Received a letter the other day from Craig Greenwood, a football fan who believes the Herschel Walker trade was a set-up by the NFL. I won’t go into any deeper details, especially since Craig wrote the following essay on the topic. But I’d like to thank the man for taking the time to explain his side …
Abe Lincoln was said to have said. â€œYou can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you canâ€™t fool all the people all of the time.â€
Iâ€™m sure Lincoln was really emphasizing that last part that you canâ€™t fool all the people all the time when he said this, but the part you can fool all the people some of the time always intrigued me. If someone really fooled all the people just once and nobody ever found out then yes, you could actually fool all the people.
An example of someone fooling all the people for a little while was the quiz shows of the 1950â€™s. Back then some television executives realized that the viewing public didnâ€™t want any old Joe or Jane to win on their quiz shows. They wanted a guy or girl that was good looking or had a nice personality. So the people that ran these quiz shows fixed the game by giving the person they wanted to win the game the answers. But they got caught so you canâ€™t really say they fooled all the people. I mean not completely. When the conspiracy was exposed the fooling of the people stopped. Now what about a setup or fix that someone or a group of people got together and did and nobody ever figured it out? Well I think I have that story.
On October 12, 1989 two National Football League teams made a player trade that was so favorable to one team over the other that the shock waves of this trade reverberated for years later. The two teams that made this trade were the Dallas Cowboys and the
Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys gave the Vikings a running back named Herschel Walker and some low round draft picks while the Vikings gave the Cowboys five players off their roster plus their next three first round draft picks as well as their next three second round draft picks and another third round pick in the third year as if that one was even necessary. I always felt back then when I was a young man of thirty years old, and a big football fan that something was really wrong with this trade. It almost seemed to me like the Vikings were trying to help the Cowboys become a better team on purpose. Well I still feel that way and not only do I think the Vikings were trying to help the Cowboys, some owners and the league commissioner were trying to help them too.
It all really started in Palm Desert, California on March 22,1989 six and a half months before the trade was made. On that date the NFL owners gathered together there in Palm Desert for their annual winter meetings. It is at these meetings where the owners and league officials get together and try to workout any problems the league might have. Sometimes at these meetings new rule changes get made or whether or not the games should have something like instant replay as an officiating tool for instance.
But the most important part of the meetings is â€œWhatâ€™s the state of the league?â€ The owners that have invested millions of dollars in their respective teams want to know if the league is still making a profit and if not, they want to know why not.
At this time in 1989 the state of the league is not very good. The league grew for years in popularity since the 1960â€™s, but seemed to have hit a bump that started in the early or mid eighties.
The league at that time, and still does gets most of their money from selling broadcasting rights to the networks to show their games. The current network contract is for four hundred and seventy three million dollars a year. Divide that by the twenty-eight teams in the league and you get almost seventeen million per team. Seems like a lot of money but the problem is the players want more every year and it looks like sometime soon, like early in the 90â€™s there will be free agency. And that means the owners will have to bid against each other to get a veteran player on their team. To make matters even much worse is the television ratings for football games are lower than it used to be. The four networks that had a contract with the league back then are ABC, CBS, NBC and ESPN. Over the years the networks signed contracts with the league that would be good for a few years and every few years when it was time to get a new contract the networks were always paying more money than the last one. Well not so in 1989. The league has one more year left on itâ€™s three year deal with the networks and itâ€™s considered that it is already cast in stone that the networks are going to be able to buy the games for less in 1990. Thatâ€™s what most sportswriters were saying anyway.
It would just be crazy for the networks to pay more for something that has dwindling ratings.
So here is the leagues problem. Expenses are on the rise and soon the main source of revenue is going to drop. I remember reading in the newspapers in March of 1989 that no one thought theses meetings were going to be anything exciting. The talk was the league is in trouble and there wasnâ€™t much anyone could do to get them out of it. There was some talk that maybe, with all these owners in the same place a trade or two might get made. Especially some thought that the Cowboys might make a deal with another team and trade away Herschel Walker. But other than that the thought was the meetings were going to be ho hum. That thought was gone after the first day.
