Herschel Walker: ‘I can play in the NFL today’

Former Heisman Trophy-winning running back Herschel Walker gained 8,225 career yards and 61 touchdowns in his NFL career.

Matt Strasen-USA TODAY Sports

Herschel Walker hasn’t lost a bit of confidence over the years.

It’s understandable, too. After following up an historic three-year run at the University of Georgia — a legendary college career highlighted by a national championship and the 1982 Heisman Trophy — with 8,225 career yards and 61 touchdowns in the NFL, there’s no reason for Walker to doubt his own abilities on the gridiron. He’s considered one of sports’ all-time premier athletes for a reason.

But Walker’s latest claims beg the question: is the former football, track, bobsledding and mixed martial arts star a bit overconfident? In a recent interview, the 52-year-old says he still has what it takes to cut it at professional football’s highest level.

"I can play in the NFL today," Walker said in an interview with USA Today. "I couldn’t take every snap. But running backs nowadays don’t play every down. Now they send in the choir section. Physically, I can still do it."

Walker has kept himself in peek physical condition even after his retirement by following a grueling workout routine and tedious diet, winning both of his professional MMA bouts — his latest win coming at the age of 48. There’s no questioning that Walker has kept himself about as fit as one could ever expect to be at his age, but in the physically punishing NFL (the same league he managed to rush for just 103 total yards over his final two seasons in 1996 and 1997) that’s often not good enough. There are plenty of players, including running backs, in top physical condition — often because they are in their mid- to late-20s — that can’t make a team’s roster.

Walker did clarify that he is not envisioning a comeback attempt.

But it was enough to spark many, including USA Today, to harken back to a 47-year-old Jim Brown declaring that he could still play in the league in a 1983 cover story for Sports Illustrated. Brown, then the NFL’s career rushing leader, even publicly challenged Steelers running back Franco Harris (who was chasing the record) to a 40-yard dash at the time, claiming the league’s standards for greatness had changed: "Gaining 1,000 yards in a 14-game season is like walking backwards. Gaining 1,000 yards in a 16-game season isn’t even worth talking about. The standards today are lower, the conditions are easier and the expectations are less."

Walker didn’t make that bold of a statement. Still, his claim of still being able to play in a game dominated by running backs he’s nearly three decades older than is no less outlandish. But if there’s ever been a 52-year-old capable of such an athletic feat — as impossible as it sounds — Walker has to be near the top of the list.