Instead … well, let’s just say their trade with Dallas for running back Herschel Walker did not do that. The Vikings were 3-2 at the time of the trade. Walker dominated his debut, rushing for 148 yards in a victory over Green Bay.
But he cooled off. The Vikings finished the season 10-6 and were demolished in the opening round of the playoffs by San Francisco. They didn’t win another playoff game until 1997 and still haven’t won a Super Bowl. Dallas used the draft picks from the deal to help build a dynasty.
The deal became the subject of countless “worst trades in sports history” lists and of an ESPN 30 for 30 film “The Great Trade Robbery.” Vikings fans still lament it nearly three decades later as part of their lore of heartbreak. They might know in their hearts it wasn’t Walker’s fault — he could have been more productive in Minnesota, sure, but Mike Lynn was the one who made the deal — but his name is inevitably attached to that failure.
There are probably very few people who view the Herschel Walker trade in a benign or even positive light. But one of those people rolled into the Twin Cities on Thursday evening on a motorcycle, wearing fluorescent colored protective clothing to ward off the elements of a crisp early evening in May and looking very much like he could still play even at age 55.
The man was Herschel Walker himself.
“What’s so funny is that I don’t think too much about the trade,” Walker said. “I think what I remember about Minneapolis is how nice people treated me. I tell everyone about Byerlys. I used to go Byerlys a lot and get that wild rice soup. I think I mentioned that in an article once and they sent me a recipe book that had the wild rice soup in it.”
Soup? This trade was so lopsided it has its own Wikipedia page and he remembers soup?
“I’d say the Herschel Walker trade was an experience for me,” he added. “It gave me an opportunity to do a lot of different things. I think it made me a better player and a better person.”
If his comments revealed a disconnect between how he thinks of the trade and how others do, they also revealed a disconnect between how some Minnesotans think of Walker and how they perhaps should think of him.
Sometimes we get so bogged down by history and preconceived notions. What’s true about Walker is that he was a very good NFL running back put into a very tough spot in Minnesota. He rushed for more than 8,000 yards in his NFL career (and nearly 14,000 combined in the NFL and USFL). In parts of three seasons with the Vikings he rushed for 2,264 yards and 4.1 yards per carry.
And so many years later, he remains upbeat and could not possibly be nicer when asked about his time here.
He was in the area as part of NASCAR legend Kyle Petty’s Charity Ride Across America, a motorcycle ride now in its 23rd year that has raised millions of dollars for Victory Junction and its mission to help children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Walker is on the ride for the 12th time, he said — hooked on a ride that he initially thought was “crazy.”
“I met him at a race one time and we were talking about different things. We talked about motorcycles and he said he had three or four motorcycles. I told him to come on out and ride,” Petty said. “So he and his brother-in-law, Bill Richard, who was an all-American track star at the University of Georgia, they came out and rode with us. The next year he brought his cousin and this year I think he has five or six people on the ride. He brought George Rogers. One Heisman Trophy winner brings another Heisman Trophy winner on the ride. You can’t beat that.”
The ride, which started Saturday in Portland, Ore., and is slated to end Friday in Milwaukee, follows a different route every year. Riders were welcomed Thursday by hundreds of supporters — many waving miniature checkered flags or American flags — at Manheim Minneapolis, located in Maple Grove. Walker said it was the first time since he’s been riding that the Twin Cities were one of their stops.
“I know because I was excited that it was coming to Minnesota,” said Walker, who signed several autographs Thursday. “If you read anything I’ve ever said, I think Minnesota is one of the greatest places I’ve ever lived in my life.”
Our conversation drifted to politics, in part because that seems to happen naturally these days and also because Walker has a long connection to President Trump: back in the mid-1980s, Trump owned the USFL’s New Jersey Generals when Walker played there.
Resisting the urge to make a “tough on trade” joke, instead let’s hear from Walker on Trump.
“Donald and I still get along well. We still talk. We’ve been longtime friends since 1983,” Walker said. “Our families get together and we still do business a lot in the food business with him and the kids. Ivanka and little Don and I work together a great deal.”
Walker, 55, has dabbled in politics and supported Trump’s campaign. But we weren’t even talking about any of his own political aspirations until he said this:
“One thing I always say is that if I ever run for president, I hope I can carry the state of Minnesota because the people here were absolutely incredible.”
A lot of facets of that seem unlikely, but I wouldn’t trade the reaction of Minnesota voters for the world.