The Grass in Denver Is Greener . . . Kind of : Dorsett Wants to Work More for New Team
Has Tony Dorsett found happiness with the Denver Broncos?
It depends on how you define happiness.
Yes, Dorsett, 34, is happy to be in Denver after spending a frustrating 1987 season overshadowed by Herschel Walker in the Dallas Cowboy backfield. He had reached the point where he couldn’t wait to get out.
But no, Dorsett isn’t happy about the way things have gone so far with the Broncos, who acquired him for a draft choice that is contingent on his performance. He had a rough exhibition season, averaging only 2.8 yards in 40 carries, and was all but ignored by Coach Dan Reeves in the season-opening, 21-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday. He ran only 9 times for 32 yards, and didn’t have a pass thrown in his direction.
Dorsett touched upon the positive things first in a telephone interview from Denver, where the Broncos will meet the Chargers Sunday.
“Being in Denver has given me a new lease on life,” Dorsett said. “It’s a breath of fresh air. Sometimes it takes a change in one’s daily routine, one’s yearly routine. I see more in life now. I have reason to become excited again about playing football.
“I used to run my mouth, but I left that guy behind. My attitude has changed, my personality has changed. Here I’m keeping a low profile.
“I’ve got more self-esteem, a healthier approach to the game. I’ve got a flame burning that I didn’t have last year. In Dallas, they pretty much decided they didn’t need me. I was one of the best talents they had, and they let it waste away. Being here is a tremendous uplift for me as a person.”
But then there’s the negative side.
“I’m not upset, but I’m disappointed,” Dorsett said. “The preseason was too early to judge my effectiveness, and so was the first game.
“I want to do more than I was given the opportunity to do Sunday. I think any back has to get his hands on the ball to be effective. You can’t have any kind of consistency if you’re not touching the ball.
“We were going to run more. At least that was my understanding. But when we fell behind, we went to the man who brought us here, and that’s John Elway.”
At first, Reeves attributed Dorsett’s meager activity to the neck injury that forced tight end Clarence Kay out of the game in the first quarter. Reeves said that most of the formations featuring Dorsett were based on Kay’s blocking.
Later, Reeves hedged a bit, saying, “We just didn’t get the ball to Tony as many times as we would have liked. We’ve got to convert third-down situations and keep the ball longer so we can make better use of his talents.
“We did have some things with Kay, but we still had them when he went out. The problem is that we don’t get the right feel of our offense without Kay.”
Dorsett was asked if he was surprised that he didn’t run more in the second half. The score was 7-7 at halftime, and then the Seahawks scored one touchdown early in the third quarter and one late to make it 21-7.
“The second half? I didn’t run any in the first half,” Dorsett said. “We fell behind, and we started going to Elway. John does a great job, but to keep the defense honest, you’ve got to have a good mix.”
Asked how he would assess his play and that of the Bronco offense overall in the game, Dorsett said, “The way it worked out, I wasn’t out there enough to evaluate myself or the running game. How much we need to improve, I can’t give you an intelligent answer.
“I can say this much: We need help somewhere. We were sputtering offensively.”
With a new weapon such as Dorsett, the Broncos’ game plan going into the season was to line up Dorsett deep in the I-formation and have Kay deployed at fullback as his primary bodyguard.
Dorsett made three good gains in a row on the Broncos’ second possession, but then Kay got hurt. As sportswriter Mark Kiszia put it in the Denver Post, “Kay was wheeled off on a stretcher, Dorsett trudged to the sideline and seldom was asked to do anything but play spectator for the defeat’s final three hours.”
His complaints notwithstanding, Dorsett said he is confident that even in his 12th NFL season, he has enough speed and quickness to continue to produce.
“People ask me if I’m slower,” he said. “I haven’t noticed much, no big difference. My speed is something that’s keeping me in the league.
“I haven’t set any goals for this season, but I know I’m still able to carry 15 or 20 times a game. There’s no question in my mind.
“Twelve years have gone by so fast, the years have snuck up on me. When I came into this league, people didn’t think at my size that I’d be able to survive one or two years. Yet I’m still here, and I can still run better than most of the guys.”
