Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Herschel Walker: They were all in on it! Worlds are colliding

Most everyone loves a good conspiracy theory.

Here's one, via the estimable Jeff Pearlman and a football fan named Craig Greenwood, that's an absolute lulu. It's possible that this is an elaborate hoax, but Pearlman is also quite busy promoting a book, so it can be safely ruled out -- somewhat.

Not to oversell it, but it's a 27-parter that almost defies skimming over. It involves the late NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, in conjuction with the Double J himself, Jerry Jones and much-reviled former Minnesota Vikings GM Mike Lynn, in a NFL that was very different from today. (All of this was coming after the scab football fiasco in 1987.)

Everyone remembers the Herschel Walker trade in October 1989. It helped the Cowboys with becoming The Team of the '90s. It helped the Vikings with being the Vikings.

Walker proved not to be the Vikings' golden ticket to a Super Bowl title. The Vikings still have not been to the Super Bowl since Jan. 9, 1977, five days after the Sagers of RR 1 Napanee welcomed a bouncing baby boy into the world. Boo hoo, end of story for anyone's who cursed with having a life, or maybe not ...

"Then Rozelle speaks again. 'The Vikings with general manager Mike Lynn and the Cowboys with Jerry Jones right here have already come to terms with a trade that the networks say is favorable enough for what they want.' (Hey for what all I know the networks could have written the terms of this trade.) Rozelle continues, 'Now Mike Lynn has agreed to be the "fall guy" for this trade for other considerations. The considerations are, Mike Lynn becomes president of the new World League of American Football that our league will have running in a few years and the other thing the Viking’s management wants is a Super Bowl played in their stadium in 1992.' "
In a desperate hour, who set her or his mind to "race" and wondered if something was up? One need look no farther than, oh, the last 100 years of popular entertainment to know that people want to believe.

The NFL had slipped as a TV property over the run of the 1980s. There were many factors, but one, according to Greenwood, was the decline of the Dallas Cowboys, the league's most recognizable brand. In 1989, they were well on their way to becoming the first NFL team to lose 14 straight home games (see, Detroit Lions fans, it can get worse). Or as he puts it:

"Since Jerry Jones came into the league a year ago we have

  1. A new commissioner in the league after the old one quit unexpectedly.
  2. A blockbuster trade that comes out in Jerry Jones’ favor that the new commissioner OKs after being in office just a short time.
  3. A strange place to have a Super Bowl that happens to be in the same place as the team that Jones' (team) traded with to get the favourable trade.
  4. A new television contract that pays almost double per year as the one before it when everyone said it would be less."
You know the rest of the story. By the time the implications of The Trade became clear, Mike Lynn had left the Vikings to run the late and lamentable World League of American Football. The Cowboys and the NFL, meaning, W-LAF-fed their way all the way to the bank and three Super Bowl titles.

In the interest of full disclosure, and not to put myself into the story, but in 1989 I was just getting into football. The Philadelphia Eagles seemed like an OK team to follow. Sports Illustrated's NFL preview issue had arrived in the mailbox with a supercool picture of Randall Cunningham ("The Ultimate Weapon"). He and Cris Carter were a pretty dynamic duo, easily understood in a child's eyes.

The following year, Buddy Ryan made his infamous "all he does is catch touchdown passes" pronouncement and cut Carter, who signed with the Vikings. Two years after that Herschel Walker ended up with the Eagles. A few years later, when Randall Cunningham came out of retirement -- and how is he not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? -- he ended up with the, wait for it, Minnesota Vikings ...

You see where this is headed? The conspiracy deepens.

A Herschel Walker conspiracy theorist (JeffPearlman.com)

(Footnote: Someone has to invent a word for the phenomenon of, as a sports fan, finding out about something that predates your experience rooting for the team. Case in point: In early 2004, one of those nights Robert Frost would not have written about if he'd had to experience a Prairie winter, some late-night channel-surfing turned up an rerun of the early Saturday Night Live on Global Winnipeg.

It was not long after this happened. The great Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton was hosting and it soon became apparently that this was from right after the Vikings' fourth Super Bowl loss.

Fran Tarkenton was wearing something no NFL quarterback before 1970 or after 1980 would have been caught dead in -- something like a sweater with a picture of Snoopy on it. He started talking about how the Vikings would not let losing the Super Bowl get them down, how they would be back there next year -- and "we'll probably lose again."

Talk about This Is Your Life moment.

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