Dickerson, Eric Demetric

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DICKERSON, Eric Demetric

(b. 2 September 1960 in Sealy, Texas), one of the most prolific running backs in college and the National Football League (NFL) who, with his tremendous stamina and smooth running style, broke rushing records at Southern Methodist University and in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts.

Dickerson was raised in the small town of Sealy by his great-aunt Viola and great-uncle Kary. He grew up in a loving and supportive home, believing they were his mother and father. When he was fifteen, however, he discovered that his birth mother was Mary, a woman he thought to be his older sister. Dickerson seems to have been relatively unaffected by these revelations. He maintained a close relationship with both Viola, whom he considered his true mother, and Kary, who died when Eric was seventeen.

At Sealy High School Dickerson ran for over 6,000 yards and was a Parade High School All-American. He ran the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds and held the record for the most yards in a Texas High School championship game at 296 yards—a record not broken until 1994 by another running back from Sealy. He was the nation's top prep school running back during his senior year.

Dickerson wanted to play for coach Barry Switzer at the University of Oklahoma, but his mother felt that Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas was better for him—she didn't trust Switzer. Dickerson bowed to her wishes and entered SMU in 1978. His first year there was miserable because the older players resented the hype surrounding his high school play, and his injuries that year limited him to only 477 yards rushing on 115 carries. Returning for his sophomore year, his coaches implemented a strategy that had him and running back Craig James alternate as tailback. Though Dickerson rushed for 928 yards that season and averaged 7.9 yards per carry, he felt that the coaches weren't using him to his fullest ability.

Disheartened, he attempted to transfer to Oklahoma. But Switzer never received his phone message, and his mother's opinion of the coach hadn't changed. As a result, Dickerson returned to SMU for the remainder of his college career. Later, Dickerson wrote that he learned two things from this experience: "don't be so impatient" and "my mom has excellent advice." He went on to break Earl Campbell's Southwestern Conference rushing record with 4,450 yards and the SMU touchdown record with forty-seven. He averaged an astonishing 147 rushing yards per game and won All-American honors in his final two years. His running style was so smooth that it appeared he was running at half speed—until he broke into the secondary, and no one could catch him.

Dickerson's wish to play for the Los Angeles Rams came true when they chose him as the second overall choice in the 1982 draft, after the Colts chose John Elway as the number-one pick. That July the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League offered Dickerson a contract substantially larger than that of the Rams. Dickerson turned to his mother for advice again. "Go with the NFL," she told him, noting that the NFL was better established.

Though the six-foot, three-inch, 220-pound Dickerson had poor eyesight and wore goggles on the field, he broke the rookie rushing record that year with 1,808 yards on 390 attempts and 18 rushing touchdowns. He was named Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press and was the NFC Player of the Year. His second year was even better: he rushed for 2,105 yards, breaking the single-season record from 1973 held by his idol, O. J. Simpson. He also broke Simpson's record for the most 100-yard rushing games in a season with twelve, as well as the record for the most yards from scrimmage in a single season with 2,244.

With Dickerson's help, the Rams made it to the playoffs in each of his first four years; he led the league in rushing three of them. His ability to run as hard at the end of the game as in the beginning earned him the nickname "Mr. Fourth Quarter." He holds the NFL record for yards rushing in a playoff game (285).

In 1985 Dickerson held out for more money and missed the first two games of the season. Nevertheless, he rushed for 1,234 yards that season and set a personal record of 248 yards rushing in a single game against the Cowboys. In 1986 he was named the Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year.

In the strike-shortened season of 1987, Dickerson's constant complaining and contract disputes led the Rams to trade him to the Indianapolis Colts in a three-team, ten-player deal. In only nine games with the Colts he rushed for 1,011 yards. He followed with two more 1,000-yard seasons, setting an NFL record with seven straight 1,000-yard seasons.

In 1990 the Colts accused Dickerson of exaggerating minor injuries, and others suggested that despite his speed, he was lazy, running out of bounds when it wasn't necessary. They suspended him for a number of games in the 1991 season for "conduct detrimental to the team." The next season the Colts traded Dickerson to the Los Angeles Raiders on draft day. After an unproductive season, the Raiders released him, and the Atlanta Falcons picked him up and tried to trade him to the Green Bay Packers. However, Dickerson failed a physical when the team doctors discovered a spinal injury. As a result, he retired on 20 October 1993.

Dickerson ended his career with 13,259 yards, ranking fourth in total yards behind Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, and Emmitt Smith. He was only the seventh running back to reach 10,000 yards rushing, but he reached it faster (ninety-one games) than any of the other seven. He was named to six Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro five times. In 1999 he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

After retiring, Dickerson devoted himself to public speaking and charity work, and was a college football analyst and sideline reporter. He also cohosted In the Huddle for Fox Sports with his former SMU teammate Craig James. Beginning in 2000 he became the sideline reporter for ABC's Monday Night Football.

Dickerson's speed, fluid moves, and straight-up running style, coupled with his stamina and his record-setting rushing yardage, make him one of the premiere running backs in the annals of the NFL.

Eric Dickerson and Steve Delsohn, On the Run (1986), is an autobiographical story in which Dickerson gives numerous personal details and defends himself against some of the criticisms leveled at him. Two books written during his play with the Rams give brief biographies of Dickerson: Rich Roberts, Eric Dickerson: Record-Breaking Rusher (1985), and Nancy Neilson, Eric Dickerson (1988). Football Greats by Joe Horrigan and Bob Carroll (1998) details Dickerson's major accomplishments on the field and relates some anecdotes.

Markus H. McDowell

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