Dickerson, Eric 1960–
Eric Dickerson 1960–
Professional football player, commentator
Perhaps the most prolific running back of all time, especially in the 1980s, Eric Dickerson spent his career successfully eluding tackles. His success allowed him to not only run rampant through football’s record books, but straight to the game’s Hall of Fame.
Born on September 2, 1960 in Sealy, Texas, Dickerson had a startling revelation when he was 15. It was then he learned that the woman he thought to be his mother was actually his great-great aunt and the woman he knew as his sister, Helen, was actually his biological mother. At Sealy High School, Dickerson was a phenomenal athlete. His prep career wrapped up in 1978, when the team went unbeaten at 15-0 and won the state championship game. Dickerson ran 296 yards and scored four touchdowns in that game. His speed paid off on the track as well when, in 1977, he won two state championship titles. Dickerson ran the 100-meter in 10.3 seconds and clocked a time of 20.9 in the 200-meter sprint.
Dickerson went on to attend Southern Methodist University where he ran 4,450 yards and scored 48 touchdowns. He finished his college football career as an All-American, taking third place in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1982. He was named Second Team All-American his junior year, and was also named Offensive Player of the Year in the Southwest Conference in his junior and senior years. Dickerson broke the conference yardage and rushing attempt records of Earl Campbell.
Drafted by the then Los Angeles Rams in 1983, Dickerson wasted no time establishing himself among the league’s best running backs. He would also set the tone for what would be another staple in career: being dogged by controversy. In the Texas Monthly, writer Annie Dingus illustrated that Dickerson’s introduction to the prosrankled many fans in the south, especially Texas. “In April 1983 Dickerson was the first-round pick for the Los Angeles Rams and the second pick overall, after John Elway,” Dingus wrote. “He angered Houston fans by stating flatly that he didn’t want to play for the Oilers and later irritated many more Texans by asserting that he hated the Dallas Cowboys.”
In his inaugural season, Dickerson scored a career-high 20 touchdowns, while running 1,808 yards, one of which was a career-high 85-yard touchdown run. At the end of the season, he was named NFL Rookie of the Year, NFC Rookie of the Year, and Offensive
Born Eric Dimitric Dickerson on September 2, 1960 in Sealy, Texas. Education: Southern Methodist University.
Career: Los Angeles Rams, 1983-87; Indianapolis Colts, 1987-92; Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93; Atlanta Falcons, 1993; retired, 1993; appeared in six Pro Bowls; sideline reporter, ABC-TV’s “Monday Night Football.” 2000.
Awards: Rookie of the Year; MVP, 2 years; Daniel F. Reeves Memorial award; inducted to the Football Hall of Fame, 1999;
Addresses: Office— ABC, Ine., 2040 Avenue of the Stars, Century City, CA 90067
Rookie of the year. He set rookie records in yardage gained, rushing attempts (390), and touchdowns (18).
During his time in Los Angeles, Dickerson ran a total of 8,533 yards and scored 62 rushing touchdowns. In 1984 and 1986, he lead the league in rushing yardage. Additionally, he made three Pro Bowl appearances. During the 1984 season, he ran 2,105 yards, setting a single-season record. In 1987, just before he would be traded to the Indianapolis Colts, Dickerson signed a lucrative, four-year, $10.65 million contract.
Then came the critics. If he had an unproductive day on the field, fans in the stands wasted little time letting him know. Due to poor vision, Dickerson’s on-the-field goggles became his trademark. Dingus remarked that wasn’t the only thing fans would associate with Dickerson. “Because his vision was poor, he habitually wore goggles on the field. He also had trouble seeing his fans’ point of view,” Dingus wrote. “He alienated many by grousing about his low pay and his dissatisfaction with his chosen sport.”
Viewed as an overpaid jock, some fans continually used his high-salary as a base for criticism. Following his 1987 trade to Indianapolis, when he first returned to Anaheim to play against the Rams, Dickerson was greeted with a shower of Monopoly play money and chants of “Eric the Ingrate.” But Dickerson would shake it off and continue to put up impressive numbers. Showing Colts ownership they made a good decision, Dickerson ran 1,011 yards and scored five touchdowns in nine games. His first full, 16-game season yielded 1,659 yards.
The 1989 season would be the last year Dickerson would run more than 1,000 yards. He finished the 1989 campaign with 1,311 yards run and seven touchdowns scored, earning his fifth Pro Bowl appearance. Over the next four seasons, Dickerson’s productivity would taper off, despite running 677 yards in his fifth and final Pro Bowl in 1990. He ran one more season in Indianapolis, netting 537 total rushing yards and two touchdowns.
