When Walker kept his dignity, it was special mark of grid class

DALLAS — DALLAS -- The blow struck by the Honorable Herschel Walker, against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday eve, was quietly toasted by a secret cell of hardliners.

They are not in disguise, these diehards. They are easily identified by flowing gray beards, confused expressions and a habit of lurching when arising from a lounger. Confronted with anything newfangled, they utter the code word: harumph, and if they are outside, they will spit.


Each wears a medallion emblazoned with the number 34 worn by Mr. Earl Campbell. Oddly enough, this was also the figure on the blouse of Herschel Walker on his trips to the Dallas end zone.

These surely were the two sweetest touchdowns in Walker's high-scoring career. This was against the team that deemed him expendable, him, Herschel Walker, the nonpareil.


He would have been pardoned had he thrown back his head, spread his arms wide and gazed up at the crowd as if to say: "Hey, let's hear it for me! Ain't I the cat's whiskers? Ain't Dallas stupid?"

You sense he was tempted. On his first crunch, when he drove Ken Norton into the ground like a tent stake, Herschel almost yielded. He started to raise the ball high for a showboat spike and perhaps go into a spasm of some sort, but then he stopped and settled for flipping the ball over his shoulder. It was as though he suddenly thought, hey, I'm not being Joe Cool.

Herschel prides himself on being Joe Cool, unflappable, wearing his exemplary feats casually, as one tosses a cashmere sweater around his shoulders. Or a female sweeps across the lobby, carelessly dragging her mink on the marble. Joe Cool would dismiss it as a common occurrence, as Marlon Brando would shrug off an Oscar.

Earl Campbell, of course, never indulged in self-congratulatory antics. On his numerous touchdowns for the Oilers, he would drop the ball to the rug with no fanfare, or toss it to the zebra. And this, he was doing in a town redhot for showboats.

Remember, Houston was the stage for Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, a pioneer end-zone hot dog. Johnson had a dance he performed after scoring and it was cute

sy. A novelty. A trademark, like the white shoes.

But then everybody got into the act. Butch Johnson made perhaps more difficult catches per minutes played than any snagger in Dallas history. But Butch was not a starter and he ached for attention. He worked as hard perfecting his end-zone routine as he did running pass patterns.

Of course, self-serving theatrics are nothing new. A rassler named Gorgeous George, 40 years ago, contrived these gimmicks as pure carnival. Cassius Clay admittedly stole the idea and adapted it to his own lifestyle.


At first, it drew censure from traditionalists. Such stuff belongs in a rassle ring and nowhere else. That was a long time ago. Now even us grumps realize it's all show biz. Sports, politics, art, literature, the very pizza we put in our mouths. Show biz.

Still, the frank, clarion demand for recognition needs some limits. Let Michael Irvin do his juvenile little act and Emmitt Smith follow his chum's lead, let Kenny Gant do his yell-leading thing.

(Even in hostile Philadelphia, awaiting a kickoff, Gant was waving his arms, encouraging the sound. His coaches probably had rather he be concentrating on how and where he was going to run with the dang ball if it came to him.)

However, to our secret brotherhood, there is an extreme. Defensive guys want their part of the show, too, but they need to watch their timing.

Darrell Royal struck a chord recently. "Players today do more celebrating after they make a tackle," said former Texas coach, "than we did when we won a game."

Once the Cowboys were being blown away, like four touchdowns in the last quarter. Larry Bethea, a reserve lineman, was sent in for trash time and he happened to make a tackle.


Glory, what a heroic deed! He --ed to a secluded area where the audience could see his number, shot arms skyward and wiggled as if a mouse were in his underpants. Four touchdowns behind and minutes to play and here was Bethea, acting as if he had just conquered Iraq single-handed. It was the silliest act I ever saw in football. Harumph.