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Will AD trade transform Pelicans like Herschel's propelled Cowboys?

by J.W. Miller on 06/17/19

Since Pelicans hoops honcho David Griffin traded Anthony Davis to the Lakers for players, draft picks and a small island off Catalina, pundits have suggested the deal might have the impact of the “Herschel Walker trade” that helped build the Dallas Cowboys’ 1990’s dynasty. It’s ironic that most of today’s electro pundits who mention the Walker trade have no idea of the details or even who Herschel Walker was. So, as another contribution of substance that keeps our readers informed to the uppermost in the sporting pantheon, I hereby provide a retrospective of the Herschel Walker trade, in which you can find your own parallels with the Pelicans and Lakers. 

First, the background: it was October, 1989 and oil man Jerry Jones had just bought the Dallas Cowboys. Jones did not buy “America’s team” that between 1970 and 1978 had played in five Super Bowls and won two of them. Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett and Randy White were gone, and the team he bought had only won seven games the previous two years and started out 0-5 in 1989. Something had to be done and fast. Jones had hired Jimmy Johnson as head coach and the two determined their quickest way to success was to identify their most valuable asset and trade him for players who could help the team from top to bottom. 

RB Herschel Walker was clearly that man, having led the team in rushing the previous two years and just coming off a season in which he had rushed for 1,514 yards. When the Cowboys announced that Walker was on the block, the Browns immediately jumped in with an offer of a player, two No. 1 draft picks and three No. 2 draft picks. It was a good offer, but Jones believed he could get more, so he had Johnson place a call to Minnesota GM Mike Lynn, telling him the Cowboys were set to trade Walker to the Browns by sundown unless they received a better offer. 

Lynn’s team was defending champion of the NFC Central Division in 1988 with a 10-6 record, and started out the 1989 year at 3-2 which gave Lynn doubts it could make a Super Bowl run. Lynn was on the hot seat, overseeing a franchise that had been mediocre since he replaced Jim Finks as GM a decade earlier. Maybe Walker was the missing link to push the Vikings over the top and cement Lynn's own legacy. So Lynn came up with a blockbuster package. It eventually included four starters - LB’s Jesse Solomon and David Howard, CB Issiac Holt and DE Alex Stewart - plus Minnesota’s No. 1 and No. 2 picks in 1990, 1991 and 1992; a No. 6 pick in 1990 and a No. 3 pick in 1992. 

At the time, Jimmy Johnson gleefully called the deal “the Great Train Robbery of the NFL.” Ironically, Johnson cared less about the starters than about what he could get for the trove of draft choices, Through solid evaluations and parlaying choices into upgrades, he correctly turned the Minnesota picks into such stalwarts as RB Emmitt Smith, DT Russell Maryland, RB Alonzo Highsmith, DB Darren Woodson, DB Stan Smagala and CB Kevin Smith. 

In retrospect, that trade could almost be looked at today as trading Herschel Walker for Emmitt Smith, half a defense plus waterfront property on Lake Minnetonka. The trade became a curse for the Vikings, who were eliminated in the 1989 Divisional playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl champion 49ers. The Vikings never made it back to the playoffs during Walker's years there and never made another Super Bowl appearance. Their last was Jim Finks’ last team that lost to Oakland in Super Bowl XI. Walker would play only two more seasons with the Vikings.

So what does all this mean for the Pelicans? If you listen to the loquacious Lavar Ball, father of new Pels point guard Lonzo, the Lakers “ain’t never gonna win the NBA championship” with Anthony Davis and Lebron James. The local hope, however, is focused on the cheerful receivers and the hope that our local heroes use the Lakers largesse as wisely as the Cowboys used the Vikings'. In the six years following the Walker trade, the Cowboys forged a 67-29 record, won three Super Bowls and became the gold standard for NFL success. 

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