Thu, 26 Nov 2020

20 Years Later, Dillon Looking For Another Hall Call

Cincinnati Bengals
28 Oct 2020, 20:58 GMT+10

Geoff Hobson

It was twenty years ago today

Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play

They've been going in and out of style

But they're guaranteed to raise a smile

So may I introduce to you ...

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", The Beatles

Twenty years ago this week the Pro Football Hall of Fame called Corey Dillon.

He was just off a game guaranteed to raise a smile on the face of any Bengals fan. Like Jim Anderson, his running backs coach in Cincinnati says, he had the rare flair that brought fans out of their seats.

Twenty years ago, the Hall wanted Dillon's No. 28 Bengals jersey that he wore that Sunday of Oct. 22, 2000 and the cleats he used to tear up the Paul Brown Stadium grass and the Denver Broncos and 23 seasons in enough chunks that gave him one of the NFL's dearest and oldest records with 278 rushing yards.

The one that Sweetness himself held since 1977 and when it flashed across the PBS scoreboard, Dillon hit his knees to say "Thank you," to the man upstairs as he thought of Walter Payton, gone at 45.

"Walter just passed that (last) year, so when I saw it, I was glad but at the same time it was, 'Hey, that's Walt," Dillon says from Malibu. "It was kind of bittersweet."

Dillon turned 46 this week and with his oldest 21 and her sisters 15 and 13, he jokes that his gray beard matches their ages. He wants to take them to Canton to see his stuff, but not until they vote him in.

"I don't know if they keep that stuff there or if they just add to this record or that record," Dillon says. "I haven't been there. I'm not going to show up until I have a bust up in there. I want it to be official. I want to be able to take my kids and say, 'There's your old man.'"

Their old man played so long ago that NFL offenses ran through the running back. That's why Sunday's PBS game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) is a bit of Throwback Weekend if the Bengals' Joe Mixon (foot) is able to oppose the Titans' Derrick Henry, the NFL's massive defending rushing champion.

The big backs have been going in and out of style for these 20 years, but it's so much easier for those two pupils of Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, when their running backs are in gear.

It gets Eddie George thinking back to that downtown Cincinnati night in 1997 when he was in his second season running the ball for something called the Tennessee Oilers in those awkward teen years between moving out of Houston and becoming the Titans in Nashville.

George, the rugged, reliable Heisman Trophy winner out of Ohio State, was embarking on the same kind of top shelf career in the league that would bring him four Pro Bowls, 10,000 career yards and, like Dillon, another year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

That night he saw Dillon, the Bengals rookie in one of his first starts, go off in Riverfront Stadium on the first Thursday in December for 246 yards. No rookie had done that since the fall of Ike, Little Rock and Sputnik. 1957. Forty years since Paul Brown drafted Jim Brown out of Syracuse and the old Orangeman went for 237 early to start one of the league's more stories careers.

"As a running back, I was pissed off. I'd like to have a game like that. We couldn't stop him. He was a hot knife through butter," George says. "What's not to remember about Corey Dillon? He was a beast. Our defense feared him more than most because not only would he hit the home run, he would look to inflict pain on you.

"It was his combination of size and speed and his heart. He ran with reckless abandon and he ran with bad intentions. He was a wrecking ball as a running back."

Dillon makes it clear as one of his notorious stiff-arms that cleared out history. He's not campaigning for the thing. "I already consider myself a Hall-of-Famer," he says. But he wonders why his supporters have to make the case.

"I think the process has to be changed," says Dillon, who still wonders how Terrell Owens didn't go on the first ballot. "They did him dirty. If they did that to one of the top three receivers of all-time, how are they going to do me? I mean, dude, if O.J. Simpson is in, I should be in. Just look at the numbers. That's all I'm saying. Why should anybody have to say anything at all?"

With 11,241 career yards, Dillon, the 20th all-time rusher, has five more yards than Simpson. Dillon has two of the 14 biggest rushing games in NFL history by virtue of breaking two of the league's oldest records. The only other person on that list twice is Simpson.

"As time moves on, I appreciate Corey Dillon. Let me very clear about that," George says. "But to the masses, it's like you don't really hear about him. Now that's crazy because he was clearly one of the top five, top three running backs in our era."

For full transparency, Bengals.com, has the Cincinnati vote on the Hall of Fame selection committee. For even more transparency, Bengals.com has been the one pushing the belief that the Hall is filled with too many good players on great teams (Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson) and not enough great players (Bengals wide receiver Isaac Curtis) from non-championship teams.

Dillon and his Bengals teammate, right tackle Willie Anderson, are the textbook examples of modern day Hall-of-Famers penalized for playing on non-contending teams. Their Astroturf ancestors at Riverfront Stadium, cornerback Ken Riley and quarterback Ken Anderson, are the leading examples for senior Hall candidates.

"Let me trade places with any of the other running backs," Dillon says. "Put me on the Ravens, Put me on the Steelers. Put me on Denver. Oh boy."

How about the Patriots? When Bengals president Mike Brown assured New England head coach Bill Belichick before the 2004 draft that Dillon would be a good and productive team player after some volatile moments in Cincy, they swung a trade that gave the Pats their third Super Bowl title when Dillon provided Tom Brady with the franchise's most prolific rushing season ever on 1,634 yards.

"He wanted to win so badly. Such a competitive guy," Jim Anderson says. "He's done so many things. And that's one of them. Being a big reason a team won a Super Bowl."

