Right Kind of Guy
2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
Hackett is ecstatic over the options Herschel gives to an offense that was aging and fading fast. "Tony is still the main man here," he says. "The guy can still accelerate like nobody I've ever seen. But Herschel just gives us a whole new way to attack. The exciting thing to think about is where we'll be a year from now."
"It's not mystical, it's simple physics," says conditioning coach Bob Ward, explaining that when a man of Walker's size travels as fast as he does (4.3 40s are routine for him) and hits somebody, the odds are he will continue moving, gaining yards. He did that in his first NFL game, against the Giants, on a 23-yard screen pass, breaking 7 tackles along the way. "We've had Tony for 10 years and if nothing freaky happens, we'll have Herschel for 8 or 9 more," says Cowboy tight end Doug Cosbie. "It's nice to go along for the ride."
Tony Dorsett eats dinner at a Dallas restaurant and thinks about Herschel Walker. "I worry for him," he says. "He is a great talent, but he isn't as fluid as other runners. He runs kind of up-and-down, and he takes a lot of shots. You can be as strong as you want in this business, but you still better be elusive.
"How long would I last if I ran like that? Ask Wilbert Montgomery. Ask . Larry Brown. Even ask Earl Campbell, a big man. I remember calling Earl one time and saying, 'Why don't you let one man tackle you sometime?' "
Dorsett has zeroed in on the criticism that has dogged Walker from the start: He runs like a mechanical man. Herschel may get yards, but some people just don't like the way he gets them. It's an odd rap that lingers on. Running back coach Al Lavan admits Herschel "needs to let go of some of that analytical, technical stuff and be more instinctive," but then he compares Dorsett to a cheetah and Walker to a lion and says, "Which is better? I guess it depends on how you want to die."
Dorsett thinks for a while, then says, "I wish I could be his coach. To have that many tools. . . . ! I've always wanted to be six-one, 220-230 pounds. It's always been my dream."
He looks dreamy now, as he shoots pool on the billiards table at his house. The home is comfortably decorated, because some of the furnishings were left by the previous owner, including the volumes by James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the bookshelf. Like a hermit crab, Dorsett simply upped and moved himself into someone else's abode, paying that person to leave whatever was there.
He shoots pool bare-chested, apparently for the freedom it gives him, limping as he moves. He is well put together but small-framed, with shoulders unsuited to big loads.
Tony doesn't have religion as a support the way Herschel does. He tries to struggle and finesse his way through a world he has often said is befuddling to a black kid from a poor background. If he and Herschel were Karamazov brothers, Dorsett would be Dmitri, the wild sensualist, while Walker would be Alyosha, the sweet, pure one.
"I'm not like Herschel," says Dorsett. "He's from rural Georgia, and I'm from up North where it's more upbeat and fast-paced. Fishing and stuff like that doesn't interest me. I guess I could see throwing out a rod if somebody would bait it for me. But I don't like touching fish."
Ambivalence and contradiction swirl around Dorsett. He needs people, but he shuns them. ("Marriage was probably the worst mistake I ever made in my life," he has said.) He is suspicious but trusting. (Though he has lost thousands of dollars on bad business deals, he still retains the adviser, Witt Stewart, who, along with Dorsett, was responsible for many of the deals.) Though he sporadically thinks about the future, he has done little to prepare - for it. "I'm not sure what I'll do," he says. "TV maybe. Maybe business opportunities."
One thinks of the financial holdings of multimillionaire Walter Payton, another great runner with years of big paychecks behind him. The deals he gets involved in, Payton says, are all low-risk. "I'm not one to sink a lot of money into one get-rich-quick deal," says Payton. "Because life isn't made that way." And Dorsett, who has sunk so much into such deals, says, "The risk, you gotta do that. I'll always be taking risks."
He ponders his own limitations and the Cowboys' straight-arrow role he has missed. As sportswriter Frank Luksa puts it, "For sure it should have been Tony Dorsett. And for sure, it isn't."
"Because of my physical stature it's not obvious, but my style is aggressive," Dorsett says. "I'm moody and not very passive. On the field I'm elusive, but I'm always going. And you know what? -- I couldn't be what I am on the field if I weren't the way I am off it."
Dorsett picks up a book entitled Chow Chows, and leafs through it. The little dogs in the pictures are fluffy and cute -- certainly not guard animals -- and Dorsett says he has to have a black one. Then he points out a passage that states that until recently in China, the chow was "used as an edible dog."
"I couldn't believe that," he says, looking saddened. It seems clear that Tony's dog, unlike Herschel's, will be primarily a friend, a kind of kindred spirit. Dorsett definitely knows what it's like to have the world take some rather large bites out of you.
Herschel Walker hasn't eaten in more than 24 hours, but he's not particularly hungry. He seldom eats more than one meal, usually a small one, per day. "I used to eat a lot of junk food," he says, trying to explain this habit, "but now, really, I don't eat much at all."
Herschel will eat a fair-sized Chinese meal late tonight, but tomorrow night he will go out with Pat Summerall for dinner, and later Summerall will note, "I didn't see him eat at all."
