That the kid should have said is, "You don't get many chances to grab off $5 million for three years' work and if there's a crime in honest work, then put the cuffs on me, Mr. Sheriff, 'cause I'm taking this oilman's money and I'm gonna run my tail off for him."
Instead of such straight talk, poor Herschel Walker did verbal contortions that would keep linguists busy for years figuring out which excuse is attached to which euphemism.
There he was, the $5 million running back, delivered by the oilman's jet, carried by helicopter to a limousine to join a team that travels in a broken-down bus, and because he's a good man anxious to please, Herschel Walker told 150 reporters what he figured were the right things to say.
Bored with college ball. Something happens to a knee, he's the one who has to live with it. If God's still with him, everything will be okay.
Not once did Walker mention the money. Never considered the filthy lucre, if we go by what he told us. This is nonsense, because $5 million not only will turn a guy's head, it will provoke whiplash. But Walker never mentioned money because (guessing here) somebody in his Deep South upbringing told him nice folks don't talk money in public.
The more he talked, the worse it got, and the more he contradicted himself, the worse you felt for him. Once a guy is 16, Walker said, he's a man who makes his own decisions. But the more you listened to him, the more he seemed a vulnerable young man confused by the real-world dilemma inherent in explaining a pragmatic decision in idealistic terms.
They made him a god in Georgia. Imagine. You're 20 and the world judges you every day without end. There was melancholy in Walker's voice when he said, trying to explain how he lied about signing that contract, "Football players don't have much chance to think for themselves."
To make it right that he quit school, he said the challenge was gone and if he didn't put out 110 percent his talent would diminish. "I may have got 1,000 yards, but maybe it would be 2,000 if I was up to it."
Only a week ago, he said he would stay in college because he loved it.
Chances are, to be pragmatic, he first backed out of the deal because the money wasn't big enough. The Generals' owner, J. Walter Duncan, has said Walker's asking price was prohibitive and the taking price was almost too much. By that, we might divine that Walker wanted, say, $16 million.
That might explain why he signed for $5 million and then backed out, only to sign again when the USFL said it would not lie so he could stay at Georgia. And maybe that's why he didn't talk about the money, because, hey, $5 million isn't $16 million.
Oh, well. Soon this will pass and we'll ask Walker, "How's it feel to gain 3,000 yards your first pro season?"
Chet Simmons will be happy to hear such questions after his most turbulent week as the USFL commissioner. It's one thing to have ideals; it's another to have a commissioner's job. Not cheerfully but straightforwardly, Simmons admitted today he broke his promise not to sign undergraduates.
Simmons will meet with college coaches this week in Dallas to explain (he says) that Walker's case is an exception unlikely to be repeated. The USFL was threatened, the commissioner said, with a lawsuit if it did not take Walker. Attorneys said the league would lose such an antitrust suit.
"If we lost the suit," Simmons said, "the no-undergraduates rule would be struck down and we'd be wide open. By making an exception for Herschel Walker, the rule is still in force."
Someone asked, "What's to stop another player from threatening a lawsuit against you when you admit that the rule is indefensible?"
Simmons hemmed and hawed mightily. He hopes the USFL and college coaches can concoct a rule satisfying everybody.
But that rule will still be a restraint of an undergraduate's right to work. That's the real-world side of the coin turned over by Walker. And that's a good thing, because USFL and NFL rules are not designed to help young men; they exist to preserve the pros' no-cost minor leagues and to enrich ol' State U.
If other undergraduates want to go pro, neither pro league will long be able to say no.
"I don't think a wholesale exodus of players from college will do any of us any good," Simmons said. "It's not what we're trying to encourage at all . . . It hasn't destroyed basketball. But there is no intention at our place to encourage any of our teams to do this. We have explained to our ownership that Herschel Walker was an exception."
The NFL has made exceptions, too. Dave Wilson of New Orleans and Al Hunter of Seattle were ineligible for college ball but had not graduated and were only four years beyond matriculation. Yet the NFL drafted them because, according to director of operations, Jan Van Duser, they were special cases.
Their special nature, it seems, is that the schools and/or conferences no longer wanted them. Wilson was a junior college transfer, Hunter had been in trouble on campus.
The NFL seemed to say, "If the colleges don't want you, we'll take you. But if you don't want the colleges, tough luck. Go dig a ditch for a year."
Simmons spelled out the special circumstances of Walker's exemption.
First, the threat of a lawsuit. Then: "The exception for Walker was one based on ability, one based on maturity, one based on accomplishments."
This is the real world, welcome to it.