It Happened Then (1986): Herschel Walker Joins Cowboys Amid Fanfare, Controversy

The 1985 Dallas Cowboys were probably the most overachieving squad in franchise history. The team relied heavily on its aging veterans of Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Danny White, and so forth, along with an opportunistic defense. However, the team had not brought in solid talent from the draft in several years.

Enter Herschel Walker, whom the Cowboys had taken in the fifth round of the 1985 draft with an eye toward the future. On August 7, 1986, Walker announced that he would leave the USFL and join the Cowboys.

Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News wrote that by signing the 24-year-old Walker, “the Cowboys’ sixth Super Bowl appearance probably drew one step closer.”

More facetiously, Skip Bayless of the Dallas Times Herald announced:

Trumpets, please. On Monday, Aug. 18, 1986 A.D. (After Dorsett?), Herschel Walker first practiced with the Dallas Cowboys.

Someday, ninth-graders will have to know the date for a U.S. history pop quiz. Question 1: When was the Declaration of Independence signed? 2. When was Pearl Harbor bombed? 3. When did Herschel Walker first practice with America’s Team?

Someday, some ninth-grader will answer that Herschel signed the Declaration at Pearl Harbor.

(I didn’t know who Skip Bayless was then. I would have hated him just as much as I do now).

Dorsett was schedule to make less than $500,000 in 1986. Walker signed a five-year deal worth $5 million. After Dorsett criticized the signing initially, most thought the two would have trouble sharing the same backfield.

Walker gained 2,411 yards in an 18-game schedule with the New Jersey Generals in 1985. However, it took him longer to get going in Dallas. He rushed for only 737 yards (compared with Dorsett’s 748), though Walker added a career-high 12 rushing touchdowns. Walker also led the team with 837 receiving yards.

The clip below shows some great highlights. It’s somehow easy to forget how good this guy was.