It was on that day, March 22,1989 that the commissioner of the league, Pete Rozelle announced to the media he was retiring from the league, effective immediately. This announcement just floored everybody. What happened was the owners went behind closed doors with the commissioner to talk about league matters and after four hours in that meeting whatever was talked about got commissioner Rozelle â€œhotâ€ enough to quit. This was such a shock because Rozelle who has been commissioner since 1960 had only two years left on his contract when he would have reached the age of 65.
What caused him to quit so abruptly? The media wanted to know.
â€œWellâ€, Rozelle said, â€œIâ€™m just not getting along with the newer owners in the league.â€ Wow. That probably was one shouting match of a meeting. What would newer owners want that older owners might disagree with? I know that newer owners have more new money invested in buying their teams. I even think that some new owners even have to pay the bank money they borrowed to buy their teams. Now an older owner like say Wellington Mira, owner of the New York Giants; his dad bought the team for 500 bucks in 1927. I donâ€™t think Mira has the same worries as a newer owner has. Like say the newest owner in the league, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. Jones just bought the Cowboys a month earlier in February of 1989 for a whopping record one hundred thirty two million dollars. Jerry Jones was sort of taking the league by storm since he bought the Cowboys.
He fired long time coach Tom Laundry and replaced him with his ex college roommate Jimmy Johnson and fired Tex Schramm the general manager. This also probably rankled some of the older owners a bit toward Jerry Jones, the way he was getting rid of some of these guysâ€™ old friends. If you donâ€™t know who Jerry Jones is, some people canâ€™t help but compare him to the character J.R.Ewing from the old television show Dallas. Jones just like Ewing is a rich man that made his money in the oil and gas business. And it seemed like he was no shrinking violet when it came to media
attention. If a sportswriter wanted an interview Jerry Jones was more than happy to talk all day about whatever they wanted to hear. Anyway back to Pete Rozelle and his announcement he was stepping down as commissioner. As I said the media was stunned to hear that there was a rift so wide between newer and older owners. I have a 1989 Street&Smiths edition magazine. Thatâ€™s a magazine that comes out every year and predicts how good teams are going to do the up coming season and Larry Felser on page eight of that magazine quotes one owner saying. â€œEven under the direction of a man as persuasive as Pete Rozelle we have become so polarized we canâ€™t even agree on future Super Bowl sites.â€ In this same article by Felser called the State of the NFL, Felser lists the owners that are in the old guard camp. He says the old guard owners are, Wellington Mira of the New York Giants, Art Modell Cleveland, Dan Rooney of Pittsburgh, Bill Bidwell of Phoenix along with Leon Hess of the New York Jets, Ralph Wilson of Buffalo, Lamar Hunt Kansas City and Bud Adams of Houston. He lists some of the new guard owners as Norman Braman Philadelphia, Jerry Jones of Dallas, Ken Behring of Seattle, Pat Bowlen of Denver, Victor Kiam of New England as well as Hugh Culverhouse of Tampa Bay and Robert Irsay of Indianapolis. Now Iâ€™m going to throw one more name in here that is part of the newer owners that Felser doesnâ€™t list, Mike Lynn the general manager of the Minnesota Vikings. I donâ€™t say here who owns the Vikings because thatâ€™s in a state of flux.
Greenwood/Walkergate/7 But Mike Lynn is the real face of the Vikings management at this time.
Itâ€™s not a pretty picture that Mike Lynn has either. His Vikings are considered one of the best teams in the league, even considered to be the best in the coming 1989 season but Lynn has a lot of turmoil amongst the players. They say they donâ€™t get paid enough and some players come right out and suggest they donâ€™t trust him. You will find out before the end of this story that they were right not to trust him.