In 1992, Dickerson was traded to the then Los Angeles Raiders for one season. In 16 games, he ran 729 yards and scored two touchdowns. The following season, he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons, where he played for four games before being traded to Green Bay. While with the Packers, Dickerson went in for a physical only to discover a painful, bulging disc in his lower back. He retired from football shortly thereafter.
However, when his career wound up and the numbers were tallied, Dickerson had solidified himself as one of the greatest running backs in the NFL. His 13,259 yards rushing rank him third on the all-time rushing list, behind Detroit’s second-place Barry Sanders and the all-time leader himself, Chicago’s Walter Payton. With 96 touchdowns, Dickerson ranks 13th on the all-time touchdown list. He was inducted in to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1999.
His success on the field, despite the distractions off it—contract-related criticisms, previous allegations that he once hit a woman he was dating—appeared to come naturally for the man many called Mr. Fourth Quarter. In a 1992 Sport magazine interview with John Czarnecki, Dickerson said he just lets instincts take over when on the field. He said he relies on quick-thinking reaction when on the field, a characteristic no coach can really enforce. “To a back, unlike a quarterback, it just comes natural,” Dickerson told Czarnecki. “It’s a gift. A coach cannot teach you how to run a football. The only thing they can teach you is the plays.”
Having attained superstar status in the league did little to discourage Dickerson from immersing himself in the respective communities where he has played. His charities and foundations have reached out to help at risk schoolchildren, those suffering from diabetes, muscular dystrophy, and bone marrow patients. In Woodland Hills, California, Dickerson established The Second Byte Foundation (Bettering Youth Through Education), in association with the Public Relations class at Pierce College. That collective helped present 20 state-of-the-art computers to students there.
On May 8, 2000, Dickerson coordinated a charity golf tournament to benefit the American Diabetes Association. Dickerson was busy behind the scenes, conducting pre-event telephone interviews for various media outlets and hosting radio call-in shows with local stations. The event, held at the Deerwood Golf Club in Kingwood, Texas, raised more than $100,000 for the ADA. The celebrity guest list was a professional sports who’s who, with Dickerson putting out the call to athletes for a little help. Those in attendance included Emmit Smith, comedian Eddie Griffin, Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Lawrence Taylor, heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and basketball coach Rudy Tomjanovich.
In August of 2000, Dickerson helped spearhead the Courage 4 Life Cause in Simi Valley, California. Nineteen-year-old Troy Mikolyski, who had been fighting leukemia since age 12, needed a bone marrow transplant. Those donating sports memorabilia for the cause included hockey legends Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Brett Hull; football standouts Steve Young, Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice; as well as baseball stars Ricky Henderson, Mike Piazza and Gary Sheffield.
Dickerson has a knack for gathering his professional friends to raise money for charity. In March of 2000 he hosted the Eric Dickerson Celebrity Golf Tournament in Bel Air, California. The event featured the likes of Michael Jordan, boxer Tommy Hearns, Dan Marino and Charles Barkley. After a 12-year career where he saw highs and lows, Dickerson’s explosive speed not only helped propel him to the football Hall of Fame, but to an impressive standing in the charity community as well.
Sport, September 1992, pg. 69.
Texas Monthly, September 1999, pg. 216.
Additional information was obtained online at Eric Dickerson’s Web site, http://www.ericdickerson.com
American football player
During his professional football career, running back Eric Dickerson more often resembled a thoroughbred than a human being. Game after game, Dickerson electrified fans as he tucked the football under his arm, then sprinted down the field with all the beauty and grace of a well-groomed racehorse. Dickerson also possessed an uncanny ability to read the defense and knew which holes he could burst through to score. Because of these talents, Dickerson enjoyed many record-setting seasons in the National Football League (NFL) and was undoubtedly the most productive ball carrier of his time. Over the course of his eleven-year career, Dickerson set the NFL record for most yards rushed in a single season-2,105 yards. He also became the first player in NFL history to gain more than 1,000 yards in seven consecutive seasons. When he retired in 1993, his 13,259 career rushing yards was the second best of all time.
Raised in the Lone Star State
Eric Demetric Dickerson was born September 2, 1960, in Sealy, Texas, a small town about fifty miles west of Houston. Dickerson was raised by his great-aunt and great-uncle, Viola and Kary Dickerson, and spent the first part of his life believing Viola was his mother. Dickerson was a teenager when he discovered that his birth mother was actually a woman named Helen, whom he believed was his older sister. Helen, just seventeen when Dickerson was born, decided not to marry Dickerson's father, Richard Seal. Giving the child over to Viola seemed like the best option. Dickerson likely inherited some of his athletic ability from his father, Richard, who was a running back at Prairie View College in Texas.
