Saturday, October 10, 2009

Happy birthday (and anniversary)

Happy 40th, you old coot.

Meanwhile, 20 years ago, while the Brett Favre in that picture (or thereabouts) was celebrating his 20th birthday, the Minnesota Vikings were, by all appearances, deep in discussions with the Dallas Cowboys regarding a monumental trade that would reverberate through the NFL for years to come.

Yes, it's been nearly 20 years to the day since the infamous Herschel Walker trade. The deal went down on Oct. 12, 1989 and, while it did pave the way for the Cowboy championships of the early '90s and hamstring the Vikings' development for a similar period of time, it did have the positive effect of, for whatever reason, getting me interested in football. The graphic of a bunch of Viking helmets vs. 1 Cowboy helmet on SportsCenter that night somehow grabbed my attention and sticks with me to that day. That Sunday, I watched...well, not my first Vikings game, technically...but it was the first one that I really paid attention to as a fan and tried to understand and enjoy.

Plus, it was against Green Bay. What better way to break into the realm of Viking fandom than to watch the Vikes trounce the Pack 26-14. Interestingly, it was Walker's second straight game against the Packers, having played them as a Cowboy the previous week. With Dallas, Walker ran for just 44 yards 12 carries; with Minnesota, Walker ran for 148 yards on 18 carries, his third-highest single-game total ever and the most he'd ever have as a Viking. It was all downhill from there.

When a team makes a trade for an aging. past-his-prime veteran, we often hear that the reason is not just to add that player's eroding skills to the team but also as a PR move to sell tickets and generate interest. Ken Griffey Jr. didn't do much to boost the Mariners' on-field product in 2008, but he likely evoked a lot of nostalgic thoughts in Seattle. Will Shaquille O'Neal really help Lebron James and the Cavaliers this season on the court or is he just in Cleveland for his charisma and draw at the ticket office? Oh, and then there was that guy the Vikings picked up this year who's starting to look like he might have actually been worth the hassle.

Herschel Walker was 27 when he was traded -- a bit long-in-the-tooth for a running back, but not overly so. The price in players and draft picks was a net +8 for the Cowboys (1 player and 4 picks from the Cowboys vs. 5 players and 8 picks from the Vikings), and, when you look at who the Cowboys selected with those draft picks -- Emmitt Smith, Alvin Harper, and Darren Woodson, most notably -- it could only be termed a disaster for the Vikings (though we did net Jake Reed with one of the picks we got from Dallas). Walker was run out of town just two and a half years later and the entire affair lives on in NFL front-office infamy.

But it did get people talking, and keeps them talking to this day. And it got at least one person interested in the on-field product, even if that product was damaged goods. Maybe it wasn't such a bad deal after all.

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