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A LOOK AT TWO OF SUNDAY'S RAIDER, RAM OPPONENTS : TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE : At This Rate, Herschel Walker Could Become NFL's Steve Garvey

November 08, 1986|BOB OATES | Times Staff Writer

On a pleasant, fall afternoon in Dallas last month, as the Cowboys worked on their pass offense, it was a simple matter to spot Herschel Walker.

He was the one wearing gloves.

Gloves in October? Is this guy some kind of hypochondriac?

You can be sure he isn't. His explanation was that of a man whose job is the biggest part of his life.

"It's harder to catch passes with gloves on," Walker said. "So I do it to improve my concentration."

Finding his place in the backfield, Walker went out for a bomb from backup quarterback Reggie Collier, then came back and said: "Besides, we may be playing in cold weather later on, and the experience now will help me then. I want to be ready."

For Herschel Walker, getting ready--being ready--has been the story of his life.

Forget his talent. Forget the impact he has made on college and pro football. Forget his exploding career.

He's gifted, true, but the gift isn't all that rare.

What is rare is the way Walker has maximized his talent. Probably no other athlete outworks him. He is what he is because he is always prepared, always ready to make an impact.

That was even true on his first day with the Cowboys last summer.

His contract hadn't yet been signed when Walker met the Dallas press for the first time. Casually dressed, muscles bulging, he was asked how much he expected to get from the Cowboys after playing for $1.3 million last year in the United States Football League.

"From the Cowboys," he said softly, "I'd love to get a Super Bowl ring."

In the end, he agreed to a pay cut, not that you or I could tell the difference. He settled with the Cowboys for $1 million a year--for five years.

And it's all guaranteed.

Because he got himself ready for the pros as a college junior; because he dropped out of Georgia at just the right time; because he has built himself into a rock-hard sprinter with the strength of an ox--a very fast ox--and because he has always squirreled away his nickels, Walker is already an extremely rich man.

At 24, he is quite possibly aiming for Forbes magazine's 400. A former criminal justice major, he has since switched to business at Georgia, where he still is a student in the off-season.

"Herschel's net worth today stands at several million dollars," his adviser, Peter Johnson, said. "He isn't even using any of the Cowboys' ($1 million) to live on this year. He's still being paid by the New Jersey Generals. Herschel's (1986) income is over $2 million, and it will only get larger next year from endorsements and investments."

Johnson is a vice president of the International Management Group, Mark McCormack's Cleveland company.

"They have my wife and me on an allowance," Walker said. "Then they call and ask me about different investments."

International Management gets a lot of his money to play with. Although, theoretically, the U.S. government could tap into Walker's Cowboy income for about $500,000 this year, Johnson said that much of the gross has been deferred until 1988, when millionaires like his client will get the tax break they figure they deserve.

Starting in 1988, about $720,000 of Walker's $1-million Cowboy salary will be federally tax free.

In the meantime, he is building his estate gradually.

"Herschel is very conservative, very careful with his money," Johnson said. "He only approves sure things."

Over the years, many other athletes have blown large salaries on get-rich-quick investments. By contrast, the day Walker had something to save, he was ready to save. Carefully.

More surprisingly, he has managed to make himself entirely ready for the pressures of metropolitan centers like New York and Dallas, even though his background is Wrightsville, Ga. His father, having brought up three girls and four boys, is still a foreman there in a chalk mine.

"I've never known a more unpretentious, a more unaffected star than Herschel," Johnson said.

Said Cowboy equipment manager Buck Buchanan: "Herschel is the most mature 24-year-old I've seen. And he's the nicest guy in town. He doesn't complain about anything--and nobody's ever heard a cuss word out of him."

On his day off this week, with a game against the Raiders coming up at Texas Stadium Sunday, Walker was the toast of an elementary school in Plano, Tex., which had invited him over to make a case against drugs.

Most of the other Cowboys were loafing, and Walker, no doubt, would rather have been studying a playbook somewhere, but he bowed to a higher priority.

"You can't wait for junior high to talk about drugs today," he had said earlier. "You've got to get them in grade school."

Then, holding 500 third- and fourth-graders in the palm of his hand, he talked to them like a father.

"I've never taken a foreign substance into my body," Walker told them. "Not once, not even a beer."

You're a Texas fourth-grader, you hear that from Herschel Walker, are you going to think about it?

Is there a cow in Texas?

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