Because he was terribly skinny and wore glasses, Dickerson endured teasing from his the neighborhood kids. That all changed, however, once he began playing football. Dickerson's success on the football field was almost instant. By seventh and eighth grade, Dickerson was making a name for himself as a running back. "I'll never forget our first game," Dickerson recalled in Nancy J. Nielsen's book Eric Dickerson. "I was absolutely terrified, really just running for my life, but I guess my fear was a pretty good motivator. I wound up scoring four touchdowns that day…. Suddenly people were looking at me differently. Their eyes showed respect."
Entering Sealy High School, Dickerson starred on the football and track teams, winning the state 100-yard dash championship with a lightening-quick time of 9.4 seconds. The sport he really stood out in, however, was football.
Even in high school, Dickerson's coaches could tell he had natural instincts as a running back. His senior year, Dickerson rushed for 2,642 yards and thirty-seven touchdowns to lead Sealy to the state high school Class AA championship. He was named a 1978 Parade magazine All-American.
Played Football at Southern Methodist University
Following high school, Dickerson entered Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas because his mother, Viola, wanted him to stay close to home. Dickerson, however, had wanted to play for the Oklahoma Sooners. Injuries plagued Dickerson his freshman year, and the "hometown" boy didn't make much of an impact. His sophomore year, however, Dickerson rushed for more than 100 yards in five different games. His junior year, Dickerson moved the ball 1,428 yards to score nineteen touchdowns and was selected as the Southwest Conference Player of the Year. While Dickerson was at SMU, he and running mate Craig James were dubbed "The Pony Express."
During Dickerson's senior year, he gained 1,617 yards and scored seventeen touchdowns, while helping his team to a Cotton Bowl victory. That year, Dickerson rushed for an average of 147 yards per game-third best in the nation. Dickerson was chosen as an All-American, was voted Southwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and came in third in Heisman trophy balloting.
Drafted by Los Angeles Rams
Dickerson's start in the pros, however, was not nearly as smooth as his stride. His first game, a scrimmage game against the Dallas Cowboys, was a near disaster. "I was so jittery my mind went completely blank," he recalled in Nielsen's book. "I couldn't remember a thing—not a play, not a formation, not anything."
Dickerson's jitters plagued him at the start of his rookie year. In his first three pro game appearances, Dickerson fumbled the ball six times. One of the fumbles led to a game-winning field goal by the opponent. Dickerson soon calmed down and in his fourth game, he made an 85-yard touchdown run against the New York Jets. Later, he rushed for 199 yards against the Detroit Lions. Despite his shaky start, Dickerson ended up rewriting the NFL rookie record book. He ended the season as the NFL's top rusher with 1,808 yards, beating out all of the other veteran players. He scored eighteen touchdowns rushing and gained 100 or more yards in nine games. That season, he set rookie records for rushing yards (1,808), rushing attempts (390), and rushing touchdowns (18) to earn NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
|1960||Born September 2 in Sealy, Texas|
|1979||Enters Southern Methodist University|
|1983||Chosen by Los Angeles Rams as second draft pick|
|1987||Traded to the Indianapolis Colts|
|1992||Joins Los Angeles Raiders|
|1993||Joins Atlanta Falcons|
|1993||Retires from football|
|2000||Joins ABC Monday Night Football broadcasting team|
Broke NFL's Single-Season Rushing Record
By 1984, Dickerson's second season, he'd gained enough confidence to calm down. He became choosier about which holes he would try to slip through. That season, Dickerson had twelve 100-yard games. As the end of the season approached, it looked as if Dickerson might be able to break O.J. Simpson 's single-season rushing record of 2,003 yards, set in 1973. The pressure mounted, and during a December 2 game against New Orleans, Dickerson gained only 149 yards. He blamed the disappointing numbers on mounting pressure from the press and fans. A few days later, Dickerson said he was having nightmares. According to Sports Illustrated, Dickerson told the press: "I didn't sleep well last night. I was trying to sleep, and I had a dream about getting 2,001 yards." That's exactly where his dream ended—at 2,001 yards—three shy of breaking Simpson's record. Dickerson, however, pulled it together later in the month during the second to last game of the regular season. Playing the Houston Oilers, Dickerson gained 215 yards in twenty-seven carries to break Simpson's single-season rushing record. Dickerson ended the season with 2,105 rushing yards and fourteen touchdowns. He also caught twenty-one passes for 139 yards.
When Dickerson broke Simpson's single-season rushing record in 1984, he found himself thrust into the spotlight. Dickerson, however, gave his teammates plenty of credit for his success. The humble Dickerson didn't forget the ten offensive linemen who made his record-shattering possible. In appreciation, Dickerson gave them each a diamond-studded gold ring etched with the number 2,105.
In each of his first four years with the Rams, Dickerson delivered his team to the playoffs. In 1986, Dickerson set a new record for rushing yardage in a playoff game by gaining 248 yards against the Dallas Cowboys.
