SEE DICK RUN
If there were such a thing as secondary alcohol inhalation, Eric Dickerson would be legally drunk by now. This is because a man with an orange hat, a Denver Bronco T-shirt and 3½ quarts of Coors on his breath is screaming love sonnets at him from a yard away late in a game at Denver's Mile High Stadium earlier this season. "Hey, Dickerson!" he barks over a chain link fence. "You didn't do squat today! Next time they ought to let your banker run with it!"
This is a critique Dickerson doesn't need. It's a freezing dusk, and Dickerson already knows the score: 13 carries, 35 yards and a 14-3 loss for his Indianapolis Colts. "Here's $20!" says the reviewer. "Maybe you'll play better next time!"
A month earlier, Los Angeles Ram fans at Anaheim Stadium, which Dickerson once called home, did an equally lousy imitation of the Welcome Wagon. They showered Monopoly money on him whenever he went into and out of the tunnel to the locker rooms. "They're cheap," says Dickerson, or Dick to his few friends. "If they had thrown real money, I'd have picked it up."
The disrespect is mutual. Often Dickerson has an itch to hop fences and do a Linda Blair to certain necks in the stands. "In San Francisco people spit on us going into the locker room," he says. "In Cleveland they throw batteries and bones. Why not just let them have loaded guns and shoot at us?"
Dick is not overly fond of the average NFL customer. "Most of the guys I see watching football are wanna-be athletes," he says. "It's always, 'Oh, I hurt my knee, or else I'd have been in there.' Right. I wonder what they'd feel like lying in a pile of guys, hearing a knee snap and the guy scream a scream like they'd never heard—and then have to line up for the next play with that scream on your mind."
More to the point, why should he love the fans when they've never loved him? For seven years Dickerson has been the best running back in the league, yet football fans have never cuddled up to him the way they did to O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton and Gale Sayers. Nor have they worshiped him the way they did Jim Brown and Earl Campbell. The criticism has never been harsher than this year, perhaps because the Colts are having a droopy season and because the hamstring he pulled on Sept. 24 shrink-wrapped his numbers for a while—he ranks only seventh in the rushing race—and sidelined him for a game. ESPN's Pete Axthelm recently called Dickerson "one of the most overrated players in the history of the sport." On NFL Live this year, Simpson said Bo Jackson was better. Dickerson has had few endorsement deals, to say nothing of hawking a Hertz with Arnie.
Here is a man who has 56 career 100-yard games, four rushing titles and the alltime record for yards in a season (2,105). Here is a blur who got to 10,000 yards in fewer games (91) than anybody else in history—seven fewer than Brown, 19 fewer than Simpson, 22 fewer than Payton. With 933 rushing yards this year after the Colts' 10-6 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, he's about to become the first player ever to run for 1,000 yards in seven straight seasons. At 29, with 10,848 career yards, he has a chance to surpass Payton's alltime rushing mark of 16,726 yards.
Yet many fans don't know who he is. Maybe they can't see who he is, what with the extra-large shoulder pads, flak jacket, hip pads, neck roll and goggles. Even his pinup poster shows him being assembled in a laboratory, piece by piece, and features the tagline ROBOBACK. Maybe we're reluctant to trust a running back who is so sane he is afraid of pain. Dickerson has been known to find happiness on the sideline. "What are the out-of-bounds lines there for?" he says. But can a man who never missed a pro game because of injury until this season really be trying?
Maybe that's it exactly. O.J. wriggled past would-be tacklers with moves that would make a chiropractor grimace. Brown looked as if he were ready to run through the side of a bus. But Dickerson makes running with the football seem so painless, so seamless.