Jeff Pearlman

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The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 3—Herschel Walker

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buckis pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 3: Herschel Walker

Running back

 

New Jersey Generals (1983-85)

Herschel Walker is the most important player in USFL history.

When he arrived before the 1983 season, he set the sporting world aflame. Walker was coming off a Heisman Trophy season at the University of Georgia and—naturally—he would be returning for his senior year to defend the title and help the Bulldogs win a national championship.

Hell, it was all but written. The NFL didn’t allow juniors to enter the draft so Walker had to be heading back to Athens for …

Nope.

Walked wanted to turn pro. The USFL wanted a Joe Namath-esque figure to herald its arrival.

Enter: Herschel Walker, the New Jersey General.

And, truly, his three-year USFL run was spectacular. As a rookie in 1983, he ran for a league-best 1,812 yards and 17 touchdowns. The following season, battling through injuries, he still gained 1,339 ground yards and 16 more scores. And then, in what must be considered one of the greatest professional seasons for any position and any league, Walker broke the pro football record by rushing for 2,411 yards on 438 carries. He is the USFL’s all-time leading rusher … by more than 1,500 yards over his runner-up, Philadelphia’s Kelvin Bryant.

So why isn’t Herschel Walker No. 1?

A few reasons:

A. There were two guys who were better.

B. He never won a title.

C. He had severe limitations. Walker was fast and powerful, but made few people miss. He was terrific out of the I Formation but bewildered out of a single-back set. He could catch, but not the tough balls.

In short, he’s an all-time terrific football player who probably belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He’s simply not among the two greatest.

Sorry.

From Football for a Buck

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Player No. 20: John Reaves

Player No. 19: Richard Johnson

Player No. 18: Irv Eatman

Player No. 17: Peter Raeford

Player No. 16: Trumaine Johnson

Player No. 15: David Greenwood

Player No. 14: Joey Walters

Player No. 13: Gary Zimmerman

Player No. 12: Reggie White

Player No. 11: John Corker

Player No. 10: Luther Bradley

Player No. 9: Anthony Carter

Player No. 8: Gary Anderson

Player No. 7: Chuck Fusina

Player No. 6: Kit Lathrop

Player No. 5: Jim Kelly

Player No. 4: Bobby Hebert

Player No. 3: Herschel Walker

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life