For 30 long and dismal minutes Monday evening, Eric Dickerson seemingly had forgotten how to run with a football.
Sixteen times Ram quarterback Dieter Brock handed the ball to The Great One, only to watch an inhospitable Seattle Seahawk defense send Dickerson backward in an angry wave. To watch Dickerson struggle in those early minutes was to watch Einstein forget his multiplication tables or Carson a punch line.
At times, Dickerson could have passed for the forgettable Elvis Peacock. And where was Charles White, that world-beater, when you needed him?
After a half’s worth of work, Dickerson retired to the dressing room and discovered his numbers as such: 16 carries, 43 yards, a 2.7 average and one touchdown. Dickerson’s longest run in the first and second period was a seven-yard affair that scared no one, certainly not the Seattle defenders.
Maybe his 46-day contract holdout had been unwise, after all. Perhaps not even Eric Dickerson, the man who has known no failure on a football field, had overestimated his own talents.
Later, after the Rams had disposed of the Seahawks with an unexpected efficiency, Dickerson displayed a new array of numbers. They shone bright--as they should--and Dickerson was unafraid to flaunt them.
Take this, said Dickerson of an evening that brought him 150 yards, 31 carries, three touchdowns and nearly a 5.0-yard average. Did someone mention a mediocre first half?
“I haven’t lost a step,” said Dickerson, the smile of accomplishment wiped cleanly off his face. “I felt very much at home. I felt like I never stepped out of my uniform.
“I’m not tired,” he said. “But I know a lot of (the media) thought I’d be a flop.”
Except for a bruised left hand, the result of a collision with a helmet, Dickerson left Monday’s game with nary a scratch and an ego well intact. Asked if he needed to send a message to the NFL, sort of a ‘I’m back’ note, Dickerson scoffed.
“I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to the nation,” he said. “I know I’m a good player. I’m a great football player.”
Dickerson’s resume, while filled with impeccable credentials, included the single question of whether he could perform to past standards with only three practices to his credit since late May. It was shortly after a Ram mini-camp in the spring that Dickerson decided he was underpaid and decided to exit. In his absence, the little-regarded White performed admirably and had a Ram rushing-attempt record, as well as 227 yards to show for his efforts.
Still, the Rams and Coach John Robinson waited for Dickerson’s return. After 46 days of name-calling, Dickerson relented.
In exchange for Dickerson’s return, the Rams provided him with the all-important ‘good faith’ offer, paychecks for the first and second games (though he was absent) and a $150,000 reporting bonus. Monday evening, Dickerson earned it--penny by penny.
He was welcomed to the 1985 NFL season by Jacob Green, the Seahawks’ 6-3, 255-pound defensive end who never met a running back he liked. During their first meeting, an ill-fated pitch play, Dickerson learned that much as Green tried to implant helmet into sternum. It nearly worked.
Dickerson remembered the first tackle like someone remembers the time they shut the car door on their hand. “It felt hard,” he said. “It’s just like swimming: You jump in the deep water, well, you better know how to swim quick.”
Dickerson waded for the first half, treading lightly against the Seahawks. Seattle strong safety Kenny Easley stuck to Dickerson like a piece of gum. See Eric run. See Kenny chase.
“They said, ‘Put an All-Pro on an All-Pro,’ ” Ram offensive tackle Bill Bain said of the Seattle strategy. “They did a mighty fine job.”
Dickerson had his moments. On the Rams’ first scoring drive, he accounted for 47 of Los Angeles’ 65 yards. Included in the total was Dickerson’s only pass reception of the night. On a second and 16 at the Seattle 35, Dickerson feigned a block and then slipped into the clear, much to the horror of the Seahawk linebackers. Thirty-three yards later, the Rams had a first down.
Most impressive in the drive was a three-inch touchdown run that found Dickerson slipping from tacklers as if his uniform had been dipped in grease. The simple pitch play to the left side of the Ram line hinted that Dickerson hadn’t forgotten how to churn away.
Then there was this business of Dickerson and his timing. Despite his assurances that his uniform felt comfortable, Dickerson showed signs of over-anxiousness.
“He seemed like he was hitting the holes a little bit too fast,” Bain said.
“I’m sure he had to feel his way the first few plays,” tight end David Hill said. “It was a little shaky at first. But by the fourth quarter, it was like old times.”
By then, Dickerson had two more touchdowns to his credit and a variety of plus-10-yard rushes. The best dash may have been a 43-yard play late in the fourth quarter that silenced a boisterous Kingdome audience and helped make possible a 15-yard touchdown run by Dickerson later in the drive.
“Forty-seven gap,” Dickerson said. “Over (Jackie) Slater and Bain. I think I always get a little better by the fourth quarter.”
Said Robinson: “Eric had training camp during the first three quarters. The fourth quarter was the regular season for him.”
“I knew I was ready to play,” Dickerson said.
He was, of course; much to his own amusement. And to the amazement of the Seahawks.