The meetings continue through that week of March 22-26. At the end of the meetings Rozelle tells the media that he will stay on as commissioner until a replacement can be found and that the owners have formed a six-man committee to find a new commissioner. He also announces the league wants to form a new spring football league in a few years. That league is going to be called the World League of American Football. The teams are going to be all over the world like in Spain, England and Germany. And thatâ€™s about all there is to say about these meetings. The talk of Herschel Walker being traded never comes up.
Late May of 1989 comes up and itâ€™s time for the league to vote for a new commissioner. The six-member committee of owners has nominated Jim Finks the general manager of the New Orleans Saints to be the man that surpasses Rozelle. The media tells us
that Finks is a great pick and that he will probably sail through The process of being confirmed and get the 21 votes from the owners that is necessary to pass. But in another big shocker Finks only gets 16 votes. The newer owners have stuck together and donâ€™t want Finks to be the new commissioner. As it turns out the six-member committee was all made up of old guard owners. One person representing the new owners is quoted as saying â€œThe whole six man committee was old guard owners, we new owners want a say in who we pick to be the next commissioner.â€ That quote was from Vikings general manger Mike Lynn.
So we read more in the media about how the two groups of owners canâ€™t get along, but the whole time this is going on I canâ€™t put my finger on it but I feel the problem the two sides have is staring me in the face and I just donâ€™t see it. At any rate the owners go back to the drawing board to find a new commissioner but they do agree on one thing. The owners have agreed to look into the possibility of playing the Super Bowl in 1992 in Minnesota. Weird place for a Super Bowl site donâ€™t you think?
Letâ€™s look into why the NFLâ€™s popularity was on the decline in the late â€˜80â€™s. Some people thought that the problem was the league had saturated the market. There were so many games on TV that the fans just couldnâ€™t keep up with who was playing who anymore. Then some people thought that the player strikes of â€™82 and â€™87 made the football fans stay away. I think both of these things had something to do with it but I think the main reason was something else. If you would have asked me back in the late â€˜80â€™s why the NFL just wasnâ€™t the same anymore I would have said,â€ Because the Dallas Cowboys just arenâ€™t any good anymore.â€ When the leagueâ€™s popularity was on itâ€™s rise in the late 60â€™s and through the 70â€™s there was one thing consistent, the Cowboys were always competitive. Being competitive for twenty years in a row like the Cowboys were from 1966 till about 1985 made the Cowboys the marquee team. Me living in the Syracuse, NY television market could watch probably twelve of the Cowboyâ€™s sixteen games every year on TV back in the NFLâ€™s heyday.
This gave the Cowboys a huge nationwide fan base. I would say that almost half the NFL fans called themselves Cowboy fans in the beginning of the 80â€™s. Now everyone knew how loyal these fans were when the Cowboys were good. But we found out when the Cowboys started having losing seasons the fan base wasnâ€™t loyal at all. These fans stopped watching football completely when the Cowboys were a bad team. I think that was the main reason the
television ratings were down in the NFL. When a team known as Americaâ€™s Team, like the Cowboys were called back then starts to falter you are going to lose fans. So in other words, if I were a television executive back in 1989 Iâ€™d take my cue from those 1950â€™s quiz shows. You have to have the popular team win if you want the fans to comeback. When the Cowboys started losing they were hardly ever on TV anymore. The fan base was so bad in 1988 that the Cowboys were the only team in the league that didnâ€™t have their games on radio. Jerry Jones ended up giving the radio rights for free in the 1989 season. But when they went back to winning in the 90â€™s Jones had the most lucrative radio contract of any NFL team. That is what you call fair weather fans folks! Love them when there good, forget them when there bad. Iâ€™m not a Cowboy fan if you havenâ€™t guessed that already.
Lets get back to the NFL needing a new commissioner in 1989.
Time goes on and the league starts itâ€™s season with Rozelle still the commissioner. He still wants out but the owners canâ€™t agree on a candidate to vote on. In other news the Cowboys still have Herschel Walker on the team. A lot of talk over the summer was that the Minnesota Vikings were going to be the team to beat but if they could make a trade and get Walker from the Cowboys they would be even better. The problem was the Cowboys were asking way too much for Walker. Many felt Walker was worth a first and second round draft pick, or at most two first round picks.