Following a salary dispute, Dickerson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 1987. It was one of the biggest deals in NFL history. The trade involved three teams and 10 players, as well as draft-choice swapping. The trade proved good for the Colts, and in 1988, Dickerson earned his fourth rushing title, leading the league with 1,659 yards. Dickerson spent four seasons with the Colts before joining the Los Angeles Raiders in 1992 and the Atlanta Falcons in 1993. He retired in 1993 without ever making it to the Super Bowl.
Nicknamed 'Mr. Fourth Quarter'
While Dickerson had natural athletic abilities, part of his success came from his year-round training program. Strength training and sprinting programs were a staple in his life. Over the course of his career, Dickerson earned the nickname "Mr. Fourth Quarter" because he could turn it up a notch as the others were winding down.
This stamina also helped Dickerson become the seventh back in NFL history to hit the 10,000-yard milestone. Though others had reached that mark, Dickerson did it in the fewest games—ninety-one.
Besides his workhorse mentality, Dickerson was also well-known for his signature prescription goggles, which he wore on the field to correct poor vision. He never seemed to have trouble finding holes in the defense, however.
Off the field, Dickerson involved himself with many youth programs. In 1984, he formed Dickerson's Rangers, a Los Angeles-area youth club for boys and girls aimed at providing an alternative to streets, gangs, and drugs.
|ATL: Atlanta Falcons; IND: Indianapolis Colts; LA: Los Angeles Raiders; RAMS: Los Angeles Rams.|
Remembered as Potent, Graceful Runner
While it is feasible that another NFL player could match Dickerson's records, no one will surely match his style. A potent and graceful runner, Dickerson stands in a league of his own. In the forward to his book, Eric Dickerson's Secrets of Pro Power, Indianapolis Colts coach Ron Meyer described Dickerson's distinctive running style this way: "He has the power to run right over would-be tacklers, the moves to leave them flatfooted, and the speed to run away from them. He's like a lion on the prowl with a football, hunting for the end zone, or like a thoroughbred in shoulder pads, sprinting down the home stretch. Give him a step and he'll take 6 points." Statistics aside, if just for his running style, Dickerson will forever be rated as one of the best running backs in the NFL simply because he was so magnificent to watch.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY DICKERSON:
(With Steve Delsohn) On the Run, McGraw-Hill, 1986.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1978||Named Parade magazine All-American|
|1982||Named to Sporting News All-America team|
|1983||Set NFL rookie record for most yards rushing (1,808) and led NFL and NFC (National Football Conference) in rushing yards (1,808)|
|1983||Named Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year, Pro Football Writers Association Rookie of the Year, United Press International NFC Rookie of the Year, Sporting News MVP/Player of the Year; and NFL Rookie of the Year; selected for the NFL All-Pro team, as well as the Pro Bowl|
|1984||Set NFL single-season rushing record with 2,105 yards, earning both the NFL and NFC rushing titles; named to the NFL All-Pro team and the Pro Bowl|
|1986||Set NFL record for most yards rushed in a playoff game (248); earned NFL and NFC rushing titles with a league-leading 1,821 yards|
|1986||Named Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year|
|1986-88||Named to the NFL All-Pro team|
|1986-89||Named to the Pro Bowl|
|1987||Earned AFC rushing title with 1,288 yards|
|1988||Earned NFL and AFC rushing titles with 1,659 yards|
|1999||Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame|
Where Is He Now?
Dickerson resides in Calabasas, California. Since leaving pro football, he's devoted a lot of time to various charity events. Over the past few years, he's sponsored fund-raisers for the American Diabetes Association and for a local leukemia patient. Dickerson plays golf five or six times a week and has even sponsored his own celebrity golf tournament.
In addition to his fund-raising, Dickerson has worked as a sports analyst. He joined the ABC Monday Night Football broadcasting team in 2000.
(With Richard Graham Walsh) Eric Dickerson's Secrets of Pro Power, Warner Books, Inc., 1989.
Dickerson, Eric, with Richard Graham Walsh. Eric Dickerson's Secrets of Pro Power. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1989.
Nielsen, Nancy J. Eric Dickerson. Mankato, Minnesota: Crestwood House, 1988.
Dingus, Anne. "Eric Dickerson." Texas Monthly (September 1999): 216.
Nack, William. "He Put the Squeeze on the Juice." Sports Illustrated (December 17, 1984): 16.
"NFL Career Rushing Leaders." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (September 8, 2002).
"Eric Dickerson-Biography." Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/players/mainpage.cfm?cont_id=99899 (January 2, 2003).
"Eric Dickerson-Highlights." Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/players/highlights/edickerson.cfm (January 2, 2003).
"Eric Dickerson-Statistics." Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/players/statistics/edickerson.cfm (January 2, 2003).
Sketch by Lisa Frick