"Curtis is the kind of player who makes your eyes light up every time he touches the football," says George Haffner, the A&M offensive coordinator. Haffner coached Tony Dorsett at Pitt, so he knows whereof he speaks. "He has the same type of speed or better than Dorsett has. Curtis isn't as evasive as Tony, but he's in a class by himself in his explosiveness. And when the pro scouts ask about Curtis—which is often—I tell them he's got stuff inside of him, too. I think he's a winner."
"I don't have any doubt Dickey will be drafted in the first round," says Gil Brandt, vice-president of personnel development for the NFL Cowboys. "I feel he will be the first back taken—and that includes [Billy] Sims and the bunch. You don't find big, strong running backs as smart as Dickey every day of the week. There are no negatives...outside of the fact that he may not play when he's slightly injured." Here Brandt lowers his voice ominously, as if the general subject is somehow unspeakable.
"That's the one question pro scouts ask most about him," says Wilson. "It's evident they are concerned about it. But even with his injuries, Curtis has managed to play well. He has proven this year that he can play with a little pain."
The question of a little pain is not a little question. This season alone, a little pain to Dickey has meant: a bruised shoulder before the season even began, which caused him to miss two weeks of practice; a lower back bruise in the Aggies' opener, the result of a butting tackle, which slowed him for the next game at Baylor; a dislocated thumb against Memphis State, which limited him to five carries against Texas Tech the following week; a twisted back sustained in a wrestling class in the week before the Rice game; and another bash to the back in A&M's otherwise easy 47-14 win over SMU the next week, which caused him to spend most of the game on the sidelines. In all, Dickey has missed seven quarters of action and played at less than full effectiveness in a lot of others. The consensus is, however, that he gets injured no more than any hard-running back. Still....
There is a locker-room scene in the movie North Dallas Forty in which a coach accuses a flanker of lacking character, because he is reluctant to take a shot to numb the pain of a pulled hamstring—which would enable him to play. "You can't make it in this league if you don't know the difference between pain and injury!" the coach screams at the player. Dickey didn't particularly care for the movie. Yet he didn't doubt the truth of the situation—that pro football has a narrow definition of injury.
"It happens to everybody," says Dickey, sounding a little bit nervous and a little bit defensive. "Even the pros have injuries, you know. It just happens. They're unpredictable." It is suggested to him that he has had more than his share. "Well, maybe when you're a cannonball like me, it happens more. I try to go around them, but I can't always."
Injuries aren't the only thing Dickey thinks about when he weighs his future. There are the Olympics. Dickey is the fastest man in college football, having run 60 yards in 6.15 seconds, which is what Haffner refers to when he says there is no one in Dickey's class when it comes to explosiveness. His best 100-meter time is 10.11, which he attained in finishing second to Clancy Edwards in the NCAA outdoor finals. That clocking is about one-tenth of a second off gold-medal time, and Dickey's track coaches are confident he has that tenth in him. They say that he has never trained as a sprinter, that track has always taken a backseat to football, that each year he goes directly from spring football practice into the middle of the track season, that he has always been a sprinter with a football player's muscles. In the spring of 1978, they point out with incredulity, Dickey played a full scrimmage on a Friday, gaining over 100 yards, and on Saturday won the 100-meter dash in the Texas Relays. This coming spring Dickey hopes to be able to devote his full attention to track, because his college football career will have ended.
"Being in football shape and being in track shape are two different things," he says. "Last spring I got some pulled muscles from trying to get in track shape too fast. Those other sprinters, they run track all year round. Ain't no way I'll beat them. I remember last year when I ran the 100-yard dash I was tired at the finish—dead tired, breathing hard. Those other guys acted as if they'd never run. I know I could get in that kind of shape if I had to. I feel like with time to train I could hang in there with the best of them.
"I really would like to try for the Olympics," he adds softly and about as passionately as he seems to get about anything. "It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. I look forward to it." He stops and thinks for a second, as if he had just convinced himself to go for it. "Yeah," he says with quiet conviction, nodding his head. "Yeah."
Dickey opens the fortune cookie on the table of the restaurant where he has just finished dinner. It is a Japanese steak house in Bryan, and Dickey has never been there before. The fortune cookie says, "You will always get what you want through your charm and personality." Dickey smiles. He crumples the tiny ribbon of paper in his big hands and puts it in an ashtray, but then retrieves it and sticks it in his shirt pocket. "I better hold on to this," he says with a smile.