Expensively attired in a double-breasted gray sports jacket, black slacks, white shirt and silk tie, Herschel Walker stood in the middle of the visitors' locker room Monday night at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and tried to make sense of his great fall from grace. But his flawless appearance belied the confusion he felt inside.

At first, Walker denied he was upset by the poorest performance of his career, but then, he changed his mind. "I did feel shaken," Walker said. "I wasn't really stable. That wasn't the Herschel I know."

For the first time in the career of Herschel Walker -- high school sensation from Wrightsville, Ga., Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Georgia, U.S. Football League pioneer with the New Jersey Generals after leaving school a year early, feature back with America's Team and centerpiece of a blockbuster deal that sent him from the Dallas Cowboys to the Minnesota Vikings Oct. 12, 1989 -- he had been benched.

Walker carried three times for three yards, caught two passes for 25 yards, lost two fumbles, was ruled down before a third apparent fumble and seemed to be playing in a fog before Coach Jerry Burns replaced him on offense in the third quarter with Allen Rice, which is like pulling Lou Gehrig to put in Wally Pipp. Walker's humiliation and embarrassment were shared by all the Vikings after they blew a nine-point fourth-quarter lead in a 32-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that left them reeling with a 1-5 record.

Fair or not, the focus was on Walker and the deal that was supposed to transform the Vikings into Super Bowl champions but has sent them in the other direction. The Vikings are 8-10 since the trade and wondering why, but no one is more confused than Walker.

He denied being a victim of mental burnout, yet, he spoke of the need to "re-energize, settle down, get myself together and relax." He blamed all the fumbles on his failure to maintain concentration. "I've got to start fresh from the beginning," Walker said. "It's almost like I've got to re-train myself." A moment later, he added, "With my type of physical training and mental training, maybe I've overworked myself. I need to slack off and rest a bit."

Walker's conflicting feelings mirror those of his employers. The trade that brought Walker to the Vikings was forced on the coaches and players by executive vice president and general manager Mike Lynn, who gave up five players and seven high draft picks for what he believed was the player who could take the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Walker rushed for 148 yards in his first game as a Viking and has not been over 100 yards since because the coaching staff decided it was best to work him into the Vikings' offense rather than rebuild the offense around Walker.

"Herschel has never given our team the chemistry we hoped he would," said Bob Hollway, the Vikings' assistant general manager for football. Hollway and the offensive coaches have analyzed Walker's play with both the Vikings and Cowboys in an effort to boost his production but haven't found the solution.

"It's very definitely a mystery," Hollway said. "The only thing I can say is there is a wall for running backs. Maybe he's hit that wall. He did all the ball-carrying at Georgia, the USFL and Dallas. Maybe he was close to the limit when he came to us."

The idea that Walker is physically spent at the age of 28 doesn't have much support around the league. He showed no signs of deterioration last season.

"Walker definitely has to get in the flow and see how his blockers are coming off the ball," said one National Football League general manager. "He can't carry it six times and catch six passes and produce big plays. I know they think they've tried to adjust, but it's still the Vikings' offense."

The impression Walker created with his Monday night effort is that he has given up because of the way he has been used by the Vikings. "There's talk he's packed it in," the general manager said of Walker. "He doesn't have his heart in playing football. I know he's had some shoulder problems, but he's not being overused. It's more mental than physical. The guy is used to being on a pedestal and being a featured back. He isn't that now, and he may have lost interest."

Certainly, the Vikings' troubles run deeper than just figuring out how to use Walker. Injuries to quarterback Wade Wilson and defensive tackle Keith Millard have damaged them badly.

Contract problems and charges of racism last season contributed to Lynn's decision to send players, coaches and executives to the Pecos River Learning Center this past spring in New Mexico for what amounted to group therapy. Everyone took part in a series of climbing and high-wire exercises in which they were linked together and, thus, dependent on each other for survival. The symbol each one took home as a reminder of the experience was a carabiner, a safety device used in climbing that resembles a chain link.

Now, though, it's almost as if Walker and the rest of the Vikings, linked by their carabiners, are falling together, pulling each other down.

Everything comes back to the Walker trade and Lynn's role in it.

Vikings guard Dave Huffman last week denounced Lynn as a "rat deserting a sinking ship" when it was announced Lynn is leaving the Vikings as the result of an ownership dispute to head the World League of American Football. There is a board meeting scheduled today at which he may be asked to leave immediately. Lynn did not return phone calls, but a WLAF source said Lynn is expected to begin his World League duties sometime next week.

The Walker trade is Lynn's legacy, and all the Vikings can do now is live with the consequences. Rick Fenney, who has been paired with Walker in the backfield, said, "I don't know what's wrong with the offense. Herschel has worked hard, but people expect an awful lot from him. We traded a lot for him. He's played well in the past. I'm not going to make a judgment. It's mystifying to us why we're having such a bad year."

Walker didn't help matters any by using a day off last week to go to Lake Placid, N.Y., to qualify for world competition with the U.S. bobsled team. "I don't think the timing of that showed good judgment," Hollway said. "He's involved in a lot of different activities. You see some players start to make a large salary, and all of a sudden, they throttle back because they've got it made. They forget what got them the large salary."

Despite the Vikings' troubles, Walker always has refrained from criticizing his coaches, but in the aftermath of his benching, it sounded as though he believes it's time they take some of the blame for his decline. "They're professional coaches, and I go out and do what they tell me to do," Walker said. "Everyone else has to judge for themselves. If you have knowledge of the game, you can see what I'm doing. Everyone said, 'Herschel is a back who can run the ball.' I'm not doing that here.

"There's no doubt I feel more pressure on myself, but I can only do what I'm called on to do, whether that's run a {pass} route or be a decoy."

As a benchwarmer, Herschel Walker can't even do that much for a team that thought it was one player away from the Super Bowl and now is farther than ever from that prize.