Herschel Walker took the money and didn't run. Not when it mattered. Not when it was third and three on the five-yard line with 1:05 to go and a touchdown would have meant a victory for the New Jersey Generals and vindication for undergraduates everywhere who want to earn a living.
The 34,002 people in the Los Angeles Coliseum closed their eyes and saw Walker running right, into the end zone, into a fantasy. Anyone with any sense could see it coming. But it didn't happen. Walker stayed on the sidelines. He is a team player, after all, and one man does not make a team or a league. "I reckon we just have so many good backs we can alternate 'em," he said. "Larry (Coffey) and the others are as capable as I am."
How about that, coach? Why wasn't Walker in the game? "Well, I don't know," said Chuck Fairbanks, after the other backs failed to score and the Generals lost, 20-15. "I don't have any answer for that. I felt comfortable with the way we were going."
And, earlier, when a two-point conversion would have brought the Generals within a field goal of the Express? "Three yards is awfully tough to get in the running game," Fairbanks said.
There is only one sensible conclusion you can draw. The US in USFL must mean Unbelievably Surreal.
It started with the pregame ceremonies. Dionne Warwick was on hand to lend some soul to the National Anthem. Fifty-six scantily clad flag-holders dutifully waved the stars and stripes on cue: "Oh say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave."
The public address announcer saluted "Vidal Sassoon, the official hair care product of the L.A. Express cheerleaders."
He welcomed "Mattel Electronics, the official electronic video game of the L.A. Express."
And he was as speechless as everyone else at the rest of the proceedings. Take the decision by L.A. Coach Hugh Campbell to go for it on fourth and one, from his own 31-yard line. The Express was leading, 20-15, at the time and time was growing short. With 3:48 left in the game, the Express was stopped for no gain, giving the Generals the ball. "Ahhh," Campbell said, trying to explain his reasoning for the umpteenth time, "I don't know if I've got it that well rehearsed."
It was this sage decision that gave Fairbanks the opportunity not to use Walker in the final drive of the game. Not that Walker played badly, when he played. In the first eight minutes of his professional career, he carried for 24 yards and a five-yard touchdown. He tippy-toed around the right side and into the end zone unscathed. It seemed it would be a long day for the home team.
But it turned out to be a short one for Walker. He carried only five times in the second half for 21 yards. Some day, he may lead the USFL into the promised land but today he didn't even lead the game in rushing. Tony Boddie, of the L.A. Express, whose annual salary is probably less than a third of what Walker makes each game, led all rushers with 77 yards, 12 more than Walker. "It wasn't in my mind to come in and outrush Herschel Walker," he said.
He paused, surveying the crush of reporters surrounding him--there were 175 at the game. "I never had so many newspapermen in my face before," he said. "I guess I can adjust to it quick.
"Maybe down the road, Tony Boddie may be a big name like Herschel Walker."
Boddie said it didn't look like "he (Walker) was running 9.2--is that what he runs?"
Eddie Weaver, Walker's former teammate at Georgia, is now the nose tackle for the Express. Once he tackled Walker for a five-yard loss. Once, he asked him for his address and telephone number. "I saw him knocking people down," Weaver said. "Same old Herschel."
Fairbanks said he went to other backs in the second half, when the Generals were behind and passing, because Walker hasn't had time to work on picking up blitzes, to pick up the system.
Walker said he could have played more. "I don't care what he's comfortable with, it's what I'm comfortable with," Fairbanks said. "I've been on the practice field for 28 years. I can tell when there is indecision or not total understanding."
Anthony Davis, who became the first man ever to play in the NFL, the WFL, the CFL and USFL, once tried to recruit Walker for USC. "Eight years ago I was in the same situation," he said. "I had all the attention. I feel for him. There's lots of pressure."
Pressure is fourth down on the 14 with 57 seconds left. Walker was on the sideline. "I figured you have to have him in there," Davis said. "Just from a psychological standpoint. 'Here's Herschel. We have to stop him.' I would have had him in there."
Instead, Larry Brodsky caught a pass from Bobby Scott. The defender fell down. Brodksy was so sure he'd be hit, he bobbled the ball, and fell six inches short of the first down, two yards from the end zone.
Walker says he doesn't dream about things like game-winning touchdowns. "I don't dream," he said. "Dreams don't do anything for you."
Lying in bed, the night before his first professional game, he didn't think about it at all. After all, he said, "I don't play until the next day."