single word — "Herschelwalker" — broke the track record for 5 furlongs at Belmont Park in his first start, then lost narrowly to Conquistador Cielo in a stakes race run at Saratoga in 1981 (the following year Conquistador Cielo would win the Belmont Stakes by 14 lengths and be named the champion 3-year-old colt of 1982). Since his retirement he has attracted little publicity, although he did make a guest appearance on The Hour of Power, hosted by noted televangelist Robert Schuller.
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