In an appearance as dramatic as it was brief, on the balcony outside his girlfriend's apartment, Herschel Walker today said he was "ready to step into another phase of my life."
"There's more to this than meets the eye," Walker told the assembled members of the media, without amplification. "That's all I'm going to say about it now. I've made my decision and I'm ready to go on with my life. I may have made some bad judgments in the past, but enough has been said."
Walker said he would go home to Wrightsville, Ga., Friday before reporting to the training camp of the U.S. Football League New Jersey Generals Saturday. Walker passed up his final year of eligibility at the University of Georgia to sign with the Generals, for a reported $5 million for three years.
"Everything happened so fast," Walker said. "I've been down a little, but I'll be okay as soon as I get out of this atmosphere. It's kind of gloomy."
And with that he was gone, in less than a minute.
In the football players' dormitory, Georgia Coach Vince Dooley was just back from an abbreviated vacation. He could not hide his strong emotions in speaking out against the U.S. Football League and the decision Walker made to skip his final year of college.
"It's sad for football," Dooley said, "because the USFL has disrupted a wonderful working relationship between college and professional football. And it's sad for Herschel because Herschel did not want to do what he did.
"If Herschel had made up his mind that he wanted to do this and come out and said, 'Coach, this is my decision, I'm going to leave,' then fine. I would have been hurt. But I would have been the first to stand up and shake his hand.
"But I know Herschel did not want to leave. I talked to him by telephone (Tuesday) and I would not say that Herschel was excited about his decision. I could tell by the tone of his voice."
Dooley accepted most of the responsibility for what he calls "Herschel's mistake." Dooley was visibly upset Walker didn't tell him the truth initially about wanting to turn professional.
"People say Herschel lied. Yes, but it was like one of my kids lying," Dooley said, his eyes beginning to tear. "Yes, I'm mad and I'm hurt, like being mad at one of my kids. The first thing I said to Herschel was, 'I love you,' and he said, 'I love you, too.'
"I don't know why he didn't have the chance to talk to me. But maybe that was part of the strategy. I feel like if I could have talked to him, this wouldn't have happened. I've second-guessed myself a hundred times in football games and I've second-guessed myself a thousand times about this.
"Maybe I wasn't as close to Herschel as I should have been. The mistake was not that he signed, or getting the great contract, or having the security for himself and his family, but for doing something that he didn't want to do.
"I don't normally let my emotions out like this, but if I can't get emotional about my players, then I'm in the wrong business."
In an interview with the Atlanta Constitution's Tom McCallister, Walker was also momentarily emotional, dropping his head into his hands when asked what he most regretted about the week's decision. "I guess I feel bad that the kids who look up to me will see me leave under this situation and feel let down. I hope that doesn't happen."
Dooley saved much of his emotion for the USFL, which said upon the league's formation nine months ago it would not recruit undergraduates. Walker is the best undergraduate in the nation. With him at tailback, Georgia had already won one national championship, narrowly missed two more and figured to contend for a second in 1983.
Nobody was more aware of Walker's value to a professional football team than Dooley. Each of the last three springs, Dooley had watched as the pros flirted with Walker.
After Walker's freshman year, the Canadian Football League offered him millions. Last year, Walker thought of suing the National Football League because it would not draft undergraduates--a violation of his civil rights, he contended. And in December, the Chicago Blitz, also of the USFL, tendered a contract, which Walker refused.
So with all that background in mind, Dooley thought he was safe to take a vacation to Colorado.
But Walker met with New Jersey Generals owner J. Walter Duncan without Dooley's knowledge and signed a contract. He told Dooley he never met with the USFL.
"It caught me completely by surprise," Dooley said. "I was saddened, shocked--like I didn't want to believe it.
"Herschel had just talked about how much he wanted to compete in the 1984 Olympics (as a sprinter). So when I got the first telephone call, from a guy in Los Angeles, asking me about Herschel going with the USFL, I said, 'Ah, that's nothing, the rumors happen every year.'
"But then after I got a couple of more phone calls like that, I said, 'I'd better at least call up there and see what's going on.' I kept calling the USFL and couldn't get any response. I called Chet Simmons (USFL commissioner) four times and never got a return phone call until Friday, until it was all over (Walker signed a contract Thursday night).
"I know the USFL wanted to get one product that would get them immediate credibility with the public. But I took the USFL in good faith when they said they would not recruit undergraduates.
"Our relationship has changed. Obviously, I don't think as much of that organization (the USFL) as I have previously."
Mel Lattany, a graduate assistant with the track team, knows Walker very well. He said Dooley's absence that particular week could have affected Walker's decision.
"Coach Dooley wasn't here when Herschel needed to talk to him," Lattany said. "The only reason Herschel did it like this is because he cared about Coach Dooley so much, that he didn't want to tell him he was thinking about leaving. He couldn't have stood to hurt Coach Dooley's feelings."