And the talk was the Cowboys did get offers like that but wanted more.
So no trade for Walker has been made. It made me wonder what Jerry Jones was thinking wanting so much for Walker. The Cowboys finished last in the league in 1988 with a 3-13 record with Walker. How does he think he has any leverage to ask so much for him in a trade? Another team can say, â€œKeep Walker if you want, you can just go finish in last place again.â€ I just chalked this up to Jones being too inexperienced in how things worked in the league, this still being his first year and all as an owner, I thought he didnâ€™t know what he was doing.
The 1989 NFL season gets into its fifth week and Rozelle says to the owners that itâ€™s ridiculous he is still the commissioner. He told them in March he was retiring and now we were into October. So I open up my Sunday newspaper on October eighth and found out that the owners had got together Friday and they finally have voted a new commissioner in. His name is Paul Tagliabue. My first thought was. Whoâ€™s he? I had never heard of this guy and his name was not bandied about as a possible successor to Rozelle. His resume was definitely not as good as Jim Finksâ€™ was. But the article I read went on to tell me that Tagliabue was a long time lawyer for the league and most recently his job was legal liaison for the NFL division that worked with the ABC TV network. Oh really! So the guy talks with
TV executives from the people that give us Monday Night Football and how the league can accommodate them. How nice. But the real strange thing about this was Rozelle doesnâ€™t introduce Tagliabue to the media and symbolically â€œhand over the reinsâ€ to the new commissioner. Rozelle they say was upset about something and was already on a plane home to San Diego when Tagliabue was being introduced to the media. I think that meant Rozelle wasnâ€™t happy with Tagliabue as the pick. You want to know the guy that did introduce Tagliabue to the media? Well that my friends was the newest owner in the league Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. Now how in the world does the new guy get that gig? Well we know Jones must have liked the pick. Maybe Jones even picked him himself.
By the Thursday night after Tagliabue became the new commissioner. That would be October 12, 1989; Iâ€™m watching Sports Center on ESPN. The reporters Chris Berman and I think the other guy was Chris Mortensen is reporting live from Minnesota. The two Chrisâ€™s are there to report a possible trade. The trade is the Cowboys are about to trade Herschel Walker to the Vikings. Finally after all these months of talking about it itâ€™s going to happen. Of course the trade does get made. This happened with the new commissioner in the job in less than a week.
Now doesnâ€™t that make you wonder that maybe this trade had something to do with Rozelle quitting? And the trade it self gets really confusing. At first we are told the Cowboys are getting some players off the Vikings roster and then maybe some draft picks. But by that Sunday I hear a TV announcer say
The Cowboys could get both players and draft picks that would total about fourteen players for the Cowboys for the one Herschel Walker that the Vikings got. Hey how about telling it to us straight the first time guys. And isnâ€™t it strange that Jerry Jones is again in the mix. The guy is slapping the new commissioner on the back on Friday, introducing him to the media and on Thursday heâ€™s saying to the new commissioner, â€œHey I got this trade I made with the Vikings. Are you going to approve it? Thatâ€™s right, one of the commissionerâ€™s jobs is to be the guy that finalizes all trades. Oh yeah and donâ€™t forget Mike Lynn, the GM for the Vikings is the guy that is making this trade too. Remember heâ€™s the guy that went on record saying he wanted more say in picking a commissioner and was against having Finks take the job. And now here is the new commissioner whose say so allows Lynn to make a trade. And in six short days a huge trade Lynnâ€™s involved in is on the table. Well I smell something fishy, donâ€™t you?
