With the Eagles, Walker may finally be happy

October 06, 1992|By The Hartford Courant

It's a brisk pace Herschel Walker keeps these days. From his locker to the Veterans Stadium playing surface, the equivalent of a 20-yard power sweep, a sentence or two was all he could spare. No time for hype.

"Is this the happiest I've ever been?" Walker repeated the question last week in Philadelphia, sarcasm seeping through his silken Georgia drawl as a wheezing writer tried to keep up.

"Why, don't you think I've always been happy? I have. Things are working out, I don't know about 'finding a home.' I'm just going out and playing."

A brisk pace. Walker, a running back acquired by the Eagles as a free agent in June, runs from and over tacklers. He also runs from questions, and from his recent past.

The Eagles, 3-0 going into their prime-time game with the undefeated Dallas Cowboys last night, are the fourth team in Walker's 10-year pro career of traps and misdirections.

Somehow, it all seems right this time. Walker, 30, has tried to carry teams, a league and all sorts of expectations. In Philadelphia, he only carries the football.

Even in lengthier interviews, Walker keeps things bland and general, refraining from shots at his former employers, the Minnesota Vikings, and low-keying the exhilaration of what he has accomplished for the Eagles -- 280 yards on 76 carries, 40 yards on seven receptions. "What's past is in the past," he says.

No matter. The Eagles have plenty of other players to fill the notebooks. That's one reason Walker signed with the Eagles for $1.1 million after the Vikings waived him in June.

"I am so glad about what Herschel is doing," Eagles defensive end Reggie White said. "Not just because he has helped us, but for Herschel. He took a lot of unfair criticism in Minnesota."

With the Eagles, Walker (6 feet 1, 225 pounds) carries 25 times a game; at Minnesota, he averaged 13.1 carries in 42 games.

"We've done everything we could to tailor our offense toward his strengths," Eagles coach Rich Kotite said. "Herschel is having fun playing football again."

Because of their new running game, the Eagles have dominated in time of possession, with 36 minutes, 42 seconds a game. That means the Eagles defense, which led the NFL in most categories last season, is getting more time to rest and the city is talking Super Bowl.

"With the defense we have here and the way we play," Walker said earlier this season, "you're kind of embarrassed if you don't go out there and do your job."

The Vikings got Walker and four mid-round draft choices (two thirds, a fifth and a 10th) from the Cowboys in October 1989 for five players and five draft picks (two firsts, two seconds and a third). Dallas, in the midst of a 1-15 season, used the picks to build the exciting, young Super Bowl contender it has now. The Cowboys (3-0) are off to their best start since they won seven in a row in 1983.

The deal was a disaster for the Vikings, who miscast Walker and overrated his supporting cast, but fans blamed Walker.

The Vikings, who expected Walker to be their missing piece, had only one wild-card appearance -- a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in 1989 -- to show for the deal.

"You talk to the people on the street," Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said, "and I don't think they ever imagined or realized that a year ago Herschel was one of the leading rushers [825 yards, fifth in the NFC], and he didn't even play full time. So the perception has been different than what his performance has been."

Walker led the NFL in 1990 in combined net yardage (rushing, receiving and kick returns) with 2,051 yards. In 1989, he led the Vikings in rushing with 669 yards while playing in only 11 games after the trade.

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