It’s been 30 years since the Cowboys traded Herschel Walker, set up dynasty

Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings

Saturday marks 30 years since the Cowboys traded Herschel Walker to the Vikings, and set a foundation for what would become a dynasty.

On Oct. 12, 1989, the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys were in far different places. The Vikings were 3-2, and looking to get over the hump into the upper tier of a pretty loaded NFC. The Cowboys, under first-year head coach Jimmy Johnson, were in the midst of what would be a 1-15 season. The Vikings felt they needed an upgrade at running back, and Herschel Walker became that coveted piece.

Walker had rushed for over 1,500 yards for Dallas in 1988, as they moved on from Tony Dorsett and had a new lead back. Johnson, as the de facto general manager who had come from a successful run at the University of Miami, surely didn’t see a 27-year old Walker as a foundation piece of the next great Cowboys’ teams.

It would become a three-way deal, with the San Diego Chargers involved when Vikings’ running back Darrin Nelson wouldn’t report to the Cowboys, involving 18 players and draft picks.

Of course, Minnesota got Walker. Dallas acquired four players (linebacker Jessie Solomon and cornerback Isiaac Holt may be memorable names to older Vikings’ fans), along with eight draft picks from the Vikings.

Minnesota’s first, second and sixth round picks in 1990 went to Dallas, with their first-round and second-round picks in 1991 as well as their first, second and third-round picks in 1992 going to the Cowboys on the condition they cut or traded away the aforementioned five players. Looking back at the trade, Johnson has said he didn’t want the players, he wanted the draft picks. Mission accomplished.

Those draft picks, via direct picks or subsequent moves up with the Vikings’ picks as currency, most notably yielded Dallas Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Alonzo Highsmith, Kevin Smith and Darren Woodson.

The Vikings received four draft picks along with Walker (three from the Cowboys, one from the Chargers). The best player to come out of that haul was wide receiver Jake Reed.

Walker went on to play 42 games for the Vikings over the next two-plus seasons, with 2,264 rushing yards (4.1 yards per carry) and 20 touchdowns. Minnesota made the playoffs once with him on the roster, in 1989.

A sign of the disappointment that was to come came in Walker’s first game as a Viking. Against the rival Packers at home, he was breaking away for what looked sure to be a long touchdown run but lost a shoe and was pretty quickly tackled. NFL.com’s video has a kinder description, saying Walker “ran out of his shoe” as if it were a physical feat to be marveled at. But as we Vikings’ fans that remember watching the play know, it was a buzz kill and a bit of foreshadowing.

The Cowboys would of course go on to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span from the 1992-1995 seasons. The Vikings have not yet reached another Super Bowl, with NFC Championship Game disappointments roughly every decade over the last 30 years.

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There are plenty of bad trades made in sports. The Herschel Walker trade lives atop the list though, as it set up a dynasty in Dallas while gutting the Vikings of their first and second round picks in each of the following three years. Three decades later, the mere mention of Walker in Minnesota still inspires winces and head shakes.

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