Even as we speak, the NCAA bloodhounds should be yelping in Herschel Walker's yard.
If they sniffed out evidence confirming a Boston Globe story, both college and pro football would be changed dramatically next season.
Walker couldn't play at Georgia, and the NFL likely would break its rules to keep him out of the USFL. From Peachtree Street to Park Avenue, there would be a civil war with the air made smoky by blue language and with rich guys stuffing their cannon full of thousand-dollar bills.
Don't you just love it?
According to the Globe, Walker signed a three-year, $5 million contract with the New Jersey Generals of the new United States Football League--and then backed out to play his senior season at the University of Georgia.
Walker denies signing anything. The Heisman Trophy winner says the New Jersey owner, J. Walter Duncan, came to Athens to meet him. Numbers were bandied about, such as $16.5 million and $15 million, according to newspapers in Chicago and Atlanta.
Walker insists "no offer" was made. We could debate semantics here, as to whether it's an offer when a man pats his wallet and says, "Herschel, there's $16.5 million in here." It's possible, as world peace is possible, that the Generals marched into Georgia just to say hi to Herschel and never once put a pencil to it to see if they could afford $16.5 million for football's best running back.
Walker also said he signed nothing, though the Globe said he signed a contract with a 24-hour grace period in which he could change his mind. After two hours, the Globe said, Walker decided to stay in school.
His lawyer, Jack Manton, said a curious thing about the did-he-sign or didn't-he episode: while the lawyer never saw Walker sign anything, he was "out of the room" for a while, leaving his client with the Generals' people.
One is loath to suggest such a thing, for all lawyers are saints, but Manton's play-by-play seems a neat alibi against the day when someone turns up with a contract bearing Walker's signature.
The NCAA also has a curious attitude about this case. A spokesman told Mark Asher of The Post that the NCAA will wait to hear from Georgia. It likely will send Walker a letter asking if he broke any rules. If Walker says he didn't, the NCAA will say okay.
This is the NCAA that nails people for heinous crimes such as giving away T-shirts. But it won't investigate to see if Herschel Walker is negotiating a $16.5 million contract. Could be (oh, such terrible thoughts today) that the NCAA would rather not know if its most famous ball-carrier might be ineligible.
Such ineligibility would set off the kind of war that raged in the early 1960s when the NFL was challenged by the new American Football League.
Joe Namath's humongous contract in 1965 (don't laugh: $400,000 for three years) showed the AFL would compete for top players. Soon the AFL commissioner, Al Davis, brought the NFL to peace talks by signing the NFL's best quarterbacks. Merger followed.
The USFL originally said it wouldn't compete for established stars or the big names out of college. The lie was put to that quickly. The USFL has signed six collegians who likely would have been NFL first-round picks.
Now the USFL, it turns out, was (is?) after the biggest name of all. What Namath did for the AFL, Walker would do for the USFL. Instant credibility and boffo box office. There's another thing, too.
The NFL slyly has mounted an anti-USFL campaign suggesting that any player going there is not the winner type we want. The implication is that USFL players are wimps looking for the easy route, and one probably answers if you sneak up behind him and say, "Oh, Tootsie."
I want to be there when someone suggests that Herschel Walker wears a skirt.
If the Generals accomplished nothing else, they made clear the USFL's intent. Maybe we can't believe the $16.5 million figure. The point is, the Generals care enough to want the very best.
For Walker, the meeting is doubly profitable. He turned down a multi-million dollar possibility. But by simply talking, he has laid the groundwork for a bidding war between the NFL and USFL.
That war will begin next year--or now if the NCAA discovers he negotiated a contract, whether or not he signed it. A college athlete can talk money with pro teams without losing eligibility; but only to ask his market value. If he negotiates, or agrees to a contract, he is ineligible.
If Walker were ineligible, the USFL would rush to him. And the NFL likely would be forced, by Walker's awesome talent, to break its own rule against talking to undergraduates. The NFL could not lose Walker without a fight.
The NFL's no-undergraduates rule, supported by Commissioner Pete Rozelle, is a peace agreement good for both sides.
The need for the rule was apparent in 1959, when the new AFL was born.
Billy Cannon of LSU, the Heisman Trophy winner, signed a contract with the NFL's Rams a month before the Sugar Bowl.
The Rams' eager young general manager told the player not to worry, he wouldn't put a date on the contract until after the game.
But when the game ended, Cannon stood under the goalposts and signed another contract--with the AFL's Houston Oilers.
All this came out in court later. The Oilers won Cannon, and the judge castigated the Rams' eager young general manager who tried to circumvent rules.
The general manager's name was Pete Rozelle.