1989 Review: After an 0-5 Start, the Cowboys Trade Herschel Walker
The Cowboys entered the 1989 season with a few familiar names from the Landry era (Herschel Walker, Too Tall Jones, Everson Walls, Tom Rafferty, Jim Jeffcoat, Eugene Lockhart). The team recorded a 3-1 record during the preseason. And what appeared to be the most important news of all was that Troy Aikman appeared to be the real deal.
The legend built gradually over the summer with the signing of a six-year, $11 million contract, followed by positive if not always rave reviews from Thousand Oaks, Calif., the Cowboys ‘ training camp. But the legend grew last Saturday when a beaten and bloodied Aikman shrugged off Oilers’ blitzes and late hits to lead the Cowboys to a 30-28 last-second victory.
In the wake of that contest in which he threw for 306 yards and took some ferocious hits, it seemed almost silly to Aikman to be talking about the approach of his first “real’ NFL game this Sunday. “If that wasn’t it, I can’t wait to see what a real one is like,’ Aikman said.
But, for record-keeping purposes, the real stuff does, indeed, start Sunday. And for a quarterback who has hit the NFL scene with more fanfare than Roger Staubach received when he returned from Vietnam and the Navy to join the Cowboys in 1969, the eyes of more than Texas will be watching.
That was the good news in 1989, except that the season hadn’t started yet. The ugly reality:
Week 1: New Orleans 28, Dallas 0
Aikman’s first game wasn’t awful on paper: 17 of 35 for 180 yards with 2 ints. Then there was the rushing attack– Walker finished with 10 yards on 8 carries in a game that was over early.
Week 2: Atlanta 27, Dallas 21
Aikman’s first touchdown pass to Michael Irvin came on a 65-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter of the team’s week 2 matchup against the Saints. Walker added two touchdowns to give the team a 21-10 lead. However, Atlanta cut the lead to 21-20 in the third quarter, and a fourth quarter touchdown gave the Falcons the lead. Late in the game, Aikman threw a deep pass to a wide open Kelvin Martin, but when Martin slipped, Scott Case came up with an interception that sealed the win for Atlanta.
Week 3: Washington 30, Dallas 7
The highlight: Jim Jeffcoat recorded a 77-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. Evidence that Aikman was a rookie: 6 of 21 for 83 yards and two picks.
Week 4: N.Y. Giants 30, Dallas 13
Aikman didn’t get any better against the Giants: 1 of 6 for 11 yards before leaving the game with an injury. Steve Walsh performed fairly well in relief but also threw two picks.
Week 5: Green Bay 31, Dallas 13
The hot topic before the Cowboys faced the Packers in week 5 was whether Dallas would trade Walker. As many as five teams were interested, with the Browns and Vikings leading the pack.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys played a good first half against Green Bay but could not stop Don Majkowski, who threw for four touchdowns.
On October 12, 1989, the Cowboys sent Walker and a few draft picks to Minnesota for several mediocre players and a slew of draft picks. For more on this trade, visit Pro Sports Transactions or Scout.com (MC: I previously linked to a Wikipedia entry on the trade, but the summary on that site is inaccurate).
The end result after 1992:
- Jake Reed
- Dallas received–
- Emmitt Smith
- Russell Maryland
- Kevin Smith
- Darren Woodson
- Clayton Holmes
As for the trade’s impact, here is the summary from ESPN’s Page 2:
The Deal: In a deal that involved a whopping six players and 12 draft picks, the Cowboys laid the groundwork for their Super Bowl teams of the 1990s by trading running back Herschel Walker to Minnesota on Oct. 12, 1989. In exchange for Walker, Dallas received five players, six conditional draft choices and a 1992 first-round pick.
The Impact: Two of those draft choices turned out to be running back Emmitt Smith and safety Darren Woodson, key players who helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls in four seasons.
Jimmy Johnson used all those extra draft choices to wheel and deal through the 1990s — the picks eventually involved 15 teams and 55 players as they were combined with other choices and traded around the NFL. One such deal helped the ‘Boys land the No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft, which they used on defensive tackle Russell Maryland.
Walker played just 2½ years in Minnesota and never had a 1,000-yard season for the Vikes. Minnesota felt the running back was the missing piece to its Super Bowl puzzle, but the team never won a playoff game with Walker, and the loss of the draft picks seriously hurt a team that consistently contended.