Herschel Walker, the 225-pound sprinter who has been turned into a jogger by the Minnesota Vikings, continues to be the most misunderstood football player of our time.
The charge that Walker lacks courage was brought into the open on national television Sunday by NBC announcer O.J. Simpson.
It is a preposterous charge. The truth is that Walker has all the courage that Simpson ever showed in his NFL career. And to allege otherwise is to slander a veteran athlete irresponsibly.
Walker's problem is his style, or lack of style, as a ballcarrier.
He could be an asset to any coach who knows how to use Walker's assets: his great speed and his aptitude for catching the ball. But as a conventional running back--on slashes or sweeps or when cutting in a broken field--he never has been more than ordinary.
Except for his extraordinary speed and sure hands, Walker, to give him the best of it, was no better than mediocre on conventional offensive plays at Georgia, or at Dallas, or in the USFL or anywhere else he has played football.
Always faster than any defensive player on the field, he has often gained a lot of yards, although, to this day, he doesn't know how to cut, change pace, hit a hole or attack a defensive player.
In short, he isn't an instinctive football player. Thus, when confronted by a defender dead ahead, Walker doesn't know what to do. And his indecision in head-to-head confrontations makes him \o7 appear \f7 to be flying a white flag.
The appearance is a lie. Nobody catches passes in a crowd more courageously than Walker. And no ballcarrier has ever carried more tacklers on his back, play after play, while struggling on.
Virtually defenseless because of his style, Walker has probably taken more shots than any other active NFL player and has always come back for more.
Simpson, one of the best running backs of all time, should know all that. His assault on Walker was shocking and embarrassing.
A continuing NFL irony is the Washington Redskins' inability to run the ball for significant yardage with one of the best-designed ground attacks in the game.
The blockers in the Redskins' one-back offense often push the defense two or three yards off the line--giving their runners two or three free yards at a time--but the Redskins haven't had a consistently productive ground gainer since John Riggins retired in 1985.
Walker is the kind of athlete who would operate deftly in the Redskin system, which Coach Joe Gibbs has used to win two Super Bowls. Empowered to hit the hole at top speed, Walker would have five yards instantly. And occasionally he would pop it and take off.
Gibbs' offense is entirely different from Minnesota's. Based on trap blocking, the Viking system handicaps rather than assists Walker.
First, he doesn't read traps instinctively. Second, his speed is wasted while he waits for the slow-developing Viking offense to uncoil.
Used properly, Walker would be a potent, productive running back in the NFL. He has the speed to be a big ground gainer for the Redskins, Rams and others. His abilities are not only squandered in Minneapolis, he must also endure insults.
Mike Singletary, the Chicago Bears' all-pro linebacker, was saying the other day that in pro football, turnovers are overrated.
That will not sit well with the coaches who blame losses on fumbles and interceptions instead of, for example, on coaching mistakes, but it's a view that Singletary has held since his days at Baylor.
The Bears, who have started 5-1 this fall, finished 6-10 last season under the same coach, Mike Ditka, because "we got away from the basics," Singletary told Chicago Tribune writer Bob Sakamoto.
"I got in an argument with four or five of the guys on defense last year," Singletary said. "They said it wasn't important to be ranked No. 1 on defense if we still kept getting turnovers.
"Even Coach Ditka said as long as we kept getting turnovers, it was OK.
"That's not the way you play defense. Turnovers are a byproduct of good defense. Once you rely on turnovers to win games and don't get them, you're in bad shape.
"We had guys going for the ball and not the body (last year). Hey, just be the No. 1 defense, and the turnovers will take care of themselves."
Last August, AFC West coaches ranked the Raiders and San Diego Chargers about even with the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks in one of pro football's strongest divisions.
Everything depended, the coaches said, on whether there would be an improvement in any of the division's four shaky quarterback situations. If not, they said, the AFC West's only established quarterback, John Elway of Denver, could be expected to maintain the Broncos' edge.
After the first seven of the season's 17 weeks, it seems clear that there has been a conspicuous improvement at quarterback in only one of the division's five cities, Los Angeles. And it follows that the Raiders are out in front in large part because of Jay Schroeder.