It was 25 years ago today that the Cowboys traded superstar running back Herschel Walker to the Vikings for a mess of players and picks, a number of whom would be crucial pieces in Dallas's '90s dynasty. It's gone down as one of football's shrewdest trades, and a quarter-century on, Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones are still slapfighting over whose idea it was.
The standard version of the story—and the one anyone not named Jerry Jones tells—is that it was Johnson's grand plan. Though Walker was damn good, the Cowboys were 0-5, and Johnson—a rookie head coach—believed a full rebuild was necessary. On Oct. 10, he revealed his idea to his coaches during a regular lunchtime jog. Only later that day did he tell his owner. Jones's reaction?
"When I told Jerry that we were gonna trade Herschel Walker he was kind of astonished. He said, 'Really? You can't get rid of Herschel Walker. We won't score a point if we don't have Herschel Walker!'"
These days, Jones disputes this turn of events. Though to be fair, Jones disputes just about everything Johnson says. The two were at each other's throats in the early '90s (Jones says Johnson was "backbiting, undermining and whispering" to the media about him, at one point telling them that "my girlfriend knows more about football" than Jones), and their relationship has only gone south since.
On Friday, Jones offered a different version of how the Walker trade went down. This one featured a lot more collaboration:
"I was visiting about trading Herschel Walker weeks before we ever started directly talking about it," Jones said on his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM. "So anybody that has any thinking that it was their unique idea…. There were a lot of different ways, a lot of ways of thinking coming up with did Herschel, was Herschel? Was he the future? What direction were we going to go? Those kinds of things. The reason I'm saying this is you mentioned Jimmy. We didn't have any of this B.S. at that time. Both of us felt so lucky to get up in the morning and be here. We were hemming and hawing and working together, not worrying about who was doing what. I'll tell you this: We had our sleeves rolled up, and we were working, doing everything we could to help build this team."
Whatever else is in dispute, the Walker trade did not immediately pay dividends; nor was it ever supposed to. The Cowboys released or traded four of the five players they received from Minnesota, and therein was the genius: each of those players had conditional draft picks attached to them.
Those picks would turn into the likes of Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, Russell Maryland, and Kevin Smith, some of the key pieces of the Cowboys teams that won three Super Bowls in four years. (It was the final one, without Jimmy Johnson, that Jerry Jones has always claimed as the most meaningful to him.) If Jones and Johnson are going to fight over credit for the Cowboys dynasty, they should probably focus on the successful drafting as much as the collecting of picks.
If you're to read one thing about the Herschel Walker trade this week, I'd recommend Steve Wulf's piece for ESPN. It provides a full (Jimmy Johnson-approved) retelling of that fateful lunchtime jog, but more importantly, it gives shrift to all the work left to be done after pulling the trigger.