Trading Walker turned Cowboys into a dynasty

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IRVING, Texas --- Jimmy Johnson has a challenge for anyone who believes the Herschel Walker trade single-handedly turned the Dallas Cowboys into the dominant team of the 1990s.

"Trace it," the former Cowboys coach said. "You can't do it."

Twenty years ago Monday, the Cowboys sent Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for a bundle of players and draft picks in what is widely considered one of the biggest steals in NFL history, if not all of pro sports.

The legend has grown because Dallas went from 1-15 to three-time Super Bowl champions in just a few years. Sure there was a lot more to the turnaround, but there's no doubt this deal was the catalyst.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Charley Casserly, then the general manager of the Redskins.

But this trade wasn't just a big-time swindle. The strange truth is that the Cowboys didn't use a single one of the Vikings' picks -- except to parlay them into more or higher picks.

Johnson made 51 trades in his five years in Dallas, "more than the entire league put together," he proudly noted. That's how the Cowboys built the crux of their championship rosters.

Emmitt Smith came on a pick from Pittsburgh, Darren Woodson and Russell Maryland on picks from New England, Dixon Edwards and Clayton Holmes on picks from Washington, Kevin Smith on a pick from Atlanta, and Godfrey Myles on a pick from San Diego.

See why tracing the trade is nearly impossible?

Walker didn't want to go, but he didn't have a no-trade clause. Fearing that Walker could mess everything up, owner Jerry Jones gave him a $1.25 million going-away gift, essentially paying his best player to leave.

Walker dazzled in his Minnesota debut. Vikings GM Mike Lynn was happiest of all.

"We felt that the last piece of the puzzle, the last spoke on the wheel, was a running back -- and not just a running back, but a marquee running back," he said at the time.

"If we don't get to the Super Bowl while Herschel Walker is a member of the Minnesota Vikings, then we have not made a good trade."

Uh, no, they didn't. The Vikings made the playoffs in '89, lost right away, and didn't make it back in 1990 or '91. Walker was cut the following summer; by then, Lynn had resigned and coach Jerry Burns retired.

Dallas went 1-15 in 1989, then soon launched the greatest four-year run in NFL history, winning the Super Bowl in 1992, '93 and '95, and reaching the NFC Championship Game in '94.

That rapid surge makes their run even more amazing.

It's also why the Walker trade is so inflated -- well, by everyone except Johnson.


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