Had Mike Lynn’s plan worked, his obits would all refer to him as “the GM who led the Vikings to their first Super Bowl championship.” As we know the plan didn’t work and instead Lynn will forever be remembered as “the guy who traded a bunch of draft picks for that washed-up Herschel Walker.” Is this fair? Absolutely. Lynn knowingly staked his legacy on that one trade. The experiment failed and the rest is infamy.
There’s other stuff to remember about Lynn too, of course. The Vikings did make the playoffs nine times under his watch. He did swing the trade with Miami that brought over Anthony Carter. He was the man who claimed Cris Carter off waivers after Carter was dumped by Buddy Ryan and the Eagles (that was about the last thing Lynn did in Minnesota before leaving to become president of the World League). He did sign John Randle as an undrafted free agent in 1990, starting the unheralded and allegedly undersized defensive tackle on the road to the Hall of Fame.
But there are the negatives too, beyond the ill-fated Herschel trade. There was the decision to promote Les Steckel to head coach after Bud Grant’s retirement, a move that resulted in arguably the most disastrous year in team history. There were allegations by certain players, Joey Browner chief among them, that Lynn showed a racial bias against blacks when negotiating player contracts (Browner would later recant the allegation). There was the infamous Pecos River trip, a comically ill-fated experiment in offseason “team unity” building, masterminded by Lynn, that resulted in a 6-10 campaign.
Towering over all of it is the Herschel trade. In 1989 Lynn mortgaged the team’s future in hopes of adding the final piece to the Super Bowl puzzle, acquiring Walker and four picks from the Cowboys in exchange for five players and seven draft picks. But Walker would prove to be a bust in Minnesota, running for over 100 yards only four times in his two-and-a-half-seasons with the team. Even worse for Lynn’s legacy, the Cowboys would use the picks he gave them to create the backbone of a dynasty.
Mike Lynn, architect of the Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty of the ’90s, is dead at 76. Would make a nice Onion headline. My 16-year-old self is not smiling. I had to put up with a lot of crap because of that Herschel Walker trade. Still, he did put together a pretty swell defense, did Mr. Lynn. A Super Bowl would’ve been nice but that’s just how it is with sports. Somebody wins, somebody loses. And the guy who loses gets sort of trashed in his obituary.