The Great Train Robbery

Post date: Apr 14, 2019 8:28:38 PM

On October 12, 1989 Jimmy Johnson and Mike Lynn agreed on a trade that would go down as one of the most famous, (or infamous defending on which side you were on) in NFL history. Dallas was 0-5 and Jimmy Johnson was looking to move Herschel to build for the future.   Minnesota thought that Herschel could help them make a Superbowl run. 

Here’s how it originally went down.

Dallas Received

5 players: Darrin Nelson, Jesse Solomon, David Howard Issiac Holt and Alex Stewart

Minnesota Draft picks

1st: 1990

2nd: 1990

6th: 1990

Minnesota Received

1 player: Herschel Walker

Dallas Draft picks

3rd: 1990, and 1991

10th: 1990

But it wasn’t over.  Darrin Nelson refused to report to Dallas and was traded to San Diego for more picks. 

And even though the players Dallas received were better than most of his current players, Johnson knew that if he cut them, he would receive more (conditional) picks from the Vikings.   He claimed publicly that he had just committed The Great Train Robbery.  He told his coaches not to play them and informed the league of his intention to seek conditional picks and somehow worked out a deal with Mike Lynn to keep some of the players Solomon, Howard, and Holt) and the picks.  In other words, it could have been even worse.    

So here is how the final deal went.  (Remember, this doesn’t include the deals Dallas made with these picks to turn them into even more.) 

Dallas Received

4 players: Jesse Solomon, David Howard, Issiac Holt and Alex Stewart (he was cut)

Minnesota Draft picks:

1st: 1990, 1991 (conditional-Solomon), 1992 (conditional-Holt)

2nd: 1990, 1991 (conditional-Howard), 1992 (conditional-Nelson)

3rd: 1992 (conditional-Stewart)

6th: 1990

Minnesota Received

1 player: Herschel Walker

Dallas Draft picks:

3rd: 1990, and 1991

5th: 1990

10th: 1990

San Diego Received

1 Player: Darrin Nelson


Fun Facts

-Apparently Dallas originally contacted Cleveland and was ready to deal Herschel there, but Jimmy Johnson thought getting another team involved might sweeten the deal and possibly cause a bidding war.  He contacted the Vikings because apparently Mike Lynn had mentioned something to Johnson about Herschel previously.

-Herschel had to be persuaded to agree to the deal.  He received a large exit bonus from Dallas as well as a new house and a Mercedes from the Vikings. 

-Dallas fans and most of the media were not happy at the time of the trade.  They felt what they were getting from Minnesota was worthless. Jimmy Johnson’s assistants weren’t real keen on it either and tried to talk him out of it. 

-This was before the North Stars moved and after “Hail Mary/Drew Pearson Push off”.  Minnesota seems to have an unhealthy cosmic sports connection to Dallas.  Suck it Dallas!

-The trade could have been worse.  Jimmy Johnson could have extracted even more compensatory picks from Mike Lynn.  Lynn had to negotiate a settlement with Johnson the following February to stop the bleeding. 

We all watched Herschel run out of his shoe in his first game with the Vikings.  I’ll never forget exactly where I was and how excited I felt.  I thought that this could be it.  I was 16 years old.  Herschel only played with the Vikings for 2 more season after that.  He signed to play with Philadelphia in 1992.  The painful irony of the situation is that the draft picks lasted longer for Dallas than Herschel did in Minnesota.  While Herschel moved on to Philly and the Cowboys were headed to Jimmy Johnson’s first Superbowl (1992 season), the Vikings were still paying for it and had to sit there and watch it all.



Herschel photo - St Cloud Times 

Star Tribune Clip

Pro Football Reference