If you're a longtime NFL fan, then the following piece of information from Wikipedia should blow your mind, perhaps more than any football news you could have imagined. More than the idea that Tim Tebow could start for the Eagles this year, more than the idea that Tom Brady is a cheater, more than the notion that Los Angeles will go from zero teams to two.
"Herschel Walker (born March 3, 1962) is a current professional football player for the Atlanta Falcons."
That entry could be overextending the truth a little bit, and may even change before I can finish writing this sentence, but in one very real way, it's true. After the 53 year-old Walker said on the radio a week ago that he could still play in the league, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, perhaps a bit too excited to have full control over a team, invited Walker to come to Falcons training camp. Being careful with his words, Quinn said that "from a competitive standpoint," Walker would be a great fit, meaning there is probably no chance he makes the final 53-man roster.
But what if he does?
Walker's athleticism has always been what set him apart from almost any other football player in the last 40 years. It's been said that Walker could have bypassed college and gone straight to the pros.
Since he could not do that, he went to Georgia and became one of the greatest college football players of all time, finishing third in Heisman voting in his freshman season, second after his sophomore year and first as a junior. Were he playing today, in an era when underclassmen are more likely to win the Heisman, he may have won it all three years.
Now, 32 years after his final college season and 18 years after his last NFL carry, Walker wants to prove he can still do it. And technically, there are no laws of physics that say a 53-year-old can't play professional football…. Just common sense.
But maybe Walker is the exception to common sense.
Five years ago, as he was competing in mixed martial arts fights at age 48, Walker told CNN he was "going to do something different." He mentioned that his diet consists of only one meal per day, which is completely vegetarian, little to no protein, and his exercise routine is up to 1,500 situps and 2,000 pushups per day. He also said that if he's not hungry, he'll go three or four days without eating, all while he's still doing kickboxing, wrestling or whatever athletic hobby strikes him.
And when he appeared in ESPN's "The Body" issue that year, he looked every bit as fit as any player you could find in the NFL today.
He indicated as much in 2011 when he was hinting on a return to football, saying he was in better shape at that point than when he was in his 20s. The only problem is nobody took him up on that offer back then, but now that his local team in Atlanta has a new head coach (one that's eight years younger than him) it appears at least his presence is welcome. Unless you're a Vikings fan that's still bitter about the 1989 trade that sent way too many picks to the Cowboys for his services, how can you not root for Walker to make it back?
You've heard the classic "He's so old … HOW OLD IS HE?!" jokes before, but this is just a list of facts about how old Herschel Walker is.
• Walker is so old that he played in the USFL, a league that only lasted from 1983-1985. Other notable players from the USFL include Hall of Famers Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Reggie White. Walker was the 1985 USFL MVP, rushing for 2,411 yards, the most of any professional football player in history.
• During his first season in the NFL with the Cowboys, he shared the ball with Tony Dorsett, a running back who was inducted into the Hall of Fame 21 years ago.
• He's older than these franchises: Texans, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens (no surprises there), Seahawks, Bucs (OK…), Bengals, Saints, Falcons, Dolphins (wow).
• He's older than the Super Bowl.
• Walker was born the same year as head coaches John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera, Ken Whisenhunt and Rex Ryan. He's older than Chip Kelly, Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton and a number of other coaches. He's 10 years older than the Steelers' Mike Tomlin.
• As of a year ago, the average age of an NFL general manager was 50.
• He was selected in the fifth round of the 1985 NFL Draft, as the Cowboys suspected the USFL might not be around much longer. Other players drafted that year include Bruce Smith (notoriously the oldest person alive, I think), Chris Doleman, Jack Del Rio, Andre Reed and Jerry Rice.
• He's older than Bo Jackson, who was the top pick in 1986.
• He helped lead Georgia to the 1981 National Championship, while falling just shy of winning the titles in 1982 and 1983. His college contemporaries included Dan Marino, who helped Pitt beat Georgia in the 1982 Sugar Bowl; George Rogers, who beat him in the Heisman race in 1980 and was the top pick in the 1981 draft; and Marcus Allen, the winner of the 1981 Heisman trophy.
• When No. 2 Georgia faced No. 1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl in 1983, Joe Paterno was 56 years old, just three years older than Walker is now.
• The oldest NFL player of all-time is George Blanda, who played as a quarterback and kicker until he was 48, retiring in 1976. Walker was 14 when Blanda retired. He'd be 84, were he still alive today.
• Nobody on record has ever played Australian Rules football (a league that goes back to the mid-1800s) or Rugby League football (late 1800s) past the age of 48.
• It's not likely that any running back has ever played football past the age of 40, let alone 50. The closest example would be Jim Thorpe, who is credited with one game with the Chicago Cardinals in 1928, when he was 40. The oldest running back of all-time on official record -- or at least someone who could actually still play football -- would be the aforementioned Marcus Allen, who rushed for 505 yards and 11 touchdowns with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997, when he was 37. Allen and Walker retired that same year. We haven't heard anything about Allen wanting to play again….
Typically, when we see NFL players give it their all toward the end and fail to compete, we know that even if there are no physical rules that say you can't play past a certain age, in our hearts there are natural laws that say the body will simply lose the ability to do things at some point. The best players who last into their late 30s manage to find ways to play at a high level without the same physical gifts, guys like Rice, Brett Favre and Warren Moon, who all competed into their early 40s.
But it's been so long since we've seen Walker do anything at all that there is no great proof that he couldn't still do it. The truth is Walker's NFL career was fairly disappointing, but over his last three seasons he averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 47 attempts. It's a really small sample size to work with, but it's all we have.
He was as healthy as they come, missing only four games in a 12-year career, and he had value as a third-down back and return specialist. With the Falcons, a team that clearly has no leader at the running back position after releasing Steven Jackson (presumably for being "too old" at 31), could Walker find himself as depth to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, two players that are more than 30 years younger than him?
Crazier things have happened.
Wait, no they haven't. That's exactly what makes this such a great story worth rooting for. You can tell your grandkids about it one day … or maybe Walker will still be playing.
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Kenneth Arthur is a freelance writer currently covering the NFL at Rolling Stone and the Seattle Seahawks at FieldGulls.com. His work has also been found at Football Outsiders and SB Nation, and he thinks Andrew Luck is "just OK."