Lets go back to March 22,1989 and Iâ€™ll tell you what I think went on behind closed doors at the owners meetings in Palm Desert, California. Pete Rozelle calls the meeting to order and probably introduces the newest owner of the league, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys to the rest of the owners. After that Rozelle says something like this. â€œWell owners I think have something very important to tell you. As you all know we are in the last year of our contracts with the networks and because the television ratings are down the networks are telling us that next year they donâ€™t plan on paying us as much as they have in the past. This is not good I know but the networks have given us a chance to get a very good contract next year worth more money if we do something that I think is dishonest.â€ â€œThat something is help the Dallas Cowboys get better. The networks feel that if Dallas gets better we will get better TV ratings down the road. The networks have agreed with us in principle that if the Cowboys get a real good deal on trading Herschel Walker to some other team, ABC and CBS have said they will about double the money they are giving us now.â€ Well some owners said, â€œGreat lets do it.â€ And some owners, the old guard owners said, â€œNo way, we get caught and the league will never recover as being honest and on the level.â€
Then Rozelle speaks again. â€œThe Vikings with general manager Mike Lynn and the Cowboys with Jerry Jones right here have already come to terms with a trade that the networks say is favorable enough for what they want.â€(Hey for what all I know the networks could have written the terms of this trade.) Rozelle continues, â€œNow Mike Lynn has agreed to be the â€œfall guyâ€ for this trade for other considerations. The considerations are, Mike Lynn becomes president of the new World League of American Football that our league will have running in a few years and the other thing the Vikingâ€™s management wants is a Super Bowl played in their stadium in 1992.â€ Thatâ€™s when the meeting gets really heated; an old guard owner says, â€œThe public will see right through this. If you do this, our reputations will be ruined. It will be like the â€œBlack Soxâ€ scandal of 1919 where the players threw the World Series. Then a newer owner says. â€œYou old owners donâ€™t know what we new owners go through trying to keep our heads above water. You guys had your teams paid for long ago. We pay every month to the bank what we borrowed to be owners. And another thing we paid you guys all this money to own our teams and you think you can tell us how to make money. You old owners took advantage of us, either
- Greenwood/Walkergate/16 we do this trade or we want our money back you rich because of us bastards!â€ or words to that effect.
- Now Rozelle speaks again. â€œLook Iâ€™m the commissioner and as commissioner I can okay or veto any trade. I will not okay a trade like this that could cause detriment to the league. Itâ€™s just not worth the risk guys. And even if we did get away with it itâ€™s still unethical and I wonâ€™t be part of it.â€
- You know sportswriters wondered for years why Rozelle quit and now they know. I think I just solved one of lifeâ€™s small mysteries, thatâ€™s if you believe my theory so far. The owners continued to argue and Rozelle just couldnâ€™t take anymore so after the meeting he announced his wish to retire. After other meetings between the owners and Rozelle behind closed doors they decided on the six-man committee that was to pick the next commissioner. The old owners held the upper hand in this. Having more seniority than the new owners they were able to load the committee with their owners so that they could pick the next commissioner that felt the same way about the â€œhelp the Cowboys get better planâ€ as they and Rozelle did. But the new owners were not going down without a fight. By that May the owners were going to vote on Jim Finks becoming the commissioner to replace Rozelle. I suspect
- There is plenty of infighting between the two sides of owners. The old guard is trying to run a power play at the new owners. Both sides know that Finks knows all about the Walker trade and both sides know he wonâ€™t okay the trade if he becomes commissioner. But the older owners think that the new owners will cave in because there will be so much media scrutiny if Finks gets voted down that the new owners will look silly. The new owners stand strong though and go ahead and vote him down anyway. Then of course Mike Lynn makes his statement to the media that the new owners want more say in picking the new commissioner.
- I bet you the screaming between the two sides is now at a fever pitch. As I said before one owner said at the first meeting in Palm Desert back in March â€œWe owners canâ€™t even agree on future Super Bowl sites.â€ Well at this meeting in May when Finks gets rejected the owners have to get a site for the 1992 year. I think the new owners want to go ahead and give the site to Minnesota. Thatâ€™s the part of the trade thatâ€™s the kickback to Viking management.