Dorsett has run so well since coming out of the University of Pittsburgh in 1977 that he ranks fourth on the all-time rushing list. He has gained 12,068 yards, and just a 300-yard season would move him past Franco Harris and Jim Brown into second place behind Walter Payton, the leader with 16,726.
“Climbing up to second would mean a lot to me,” Dorsett said. “It would be a major achievement if I was able to pass Harris and Brown. When I started out in pro football, I looked upon Jim Brown as an immortal. Now to have everybody comparing me to him, that’s great for me.”
Payton seems unreachable. Interestingly, although Payton entered the NFL two years ahead of Dorsett and played 13 seasons, he is actually three months younger. Dorsett turned 34 in April, Payton in July.
Among other things in his transition from Dallas to Denver, Dorsett feels that he has gained a coach with which he has better rapport. He isn’t overly complimentary of Tom Landry’s skills as a communicator.
“Dan (Reeves) is a more personable guy,” Dorsett said. “He runs a little looser ship, and players don’t feel intimidated around him. Landry wasn’t the easiest guy in the world to talk to. A lot of guys wanted to talk to him, but they kind of got scared off.”
Dorsett said he had a good relationship with Walker, who joined the Cowboys in 1986 after three seasons in the United States Football League.
“At first I thought we could co-exist,” Dorsett said. “I was sure that the brilliant minds on our coaching staff would figure out a way. Both backs should have been used, but unfortunately, that scenario never came to be.
“The first year wasn’t bad. We played about equally (Dorsett gained 748 yards, Walker 737). But last year, Dallas decided the team would be better off if I wasn’t involved, and that’s when I realized I had to leave. It took away something from my game. I had no other choice.
“When you throw your body around all those years, you’d think they’d show you just a little more respect. I know they were paying the checks, but it was disturbing to me, and I couldn’t come to grips with it. I was standing on the sideline watching my team lose.”
Dorsett had a list of career lows: 130 carries for 456 yards, 3.5 average, 1 rushing touchdown, 19 receptions for 177 yards.
Walker, taking over as the Cowboys’ featured back, rushed for 891 yards and 7 touchdowns in 109 carries and caught 60 passes for 715 yards.
Dorsett was asked if he now considered himself a spot player in the twilight of his career.
“Let’s be realistic,” he said. “I’m not a spot player, but I am toward the end of my career. That doesn’t disturb me. I realize it, and I can cope with it.
“I have a two-year contract, and we’ll see what happens when that runs out. I realize I can’t play football forever, and I’m getting ready for the years when I won’t be playing.”
Getting ready indeed. Years ago, Dorsett was in financial trouble, but now he has business interests in real eatate, a drilling-mud company, a tanning salon and a soft-drink firm. He also has weekly television and radio shows in Denver.
“I’ve even been taking broadcasting classes,” he said. “I want to make sure I have a good life after football.”
More bad news for the Chargers from Harold Daniels, the agent for holdout linebacker Chip Banks: Daniels said Friday he talked to Banks late Thursday night, at which time Banks said he was going on vacation in the Caribbean. Daniels said Banks repeated that he wasn’t interested in playing football this year. “He told me he hadn’t had a year off from football since Pop Warner,” Daniels said. “He said he was going on vacation. He’s outta here.” Daniels said Banks’ decision to skip a season would cost Banks approximately $6 million, which is what he says the Chargers were offering Banks over five years.
“Do you know how much his decision not to play football is costing me?” Daniels asked. “Three hundred thousand. That’s 5% of 6 million. But he told he didn’t know why I kept trying to get him to come back. He said he’s not playing football this year. I hate what he’s doing. And not just because of what it’s costing me. I’ve got 50 other clients. I hate what he’s doing to himself. He’s one of my closest friends.” Daniels said he wouldn’t give up trying to talk Banks back to the Chargers. But he isn’t optimistic. Last weekend, he flew back to Georgia to meet with Banks but couldn’t locate him. He had to return to Los Angeles without talking to him.