By Sam McPherson
When an NFL organization lures a college coaching legend to its sidelines, there needs to be some incentive beyond a financially lucrative contract. When the Los Angeles Rams hired USC coaching legend John Robinson for the 1983 season, the big incentive was the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. When Los Angeles drafted star running back Eric Dickerson out of Southern Methodist University, it was obvious why Robinson left a dominant Trojans program behind for the potential glory in the NFL.
Dickerson and the Rams have been in the news again this week, thanks to an alleged spat between the Hall of Fame running back and current L.A. head coach Jeff Fisher. While that particular drama playing out over Twitter doesn’t interest many people, the legacy of Dickerson in Los Angeles does intrigue fans who want to remember the sunnier days of NFL football in the City of Angels. Here’s a look back at the best moments of Dickerson’s all-too-short career with the Rams, with all statistics provided by pro-football-reference.com.
1983: Rookie rushing record
While Todd Gurley had a nice season (1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns) on his way to winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award last fall, his 2015 stats can’t hold a candle to what Dickerson did in his rookie year (1,808 yards, 18 TDs). The Rams had posted a 2-7 record in the strike-shortened 1982 season, and Dickerson almost single-handedly turned the club back around in 1983. Los Angeles went 9-7 with Vince Ferragamo at quarterback, throwing more interceptions than he did touchdowns. The Rams lost their second game in the playoffs to eventual NFC champion Washington.
The rushing yardage and rushing TD marks are still records for rookie RBs in the NFL, although Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott has an outside shot at the yardage mark this season. Elliott is on pace for 1,744 yards this year, as he has 1,199 yards through 11 games this season.
1984: All-time, single-season rushing record
Yes, Dickerson still holds the most famous record in the sport after running for 2,105 yards in his second NFL season. His QB that season? Jeff Kemp. Dickerson carried the 1984 Rams to a 10-6 mark and a playoff loss to the New York Giants. The L.A. running back’s record still stands, although a handful of RBs have cracked the 2,000-yard mark since he did 32 seasons ago. The mere fact Dickerson could run for so many yards without a real QB threat next to him is amazing and a testament to the coaching staff’s handling of the offensive line at the time (which featured future Hall of Famer Jackie Slater and multiple-time Pro Bowlers Kent Hill, Doug Smith and Dennis Harrah).
1985: Playoff single-game rushing record
The Rams imported QB Dieter Brock from the Canadian Football League in Dickerson’s third season in an effort to take the next step in the NFL playoffs, and it sort of worked. Dickerson missed the first two games of the season in a contract dispute, but he returned to run for 1,234 yards and 12 TDs in 14 games nonetheless. Los Angeles (11-5 during the season as NFC West champions) shutout the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoffs, as Dickerson ran for 248 yards to set another NFL record that still stands. Unfortunately, the Rams got leveled by the famous 1985 Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game that season, and the team never again made it as far in the playoffs with Dickerson on the roster.
1986: Third NFL rushing title
Dickerson’s final full season with the Rams saw him run for 1,821 yards and 14 TDs, to earn his third rushing title in four seasons. It’s logical to assume his 1985 holdout cost him four straight rushing titles, but overall in his first four seasons, the L.A. star had run for almost 7,000 yards while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. The 1986 Rams broke in rookie QB Jim Everett on their way to a 10-6 mark and a wild-card playoff loss in the first round, this one to the Washington Redskins. Overall, despite not playing with a decent QB to take the pressure off him, Dickerson’s L.A. teams posted a 40-24 regular-season record and a 2-4 postseason mark.
Look at the above records that still stand, and it’s easier to forget that the Rams traded Dickerson to the Indianapolis Colts early in the 1987 season because of financial differences. Los Angeles didn’t want to pay Dickerson like he was the best player in football, so he went to Indy and won another NFL rushing title in 1988. Basically, in his first four full seasons with the same team, Dickerson won the rushing title each time (over a six-year span). In seven playoff games with both the Rams and the Colts, Dickerson ran for 724 yards with a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. He was the man, period.
Today, when people think of the best five running backs in NFL history, they think of Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and Eric Dickerson. With the current Rams team struggling with a 4-7 record, it would be a good idea for the Los Angeles franchise to bring Dickerson back into the fold and to remind fans of the greatness that once existed for this team in Los Angeles. After all, Dickerson and the Rams are still in the record books for all those stats above, and that says something about the lasting achievements they accomplished together a long time ago.