- They want this done even before the trade gets made.
I think the old owners want to block Minnesota from getting the site but they are split between themselves as to where the site should be. So the new owners win an important battle here. They hang together and take two steps towards â€œhelping the Cowboys get better planâ€. By blocking out a commissioner that would have never okayed the trade and securing part of the trade for the Vikings that the public is never suppose to see.
Now if the 1992 Super Bowl is played in Minnesota that would give the Vikings a nice windfall. The NFL played the Super Bowl in Detroit in 1982. In David Harrisâ€™s book The League: The Rise and Decline of the NFL. He writes that the reason the league played the game in Detroit that year was because the owners wanted to pay back the owner of the Detroit Lionsâ€™. That owner was Henry Ford II, they wanted to pay him back for getting them smaller interest rates on loans through the banking contacts that Ford knew while running Ford Motors. Now there is nothing wrong with that. Someone helps you out you help him out. But what the league is trying to do here, paying the Vikingsâ€™ back for â€œtaking the bulletâ€™ for making a trade thatâ€™s sure to hurt them on the playing field is another thing completely.
And hereâ€™s another thing. The league said after the Super Bowl in Detroit in 1982 that they would never have a Super Bowl in a cold weather site again. It was too much hassle worrying all the time if the weather was going to be good or not. So the league went on record saying that dome stadium or not it wouldnâ€™t play at a cold weather site again. But here they are now picking Minnesota as a site for a Super Bowl. Now when I read about this I thought the news report said that the site was approved but I found out later it really was just suggested and that an exploratory committee was going to look into it.
The 1989 season gets underway and like I said before we get to the fifth week of the season and Rozelle who is still the lame duck commissioner tells the owners hurry up and get a new commissioner. I think he is being really pressured to okay the Herschel Walker trade because the league trade deadline is a couple weeks away. Of course he doesnâ€™t want to do any such thing. That is when the old owners cave in and say to the new owners,â€ Go ahead, put Paul Tagliabueâ€™s name up there for commissioner. â€œYou new owners win. Make Tagliabue the commissioner so he can be Jerry Jones and Mike Lynnâ€™s rubber stamp on this fixed trade you have been wanting to make for over six months nowâ€ or words to that effect.
So Paul Tagliabue, the guy that works tightly with the TV executives at ABC becomes commissioner.
And like I said before Rozelle stays away from any ceremony for Tagliabue becoming the new commissioner. He wants to stay as far away from the proceedings as possible because he doesnâ€™t want to be considered to be in cahoots with the new owners or anybody in the league for what is about to happen. As far as Tagliabue is concerned I think he was probably one of the first people in the league that heard of the â€œhelp Dallas get better for more television revenue planâ€ Hey who knows maybe it wasnâ€™t the TV executives that first came up with that idea. Maybe it was a league executive like Tagliabue himself that went to the TV executives with the idea and it was the TV executives who liked it.
Like I said before the trade gets made six days later and Tagliabue okayâ€™s it. The trade was full of double talk and confusing wording. The Vikings got Walker and the Cowboys third, fifth and tenth round pick in 1990 and Dallasâ€™s third round pick in 1991. The Cowboys got Jesse Solomon, David Howard, Isaac Holt, Darrin Nelson, and Alex Stewart off the Vikings roster. Then they got Minnesotaâ€™s first, second, and sixth round pick in 1990. But wait thereâ€™s more. The Cowboys had conditional picks of Minnesotaâ€™s first and second round picks in 1991 and first, second and third round picks in 1992.
Now what is a conditional pick? This trade said that if the Cowboys liked the five players that the Vikings gave them
(Solomon, Howard, Holt, Nelson and Stewart) The Cowboys could keep them. If they didnâ€™t like the players they would give them back to Minnesota and take the five high round draft picks they offered instead. Now that is just silly! Imagine trading away five players and expecting them to come back on your team a year later if the team you traded them to didnâ€™t want them.
