We may never know the truth of the Herschel Walker story, because the people in the story, like crazed plumbers, have ratcheted together so many distortions, misperceptions and delusions that the truth is now bent 19 ways and you have to put a bucket under the pipes to catch the leaks.

Today, we had Herschel Walker saying he backed out of a contract because he didn't want to leave school. This was right after he said he'd lost his enthusiasm for college ball and right before he said, "I'm not God, I reckon I'm going to make more mistakes."

Then we had Walker's lawyer, Jack Manton, say the NFL is lying to us when it says, so piously, it would not sign Walker. Manton says the NFL told him last week that, if Walker were ineligible, it would take him. He says the NFL insisted on putting Walker in the regular draft, which he refused to do and instead went to the USFL.

Then we had the NFL denying that any such deal was ever struck and sticking by its announcement of last week that it would not draft undergraduates, even as its director of operations was saying it would.

About the only thing that makes sense in this whole deal is that when Walker finally stood up today to hook a U-joint of truth to a gooseneck of illusion, he did it in Mickey Mouse's back yard. Here's the best running back alive joining a team that gives its guys $5 a day for eats and takes them to practice in a groaning old bus with "Tabernacle Baptist Church" on the side.

Someone asked the bus driver, "How many miles on this baby?"

"Don't know," the bussie said. "Thing's broken."

What this story needs is narration by Goofy, but the old dog is busy today over at Disney World, and you'll have to settle for the scribbled impressions of a sportswriter who has been in it deep lots of times but can't remember ever seeing it piled so high.

Listen to this from Herschel Walker: "I hope to show everybody that the USFL is as good as the NFL."

And this: "I have no doubt this league will be a success . . . It will be more exciting than the NFL."

Or this from Manton: "Herschel Walker is the most mature 20-year-old in the history of this country."

And this: "Herschel Walker is the most marketable athlete in the history of sports. If he'd gone to Chicago, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, he'd have lost millions and millions of dollars. New York/New Jersey is the best place for him."

About then a reporter from Los Angeles hit his sarcasm switch. "Yeah, Los Angeles is a bush town, right?" And Manton, bristling, said, "And that's a horse question. If anybody wants to ask a question with dignity, please do."

Please, please, a little dignity music, maestro, because we're going to have us a dance of dignity that few people have seen outside the mud-wrestling pits of glittery Los Angeles, where a guy can't make a buck. Today's events were full, indeed, of the dignity available to any American kid born to be a 225-pound sprinter.

The kid gets on a bus as a 10-year-old and everybody tells him to get comfortable because he sure is special, and the bus ride takes him to the high school where they give his daddy a good job and give him all the football shoes a kid can want, and before he's a junior there come the college recruiters waving at the kid on the bus, saying, "Kid, you're the greatest, come with me and we'll win a national championship," and the kid looks at the sugar daddies running next to the bus, all with hundred-dollar bills in their passion-sweaty hands, and next thing you know the kid wins the Heisman Trophy just in time to get real rich and tell 150 reporters that no matter what they've read or thought, "I'm not God."

For Herschel Walker, the bus ride dropped him in Mickey Mouse land today and if the kid was confused last week, this is to report that he hasn't gotten over it yet.

Walker told us he knew even before he signed a contract with the New Jersey Generals that his college eligibility was gone. Then, kind of offhandedly, he added that if truth be known, he probably never was eligible for college football.

"I reckon I've been ineligible since before my freshman year," Walker said. "A lot of pro teams talked to me before I went to school."

And after his freshman year at Georgia, Walker did a dance of dollars with the Montreal Alouettes. (The NCAA, which serves its own interests well, never investigated to see if its best runner had made himself ineligible.) Then after his sophomore season, Walker sent his lawyer, Manton, to find out if the NFL would take him.

This whole deal gets trickier and trickier. You should wait for the paperback version in which this question also will not get answered: Did the USFL lure Walker into losing his eligibility so it could sign him? ("The decision was all mine," he said, saying nothing. Manton: "That implies they forced him out. The league just told him it would have to tell the truth if asked.")

By telephone from his home on Long Island, Don Weiss, the NFL's executive director, listened to a reporter's transcription of Manton's claim (to quote the lawyer) "they told me they would take Herschel Walker . . . but on their terms, not Herschel Walker's."

Hearing that, Weiss said, "I would have to dispute that."

Sounds like a good working title for this story.