Hershel Walker's chest is so big, it reaches the tape seconds before the rest of him.
Walker, who is better known for having rushed for more than 1,600 yards last season at the University of Georgia, rushed for 60 yards in 6.29 seconds in the 74th annual Millrose games Friday night. The time put him sixth and last in the finals to the 60-yard dash, .14 behind winner Stanley Floyd of the University of Houston.
But at 5 feet 10, 162 pounds, Floyd, the No. 1-ranked sprinter in the country, was overshadowed by the 6-2, 220 pound Walker in more ways than one. "Walker is a good sprinter," Floyd said. "But I was kind of surprised. In Philadelphia, he ran a 6.35 and here he came down to 6.25 (in his heat). If he drops another 10th of a second, he's going to be at the line with us."
Which is where Walker intends to be. He intends to skip spring football and concentrate on the outdoor track season, and the 100- and 200-meter dashes. How good could he be if he concentrated only on track? "Probably one of the best in the world," Walker said.
The Sugar Bowl was sweet, but track is Walker's first love. "More people come to football games," he said. "But I love track more. I love to compete on a one-on-one basis," where, he says, "there's no guys in front of me," and the only blocks are the starting or the mental ones. "If I make a mistake, it's my mistake, it's my fault.
"Right now, I'm just working to get better," Walker said. "Maybe in the '84 Olympics, I'll get a chance to compete."
Would he give up football for a couple of seasons to make the Olympics? he was asked. "If I had to, I would," he said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
The Millrose was Walker's third indoor meet and the second time he qualified for the finals. The promoters, never oblivious to a good draw, gave Walker a choice lane -- third -- in his heat, which pitted him against three-time defending champion Houston McTear. But McTear, who had the flu, finished fourth in the heat (6.30) and failed to qualify for the finals.
Asked what he thought of the football player who had beaten him in the heat, McTear said, "Excuse me, I think I'm going to be sick," and excused himself.
Two weeks ago in Philadelphia, Walker made the finals. Last week in Dallas he ran a 6.28, his best time to date, but failed to make the finals. Friday night he set a personal best with a 6.25 in the heat before finishing last in the finals. "I was satisfied," Walker said. "It went pretty good."
But Walker, who is accustomed to exploding off the ball, says, "I'm still slow out of the blocks. That's what I have to work for now."
There is, of course, an irony about all this.Walker who could command megabucks in the NFL right now, shucks it all for the boards. It would probably require legal action for him to play in the NFL before his class graduates, and he says, "I don't want to be the one."
Track athletes, who are accustomed to finding security in the form of $100 bills illicitly placed in their sneakers after a race, shake their heads in wonder. "There is no future in track," Floyd said. "I might have to take up football to get some recognition. I think I'd be quicker than average."
Walker agreed: "If you gave him the ball, he'd sure be tough to tackle."
Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah, who won the 60-yard high hurdles in 6.98, was a quarterback at Scotch Plains High School in New Jersey and may have a shot at making the transition into a lucrative sport: football. "I'd always be interested," he said. "It's my first love. But the interest would have to develop first and come to me. I think I could fill the shoes to play the part. I'm always available. And for me to venture into that would be very lucrative."
Alberto Salazar, who broke the American record in the 5,000 meters Friday night while finishing second to Suleiman Nyambui, who broke the world record in the event (13:20.3), takes a different approach to marketing himself.
Salazar, a business major, said, "Ever since I've been in college I knew that being a business major was a good idea. Bill Rodgers is in it for the shoe stores. By the time he became great, he never had time to prepare for it. I always knew that running would open a lot of doors."
In addition to Salazar's and Nyambui's records, Don Paige set a world record in the 1,000-meter run in 2:04.9; Eamonn Coghlan won his fourth consecutive Wanamaker Mile in 3:53, third fastest indoor mile ever; Joni Huntley beat Sara Simeoni, Olympic gold medalist, with an American indoor record of 6-4 3/4, and John Marshall, 17, of Plainfield, N.J., set a national high school record of 1:50.7 in the 800.
Asked what he thought of Walker's performance, Salizar cocked his head and said, "Who? . . . oh, you mean the football player."