If youâ€™re the Cowboys you are going to think, â€œlets offer the Vikings all five of those players back and say we want the draft picks instead. I bet the Vikings will say, â€œKeep the players and the draft picks, you got us you great trading wheeler dealers that you guys are.â€ Now I understood why Jerry Jones wouldnâ€™t take the offers of a couple first round picks for Walker. He wasnâ€™t inexperienced in these matters like I thought. He KNEW he could get more in a trade for Walker if the trade was fixed. As this trade was. And you spell that F-I-X-E-D. And thatâ€™s just what this trade was FIXED!
The idea that â€œOh we are going to give you five players and if you donâ€™t want them give them back and take the draft picks instead.â€ was just window dressing. If the Vikings had come right out and said â€œwe are giving up five players and three first round and three second round picks plus a third round.â€ People would have said, â€œWhat are you nuts?â€ But they disguised what they were giving away in all this double talk
and gibberish about â€œconditional picksâ€. Conditional picks my ass. The Vikings didnâ€™t want their fans to know exactly what they were giving up right away. If they did know they would have known that they were being had by Viking management. You call that telling the truth slowly.
About ten days after this trade Iâ€™m reading the sports pages in the paper like I almost always do and come across something that made me scratch my head. There was this little blurb in the NFL notes column. It said an NFL exploratory committee has approved Minnesota as the site for the Super Bowl in 1992. I scratched my head because I thought back in May the league had announced Minnesota was going to be the site. Now I found out that the site wasnâ€™t approved at all. The site had to meet certain criteria before it got final approval by the league and Minnesota met that criterion ten days after the trade. Was make a trade with Dallas the criteria Minnesota had to meet? Now if you checkout any league history from 1989 the league says the owners agreed on May 24 to have the site at Minnesota. Hmmm thatâ€™s not the way I remember it. The league history also says that Jerry Jones bought the majority interest of the Cowboys on April 18. Well he already had fired the head coach Tom Laundry, and the team president/ general manager Tex Schramm in February so I donâ€™t know how the league keeps track of its official history but it doesnâ€™t jive with reality.
The league history also says that Tagliabue became the commissioner officially on November 5. Well I know it was before that he was the acting commissioner. I know that because when I was watching ESPN on that fateful night of October 12 of 1989 with Chris Berman reporting live from Minnesota. I remember Berman saying to the other reporter that I think was Chris Mortensen. â€œGee you know itâ€™s not often that a blockbuster of a trade like this comes along. And here we have Taglabue only six days on the job as commissioner and a big trade like this hits his desk for approval already. Iâ€™m not saying Tagliabue wonâ€™t approve this trade, Iâ€™m just saying big ones donâ€™t come along too often.â€ Well if that doesnâ€™t make him the commissioner then I donâ€™t know what does. So November 5 1989 was just some last finishing touch of some kind that made him the â€œofficialâ€ commissioner. Another thing I should note here is Iâ€™m not saying that Berman knew this trade was fixed. If he did know I donâ€™t think he would have mentioned anything about Tagliabue and final trade approval. That part would have been mumâ€™s the word. But I bet that some television executives watching that night that knew the trade was fixed were saying â€œshut upâ€ under their breath. I think I hear the sound of ESPN burning the tape of that show right now.
The rest of the 1989 NFL season goes on and the Cowboys finished last in the league as was expected. But the Vikings were the big disappointment. Here they started the season as the favorite to win the Super Bowl and they ended up winning ten games and getting beat bad in the first round of the playoffs. The real disappointing thing is that Herschel Walker didnâ€™t fit very well into the Viking offense. Walker was the type of running back that needed a fullback in the backfield to block for him and the Vikings ran a one back offense that didnâ€™t have a fullback back there. I donâ€™t blame Walker and I donâ€™t blame the coach or coaches for that. The blame goes squarely on Mike Lynn the General Manager. How are the coaches supposed to change the whole offense during the season and have it all work right? You just canâ€™t do it.
