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Herschel Walker
New Jersey Generals

“Harry came over to me and said, ‘How come you didn’t tell me he was like that?’ I said, ‘You all were taking him for granted. When he wants to bring it, he can,’” Carthon says with a snickering voice. “He’s the only person I ever saw do Harry like that.”

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Herschel Walker - New Jersey Generals

After winning the Heisman Trophy award in 1983, Herschel Walker came out of the University of Georgia as a junior to sign with the USFL's New Jersey Generals.

 

This created a stir in pro and college football because the NFL had a policy not to draft underclassman. But the USFL was looking to beat the NFL to the punch by signing college's best players as soon as they could. 

 

The USFL also held their draft in January -- three months before the NFL. 

 

This proactive approach allowed the spring league to sign three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners -- Walker in '83, Mike Rozier in ’84 and Doug Flutie in ’85.

 

 Walker rushed for more than 5,500 yards and 54 touchdowns in his three years playing for the Generals. 

 

“Herschel Walker was the rarest combination of strength and speed I’ve ever seen in my life,”  Dave Lapham said, who blocked for Walker on the offensive line in the 1984 and 1985 seasons. “He had world-class speed on a 225-pound body. A genetic phenom  -- he was a freak of nature.”

 

Walker led the Generals to the playoffs two times, but New Jersey was stone-walled on both occasions by Jim Mora’s Philadelphia Stars. 

 

The Stars were the USFL’s most dominant team – winning 47 games and two championships in three years; they were loaded with future NFL All-Pro players like linebackers Sam Mills, Mike Johnson, defensive end William Fuller and center Bart Oates.

 

While Walker was making the weekly highlight reel in the USFL, the NFL was surveying the landscape of the spring league in preparation of its demise in 1986. 

 

Several NFL GM’s like Mike Brown, Jim Schaaf and Gary Vainisi were “iffy” towards the talent they would find from the USFL refugees. 

 

Cowboys’ president Tex Schramm, like many of his NFL contemporaries, were lukewarm towards the USFL 20 in ’85, but saw a future  Pro Bowl player in Walker.

 

Schramm selected the former Heisman Trophy winner in the fifth-round of the 1985 draft (more than a year before the USFL folded). 

 

Unique player selection wasn’t something new to Schramm, who also drafted quarterback Roger Staubach in the tenth-round of the 1964 draft. But Staubach didn’t play for the Cowboys until 1969 due to his military commitment. 

 

Schramm sensed the Cowboys were slipping: Dallas missed the playoffs in 1984 and were shutout by the Rams 23-0 in the divisional playoffs in 1985. Schramm felt he needed to pump new life into his aging team. The NFC East rival Redskins were building a dynasty and the surging New York Giants had a ferocious defense led by future Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

 

Schramm saw the shine of the Dallas star dimming before his eyes – it was time to make a bold move – and his name was Herschel Walker.  

In addition to Walker, Schramm brought in offensive lineman Nate Newton from the Tampa Bay Bandits. Newton won three Super Bowls, went to six Pro Bowls and played with the Cowboys until 1998 before running into trouble with the law after his playing days.

 

The Cowboys had a future Hall of Fame running back in Tony Dorsett. But by 1986, Dorsett was a 10-year veteran, who played in 17 postseason games and missed only two games during his NFL career. 

The former University of Pittsburgh back wasn’t too happy with the Cowboys’ decision to sign Walker. 


According to Rick Telander’s Sports Illustrated article from Nov. 17, 1986: “Dorsett went nuts when Walker signed with the Cowboys in August. Walker's contract -- $5 million for five years -- was more than Dorsett's estimated five-year, $4.5 million deal, and Tony couldn't handle that, even though his long-range contract actually is worth a reported $9.65 million. He ripped the Cowboys for pulling ‘a publicity stunt’; he said he would walk out; he demanded to be traded. ‘Tony Dorsett is second to no back on this team,’ he roared.”