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Is Cutler trade next Herschel deal?

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Mike Nadel

Storyteller, wise guy, observer, analyst, husband, dad. One-stop shopping, baby!

The Bald Truth

Jay Cutler Trade: Good or Bad? If only the question were that simple.

Anybody with an IQ between 1 and 1,000 - and I'm in there somewhere - knows it's far too early to try to assess this thing.

Cutler has played nine games for the Bears and is signed through 2013, so he has only just begun dazzling and/or disappointing Bear Country. And the Broncos still aren't finished using the high draft picks they got in the deal.

Besides, if history is any guide, our perception of the trade today is bound to evolve. As a Minneapolis sportswriter when the Vikings got Herschel Walker, I witnessed such changing perceptions firsthand.

The Balder Truth

Last month was the 20-year anniversary of the mega-deal that sent Walker from the Cowboys to the Vikings, and I got a kick out of reading some of the stories recalling the trade.

We know today that then-Cowboys czar Jimmy Johnson hoodwinked Vikings GM Mike Lynn on Oct. 12, 1989. While the Vikings ended up with squat for their investment, Johnson parlayed the eight draft picks he received into a royal bounty: Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Darren Woodson, Kevin Smith and numerous others in the crew that went on to win three Super Bowls in the 1990s.

In the days and weeks following the deal, however, the feeling in the Twin Cities (and in many parts beyond) was that the Vikings were the clear winners.

Having tried but failed to acquire the draft rights to Bo Jackson a few years earlier, Lynn was obsessed to bring in the kind of marquee back he felt would turn the Vikings from good to great. When he shocked football by acquiring the best-known runner in the world - a charismatic guy who had gained 1,514 yards for a 3-13 Dallas team the year before - there was much rejoicing in The Land of 10,000 Lakes But No Super Bowl Champions.

I was Minnesota's AP sports guy back then, and Herschelmania gripped the state like nothing else I saw during my decade there (and, among other things, I saw two World Series winners). The hysteria far eclipsed Cutlermania in Chicago, that's for sure.

Walker's debut, on Oct. 15, drew the largest crowd in Metrodome history. The first time he touched the football, as a kick returner following Green Bay's opening TD drive, he went 51 yards. On his first carry from scrimmage, he burst through a hole as if shot by a catapult. Mark Murphy tried to tackle him early on the play but got only Walker's right shoe, and the big back rumbled 47 yards wearing only his left. It was the kind of unbelievable thing you'd see in a corny sports movie.

Walker finished with 148 yards, averaging 8.2 on his 18 carries, and the Vikings crushed the hated Packers. The crowd went wild from beginning to end.

"Everybody sure thought it was a great trade that day," Lynn said in a recent interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The Vikings were tied with the Bears for first place. "Herschel: The H-Bomb" posters were everywhere. You couldn't walk 10 feet without bumping into some dude (or dudette) in a purple No. 34 jersey.

It was Herschel's town. The rest of us just lived there.

Columnists - and not just those in Minnesota - were writing that the Vikings had fleeced the Cowboys, trading a bunch of unknown quantities (draft picks) and stiffs (the five players who went to Dallas in the deal) for a proven super-duper-star capable of electrifying a franchise and a community.

Sports Illustrated writer Peter King's take in the Oct. 23 issue: "With Walker, all is possible."

It didn't take long for minds to start changing.

Everyone soon came to realize that Walker was good at one thing: gathering speed and running straight ahead. He was as elusive as a locomotive, incapable of slipping through small holes at the line or of making defensive players miss him in the open field.

Walker wore massive shoulder pads and needed cavernous openings. When opponents started overplaying the run, those holes weren't there. Neither were Herschel's yards.

In a 1996 Sports Illustrated story, Cowboys defensive back Everson Walls offered this: "We could see right away Herschel wasn't that fluid or nimble. He couldn't turn the corner on sweeps or swing passes. He couldn't dictate the game the way Tony (Dorsett) did or Emmitt does. He was more like a big brute who could run like hell if he got through a hole. I guess he could just run over guys in college football or the USFL, but this was the NFL."

The Vikings, whose shortcomings at quarterback were at least as significant as those in their backfield, couldn't take advantage of defenses stacked to prevent Walker from running like hell. When Walker got the football, he usually was swallowed up whole.

After his Minnesota debut, Herschel's norm was fewer than 50 yards per game in his 2 1/2 years with the team. The Vikings went 21-23, losing their only playoff game during the time.

Walker didn't leave tacklers in his wake, but he sure left a mess in Vikingland.

Offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker - lambasted for not using Walker properly - was fired and replaced by Tom Moore, who in later years built the Peyton Manning-led Colts offense but back then failed in attempts to make Walker the focal point of the Vikings attack. Burns resigned in disgrace. Lynn was forced out in an ownership battle.

To this day, championships continue to elude the Vikings much more adroitly than Herschel Walker ever eluded defenders.

In his recent interview with the Minneapolis newspaper, Lynn said Walker went from great to godawful practically overnight. "It was like a great horse not having it."

Walker did go on to have several productive if not spectacular seasons as a role player with the Eagles and Giants, mostly catching passes out of the backfield and returning kicks, but he never came close to being a dominant back. Or to winning a title.

Meanwhile, we know what happened to the Cowboys in the years following the trade. After a lull during which they became bad and irrelevant, they re-emerged as America's Team - cocky and annoying and, yes, great.

THE BALDEST TRUTH

Jerry Angelo was right: The Bears did need an upgrade at quarterback. Hell, they've needed an upgrade at QB practically since forever. Cutler has tremendous skills. He may well prove to be their Manning or Roethlisberger or Brady or Rivers or Brees.

Bears Savior J.C. may well prove to be their - watch out, folks, here come those two magic words - franchise quarterback.

Then again, maybe not.

The Vikings didn't run the right kind of offense for Walker. Nor did they surround him with the right kind of support. These days, those words ring true to Bear Country denizens, too. Cutler's receivers, blockers and runners are subpar, and coordinator Ron Turner does him no favors.

Despite Mike Lynn's claims that Herschel simply lost it, I maintain Walker really didn't have much "it" to lose. Cutler? He certainly seems to have all the "it" in the world ... if only he could use it for good instead of evil. And if only the Bears would give him a fighting chance.

If the Bears don't turn things around pronto, Turner will be forced to fall on Lovie Smith's sword. And if Cutler's Bears can't win big in 2010, Smith and Angelo would be next on the chopping block.

By then, we might even know whether the Bears or Broncos won the trade.

Final Word

It was the week of the Walker trade in which Yours Baldly learned I was well on my way to becoming Yours Baldly.

Walker's first big press conference at Vikings HQ was held outside, just off the practice field. I was one of 100-plus media mopes there. The next day, some publication - I can't remember whether it was one of the Twin Cities newspapers or a national magazine - ran a large photo of the throng surrounding Herschel. It was shot from a balcony overlooking the area.

There, in the middle of the scrum, was Mr. AP. And there, in the middle of my medium-cropped Afro, was a rather sizable patch of skin.

It was the first time I had noticed my bald spot. Over the years, that spot would grow and grow and grow until I finally decided to give up the ghost and just shave the whole damn dome.

So thanks, Herschel ... for nothing!

 

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3 Comments

DrewS said:

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It's not like Jerry Angelo would have done anything productive with those high draft picks anyway. I mean, you can never have enough offensive tackles with iffy backs. But still...

doug nicodemus said:

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so you "left you hair in minneapolis"...could you make that into a trade mark song by any chance...

doug nicodemus said:

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should be: left your hair...no wait...there is a song

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXXddP6e2P8

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