Earlier this week, the Vikings of 1989 vintage believed they were a running back away from being a Super Bowl contender. The Cowboys, under first-year owner Jerry Jones, were going nowhere. Yet, they had a marketable star named Herschel Walker who, as it would turn out, could fetch a king's ransom in trade. The Vikings had nine Pro Bowlers on their roster – even though guys like Wade Wilson, while a Pro Bowl selection, weren't really Pro Bowlers in the truest sense of the word – and all that was missing was a big-play guy who could make a difference.
What followed was the NFL equivalent to a burglary. The trade cost the Vikings five live bodies (RB Darrin Nelson, CB Issiac Holt, DE Alex Stewart and LBs Jesse Solomon and David Howard) and three first-round, three second-round and two third-round picks in return. It hamstrung the Vikings organization for five years and turned Dallas from a joke to the kingpin of the NFL. Walker, although talented, wasn't anywhere close to being worth what the Vikings gave up to get him. That trade transformed the Cowboys from a 1-15 team to a Super Bowl champ and set the Vikings back for years, denying them the top draft choices that could re-stock their own shelves.
For all their bravado and claims to be "America's Team," the Cowboys' rise to the top of the NFL in the early 1990s was a direct result of the Walker trade. They were more Minnesota's team, or at least Minnesota's former players and draft picks, than anything. Had Jones drafted Randy Moss in 1998 when the Cowboys were of Super Bowl vintage and aging together and had one last gasp in them, they likely could have added another ring to their collection. When Dallas drafted Dez Bryant a dozen years later, Jones referenced passing on Moss as the motivation to take a chance on Bryant, who, like Moss, came to the NFL with some off-field baggage that would require two people to carry. His rationale was simple – I messed up in 1998 and I'm not going to repeat that mistake.
In Walker's first home game with the Vikings, he electrified the Metrodome crowd by bring the "H-Bomb" to Minnesota. In the end, it turned out to be a Titanic-type disaster for the franchise. Moss, who it can be argued can do a lot more damage in the twilight of his career than Walker could achieve at his peak, has a chance to once again make the Cowboys regret their decision.
For those fans who will be at the Metrodome Sunday, their excitement to seeing Moss in his purple 84 jersey will likely be at the same level when Walker made his Vikings debut by returning a kickoff and losing a shoe in the process. Unfortunately for the organization, to acquire Walker the Vikings lost their shirt.
With no disrespect to Jared Allen, it took 21 years for the Vikings to make a trade of the magnitude of the Walker deal. But, instead of costing them a king's ransom, they got Moss for a third-round draft pick – a pittance compared to what was surrendered to make the Vikings the running butt of a joke for years that followed the Walker deal. The fact that it was a trade for the same player Jones has regretted missing out on for more than a decade makes it all the more ironic.
The Cowboys have their Super Bowl rings as evidence that they took advantage of the Vikings in 1989. It won't come close to making up for it, but if Moss has a typical day against the Cowboys, which, by his four previous games as a Viking would be five catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns, it would be a fitting bit of redemption.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.