That is not the only unusual thing about this incredible physical specimen. Herschel hardly ever sleeps. Four to 4 1/2 hours a night, he says, is plenty, and sometimes, as after the St. Louis game, he doesn't sleep at all. "I got home late that night, started watching television, and before I knew it, the sun came up," he says. "So I just went to practice."
His sleep requirements tie in well with his favorite pastime, which is fortunate, because Cindy Walker, who has normal sleeping habits, is unable to keep him company in the wee hours. Sometimes the wakefulness can be a curse. When Herschel hurriedly joined the Cowboys at their preseason training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif., this summer, he had no time to bring a TV set with him. Late at night when everyone else was asleep, he would lie on his bed in his bare room, writing a little poetry. Other times he would study his playbook. Or stare at the walls. It was, for a sleepless video addict, very much like hell.
Walker has less than 1 1/2% body fat on a body that has never lifted weights. It seems that whatever food goes into his mouth gets turned into fiber and sinew. Most marathoners have more body fat than he does. He is, in fact, dangerously muscular, with very little cushioning for the blows of his sport and in constant jeopardy of having a muscle snap from its own force. That is why he stretches rigorously and wears massive, customized shoulder pads.
"Probably his endocrine level is very high," suggests conditioning coach Ward, by way of explaining Walker's unique metabolic rate. "It's possible that for him doing a push-up is like lifting 400 pounds."
And push-ups and sit-ups are the only bodybuilding exercises he does. "I do them during commercials," Walker says. "Or like when The Love Connection comes on, I'll do 500 situps before they're finished with the first date." Of course, believing those exercises alone could build his body is like saying a window washer could build the World Trade Center. Walker says that Cindy told him that someone -- he thinks it was a doctor -- said that his testosterone level is unusually high. But he's not sure about that. "I've had so many tests done on me," he sighs. "I just let the Lord take care of my body."
Walker does not seem as though he would be tough, but he is. Until he had surgery in 1984, he played with a left shoulder that frequently popped out of its socket. Trainers would jam it back in place, and he would return to the game. He had his wisdom teeth pulled without a painkiller, because he didn't see the need for it. And all he does with the Cowboys is study plays, work hard and never complain about a thing.
"We all like Herschel a lot," says Walls, speaking for his teammates. "We like to hear him tell his funny stories about being down in Georgia. There was this one that somebody else was telling about Herschel, about how he was out jogging one day down there -- a true story, in fact -- and how he came upon this lady who had been in an automobile accident and he ripped the door open and saved her. Herschel says that isn't correct, that . . . when he saw the wreck, he picked up the whole car and cracked it like an egg. Then he flew off into the sunset. Seriously, though, we all know how much he helps our team image."
So does management. "He has so many of the characteristics Staubach had," says Brandt. "I don't see how you can build around a better person. Why, just the other day our equipment man came to me and said how unique Herschel was. He packs his own bag, he takes care of everything. Even his locker is like a little old lady keeping her auto -- perfect order."
Dorsett plays in the Redskins game on Oct. 12, even though his knee hasn't healed and his ankle is swollen. He is a tough guy, too, made even tougher by the young athlete breathing down his neck.
He gains only 22 yards on 18 carries, but the Cowboys win, and a great load has been lifted from his soul. Though hobbled, he can still run.
"You don't know what a burden this is off me," he sighs afterward. "I thought (my career) was over."
Walker played tailback when Dorsett came out for breathers, but for most of the game he blocked and faked and ran pass patterns from other positions. He made some great catches, after which he introduced himself to the Washington defense.
"Damn, he creamed me," said cornerback Barry Wilburn, who had tried to tackle Walker on one long gainer but couldn't even knock him down. "My neck knows it. He's murder."
The Dallas fans cheered when Herschel scored each of his two touchdowns, sounding like people who couldn't believe their good fortune. Just a few weeks before, they had booed Dorsett during the pregame introductions, making about the 10th time they had booed this little squirt during a career that will take him straight to Canton and the Hall of Fame.
"After all this time I guess I am somewhat of a Texan," says Dorsett, sensing the irony in his assessment. "I feel a part of Dallas now. I've seen it grow. Despite all that has happened between me and management and the fans, Dallas is my home. Time will go by and they'll forget."
"Herschel Walker is one of the finest individuals I've ever seen," Schramm had said before the game. "He is an amazingly well-behaved young man. | I would bet that he will cause us no problems. He will represent what all of us like to think of as 'Cowboy character.' "
That Herschel is all that good stuff, and perceptive, too, became evident during an interlude on the sideline during the game. Receiver Tony Hill approached Herschel and asked him why he hadn't followed a block that Hill had been preparing to throw for him. Herschel had caught a pass and was racing upfield when he veered to the left, ignoring Hill.
"I went the other way," Herschel explained, confounding the critics, "because Tony was there and I knew he would make the block for me."
And Dorsett did, good Cowboy that he is, clearing the way for the future.