20 Years After, Cowboys' Trade Still Reverberates

Saturday, Oct 10, 2009  |  Updated 6:48 AM PDT
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18 Nov 1996: Running back Herschel Walker of the Dallas Cowboys reaches to catch the ball during a game against the Green Bay Packers at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas, November 18, 1996. The Cowboys won the game 21-6. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport

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Jimmy Johnson has a challenge for anyone who believes the Herschel Walker trade singlehandedly turned the Dallas Cowboys into the dominant team of the 1990s.

Prove it, he says. In his words, "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. Charley Casserly, who was then general manager of the Washington Redskins, calls the trade "a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

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. He proudly points out that was "more than the entire league put together."

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? And it explains why so many teams now go into the draft looking to move up, down or both. The Cowboys didn't invent the concept, but they sure helped make it popular.
 

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