Sports Illustrated pushed an anti-Dillon argument a few years ago, which oozed with the same, old tired stat milestones or political appointments, like all-decade teams and all-pro teams.

The web site said since Dillon never led the league in rushing and rushing touchdowns, or wasn't ever a first-team All-Pro or on an all-decade team, there are others that deserve consideration before him. Such as Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander and Jamal Lewis. James, who was elected this past year, led the league in rushing twice and was all-decade for the 2000s. Alexander also led the league in rushing twice, rushing touchdowns twice and was an NFL MVP. Jamal Lewis, who broke Dillon's single-game record in 2003 with 295, led the league with a 2,000-yard season and is an all-decade player.

But so many of those things, stats and all-decade teams, are tied to team performance. Not individual. Remember, Dillon has two of the 14 biggest NFL games, is the Bengals all-time leading rusher, the Patriots' single-season rusher and has a ring. James doesn't have Dillon's big games. Alexander doesn't have his ring.

And it's stuff like this that the player can't control:

In 1997 for the 7-9 Bengals, Dillon had the Jim Brown game, plus 1,129 yards rushing on 233 carries even though he didn't start playing until November, basically. Still, Tampa Bay running back Warrick Dunn was named Offensive Rookie of the Year even though he had just 978 yards on 224 carries. But he also had 39 catches for the 10-6 Bucs.

Jim Anderson: "Corey was really ahead of his time because even though he was a big back, he could catch. But because of our offense, he really didn't get the opportunity."

Maybe Jamal Lewis is even with Dillon, although he's got one fewer big game and when he broke Dillon's record he did it against a Browns team that would go 5-11 with the NFL's 23rd-ranked run defense while Dillon did it against a Denver defense ranked second against the run at the time on the way to an 11-5 record.

But that's the story for Dillon. Everything the hard way. When he ran down Sir Walter, the Bengals didn't complete a pass in the last three quarters and had just two for the game. Two. Nine of his 22 carries went for negative, none or one yard.

"They've broken the record but who breaks it in that condition?" Dillon asks. "I would like people to think of it from this perspective. It's 12-14 carries for 278 yards. Who does that?"

Nobody remembers this, but the next week a tender Akili Smith completed all of seven passes for 84 yards in Cleveland while Dillon pounded for 137 yards in a 12-3 victory. Who does that?

Dillon averaged 4.6 yards per attempt that 2000 season while his main starting quarterback averaged 4.7 yards per throw, so it's no wonder Dillon sometimes ponders if Jamal Lewis or Jerome Bettis or Shaun Alexander or any of them could have done that.

Jim Anderson, who coached or scouted all of them from 1984-2012 as the Bengals running backs coach, has no doubt that Dillon belongs in Canton. When he puts on tape, there are no all-decade teams.

"He's right there with the best that are in," Anderson says. "It was his style. When you see him up close, he's such a big man and you don't realize how fast he is. He could hit the home run, but he could also go between the tackles. He's a guy like (Derrick Henry). As the game goes on, he wears on you and they pick up steam."

Eddie George isn't thinking about rushing titles when he thinks of this 2000 play in Cincinnati. He even remembers the year and place.

"It was third-and-13, third-and-18, I don't know. Third and forever and they throw a swing pass to Corey Dillon in the flat coming toward our sideline," George says, always using the full name, a sure sign of respect.

"I remember our cornerback, Samari Rolle, was one-on-one with him. And Corey Dillon did not care about getting the first down. He wanted to punish Samari Rolle. I remember laughing with Samari. Every time you went lower, he went lower."

That was the game Dillon broke an 80-yard run against the Titans' No. 1 defense and George says, "You just didn't do that against our defense."

The Denver game was the next month. Fast forward to that last run. The 41-yarder. The one for the record. The first play coming out of the two-minute warning. Second-and-eight from the Denver 41 and the winless Bengals holding a 24-21 lead.

Dillon wasn't thinking all-decade teams. Hell, the decade had just started. He wasn't even thinking of the record. He had no idea. They needed a win. So he was thinking of the clock.

"They were over pursuing like crazy dogs. So once you see that they're rushing hard that way, the creases have to open up," Dillon says. "I was just patient enough. Foot work. Read those blocks. Made a cut and get upfield with it. That's what I did all day. If they were super over pursuing I would reverse field."

That's what happened on the last run, the same call that popped a 65-yard touchdown the series before. Dillon went right, there was penetration, so "I made an executive decision." As he reversed field he stiff-armed safety Eric Brown and flew past linebacker John Mobley as he now owned the left sideline. That left him and cornerback Terrell Buckley.

"I set him up like I was going to go back inside," Dillon says. "I didn't want to go out of bounds. I wanted to stay inbounds. He bit on the inside move and I just tiptoed down the sideline. The clock is running and I said to myself to stay in bounds, so I just did a little stutter step to the inside and he bit on it."

The clock. The sidelines.

"That's what you're coached to do," Anderson says.

When he fell into the end zone with 1:49 left to secure a 31-21 victory, he thought maybe he had gone for something like 170 yards.

"I wasn't exhausted. I was really focused on that first win," Dillon says.

Now, 20 years later when he walks by the plaque in his home with Oct. 23, 2000 edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer's front page, sometimes he still gets chills.

"Who does that?"

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