Another reason the season (hey that rhymes) was a disappointment for Minnesota was now they saw that they havenâ€™t any draft picks to get better players coming out of college. They gave the draft picks to Dallas. And that was a reason to celebrate in Dallas. You could see a light at the end of the tunnel for the Cowboys. Draft day was going to be a big bonanza of players for them. For the Vikings better luck next year. No make that about three years when you finally will have a first round pick again. Oh the humanity! What did you do to us Mike Lynn? Was the cry heard around Minnesota.
I pick up a newspaper in March of 1990 and I am surprised at what I read. The NFL has a new contract agreement with the television networks and they get more money. And I mean lots more. The old contact paid four hundred seventy three million dollars a year for three years. The new contract pays nine hundred million a year over four years! Holy cow! And this was after a year the writers were telling us the NFL was going to lose money on this contract. Lets add everything up here.
Since Jerry Jones came into the league a year ago we have
#1) a new commissioner in the league after the old one quit unexpectedly.
#2) a blockbuster trade that comes out in Jerry Jonesâ€™ favor that the new commissioner Okays after being in office just a short time.
#3) a strange place to have a Super Bowl that happens to be in the same place as the team that Jonesâ€™ traded with to get the favorable trade.
#4) a new television contract that pays almost double per year as the one before it when everyone said it would be less.
Hey this Jones guy makes things happen. Very strange things if you know what I mean.
Now I canâ€™t even explain to you how shocking this news was
Greenwood/Walkergate/26 that the league got such a great TV deal. It was almost unexplainable to the press. It wasnâ€™t that the NFL had really turned things around in 1989 as far as the television ratings were concerned. The Cowboys were still a bad team so the ratings didnâ€™t suddenly go up. But what did change? The press would ask. â€œOh I think we know whyâ€ they said. It must be that this new commissioner Paul Tagliabue is a great negotiator and landed this great TV deal. And at the time I thought that too. I hated to admit it to myself that Tagliabue could be a better commissioner than Rozelle; I was always a Rozelle guy. But when that new TV contract came out. I was like wow this Tagliabue did the impossible here getting a contract like that. I was thinking yeah maybe the game really passed Rozelle by. But a few years later I figured out what really was going on here. Tagliabue was no great negotiator. This TV contract was ready and set to go when Walker got traded to Minnesota. Without the trade Tagliabue wouldnâ€™t have gotten anything from the networks.
Imagine what Pete Rozelle was going through at this point. The guy that replaces him is lauded over for doing something that he was too honest to do. Rozelle could have Okayed the trade and gotten the same deal but he had scruples and to his credit he stood by them. It would have been very easy for
Greenwood/Walkergate/27 Rozelle to blow the whistle on the league after he left it. And tell everybody about the â€œWalkergateâ€ deal but he didnâ€™t. Even while his legacy was being brought into question that he wasnâ€™t what he used to be he didnâ€™t squeal. And all the while as he was being quiet he knew that the public was never going to see what a selfless man he was for staying quiet. But I hope, by writing this, the public sees it now. Iâ€™m sorry I ever doubted you Mr. Rozelle.
Okay so lets go down the checklist of my theory here.
Minnesota gets to host the Super Bowl. Check. The league got more money from the networks. Check. Mike Lynn becomes the president of the World League of American Football. Check that too. Mike Lynn stayed on as Vikings general manager through the 1990 season. He didnâ€™t get fired from the Vikings he just left the job because the league was giving him a better one.
Here is the guy that by now everyone knows made the worst trade in NFL history and the league gives him a promotion. It just doesnâ€™t make any sense to me unless I apply my theory to it. And my theory says that Mike Lynn made this bad trade with the Cowboys on purpose and going to the World League was his payback from the NFL for doing it.
The World League folded after two seasons. No surprise there. Look who was running it, but I wonder when Lynn stopped getting checks from the league; if they ever stopped that is.