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Austin Murphy
November 09, 1987
After a blockbuster trade brought in Eric Dickerson (29), improved Indianapolis looked even tougher
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November 09, 1987

Break Up The Colts!

After a blockbuster trade brought in Eric Dickerson (29), improved Indianapolis looked even tougher

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On Friday night Dickerson was dressed not as a Ram or a Colt, but as a chief, an Indian chief, on his way to a Halloween party. "I had a great big headdress, feathers, everything," he says. Then his phone rang. It was Meyer, who told him he was a Colt. Dickerson took a rain check on the costume party and caught the red-eye to Indianapolis. On Saturday morning he met some of his new mates, attended team meetings and walked through a few basic plays in street clothes. Says quarterback Jack Trudeau, "When we first heard about the trade, we were saying, 'Can you imagine Eric Dickerson in a Colts uniform?' No one could."

Which is understandable. Until after the strike, the Rams swore they would never let him go. But Dickerson is as proud as he is talented. He wore management down with sheer determination and, well, petulance. He compared himself to a stallion whose spirit had been broken. He insisted that he was being underpaid at $682,000 this year and that Los Angeles refused to renegotiate his contract to pay him what he was worth. This is the same contract he had renegotiated after holding out for 46 days at the start of the 1985 season—when he also had agreed in writing that he would not ask to renegotiate until it had expired.

Dickerson implied that his dispute with L.A. had taken such a toll on him that he might not be able to give his all on the field. In a Monday night loss to the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 26, Dickerson didn't start for the first time in his pro career. After scoring on a 27-yard run in the second quarter, he left the game, claiming he had aggravated a sore muscle in his thigh. Three days later, Rams coach John Robinson put him on the inactive list for last Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers, saying that Dickerson was "physically and mentally unable to play."

"Their expression, not mine," said Dickerson before the Jets game. "Don't get me wrong, I know $975,000 [what he says was the Rams' final offer] is a lot of money, but not for what I do. I gave them so much, and they didn't want to thank me for it."

A reporter asked Dickerson if he thought he would need to renegotiate this contract. Negative, Dickerson said. "This one's fat!"

Fat, yes. "But look at it this way," says an Indianapolis veteran who asked not to be identified. "Five-point-three million is a lot of money, but now the old man [Irsay] doesn't have to worry about signing his top picks for the next couple years. That was kind of an annual aggravation for him anyway."

Many observers think that the senior Irsay's biggest mistake as an owner was his failure to sign John Elway, whom the Colts made the No. 1 pick in the 1983 draft. Elway had vowed before the draft that he would never play in Baltimore. A week later, Irsay traded the rights to Elway to the Denver Broncos.

The loss of Elway has stung less and less as Chris Hinton has developed. A massive yet explosive offensive tackle, the 285-pound Hinton came to the Colts from Denver as part of the Elway deal, which also included a first-round pick. Indy used it to select Ron Solt, a fine guard who's not far behind Hinton in talent. Center Ray Donaldson is, like Hinton, a Pro Bowl performer. Against a flat Jets defensive line, Hinton & Co. cleared gaping swaths of daylight for Dickerson and Albert Bentley, who, in what may have been a last hurrah, ran for 145 yards on 29 carries. Next week he'll probably be returning kickoffs.

On the sideline, Dickerson seldom strayed from the side of Meyer, whose future, like that of the Colts, is suddenly brighter. Meyer's hiring last year was greeted with horselaughs around the NFL. This was the guy who had arrived in New England from SMU with a whip and a chair in 1982, a year after the Patriots had lost 14 of 16 games. "I'd heard it was a country club," says Meyer. He went 18-15 in New England but was unpopular with the players for his iron fist, so he was fired after 2� seasons.

In Indianapolis, Meyer has gone easier on the spit and polish. "Of course, I've learned," he says. "I'd do some things differently, sure."

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