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After 20 Years, Eric Dickerson’s NFL Single-Season Rushing Record Still Stands
By Nick Wagoner
Many athletes talk about going into a “zone.” When they reach that level, they can do no wrong, taking their game to a point where they feel like they can’t be stopped.
Running back Eric Dickerson was in the epitome of that zone 20 years ago. That was the season he broke O.J. Simpson’s single-season rushing record of 2,003 yards. Dickerson didn’t just break that record; he destroyed it, ending his year with 2,105 yards on 379 carries, for an average of 5.6 yards per tote. For good measure, he added 14 touchdowns.
Dickerson said that season had a feel to it, starting in about week nine, that none of the others in his 12 years had.
“You feel invincible,” Dickerson said. “That’s how I felt sometimes. You know they are going to stack the line of scrimmage and you still go. I felt like if you get me past the line of scrimmage then I’ll take care of the rest of it.”
Dickerson did just that, carrying the ball like a man possessed for most of that season. The scariest part? It was only his second year in the league. That performance put everyone on notice that no rushing record was safe.
He went on to post many great seasons, including a 1,821-yard output in 1986. By the time his career was done, Dickerson had posted 13,259 yards (fourth all-time) and went to six Pro Bowls.
But it is that magical 1984 season that is still standing the test of time and for that, he is being honored along with Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bob Brown tonight.
Brown was one of the league’s best blockers and retired long before Dickerson entered the league. Still, he remembers Dickerson in his prime and said he would love to have seen what Dickerson could have done with himself leading the way.
“I don’t think there would have been a calculator big enough to compute that number,” Brown said. “Seriously, though, he was great running back. The other team would always know he is getting the ball and there would be nothing they could do to stop it. That’s how you judge a great running back.”
Brown was right, every team Dickerson came up against knew exactly where the ball was going, yet they had no idea how to slow down, let alone stop him.
There were many early warning signs that Simpson’s record was in grave danger. During Dickerson’s rookie season in 1983, he instantly became the focal point of the Rams’ offense.
He set the rookie rushing record for yards (1,808) and carries (390). Those numbers were eye-popping enough, but to do it in his first year was unheard of. Dickerson probably would have broken the record that season, but he was unable to maintain the high level he was playing at early because of the additional games in the NFL.
To this day, that record still stands and Dickerson is more confident that it will last well into the future than even his single-season record.
“The one that I feel will last longer is the rookie record because you only get one shot at that record,” Dickerson said. “I think eventually somebody will break the season one.”
It will almost certainly be odd for Dickerson to be making an appearance in St. Louis, where he never played for the Cardinals. Dickerson did enjoy playing against those Cardinals, though.
“I can say one thing, I always liked to play against the St. Louis Cardinals,” Dickerson said. “I had some of my best games. I say that because I think the fans can really appreciate football. They weren’t the kind that were throwing stuff and they were just true fans.”
Through the years, Dickerson has had plenty of close calls, perhaps none closer than the Ravens’ Jamal Lewis last season. Going in to the final week of the season, Lewis seemed poised to take a shot at Dickerson’s record, but he fell short, finishing with 2,066 yards, good for second in the league.
Most players would sweat the possibility of their record being broken, but Dickerson relishes it.
“That’s OK because they have got to mention my name,” Dickerson said. “I like it with the close calls as long as they don’t break it.”
Dickerson has yet to see the running back that he thinks will break the record; in fact, he thought he would be the one to break it before he retired. It was his goal to go above and beyond the 2,105 yards and claims that if he had stayed with the Rams, it probably would have happened.
“Of course I thought I would break that record again,” Dickerson said. “After we broke it, I said we should get to 2,300 yards. We thought we could possibly do that. If I would have stayed there, I really believe I would have had another 2,000 yard season.”
Although the record is impressive, it has never seemed like a completely unreachable figure. So many great running backs have come and gone since it was set. In the past 20 years, Walter Payton has set the career record only to have it broken by Emmitt Smith. That kind of longevity would seem a lot more difficult to maintain than a single-season performance.
Yet still, there sits Dickerson’s name atop the list of the most prolific years a running back has ever had.
So, what or who will it take to knock him off?
“I always made this statement,” Dickerson said. “If I ever had a son, maybe he would come along and break that record. We will just have to wait and see. Somebody will break it one day.”
People have been saying somebody will break the record for 20 years and it hasn’t happened. With each year that passes by, Dickerson’s legend only grows.
When he reached that mark, he went into a zone never before seen, to break it; someone will have to go to a level beyond that. Only one factor can determine if that ever happens: time.
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Re: After 20 Years, Eric Dickerson’s NFL Single-Season Rushing Record Still Stands
I have to agree with ED, that the single season mark can be broken, but I don't think anyone will ever rush for 1808 yards in their rookie year again. It will take a special player to achieve that mark. A special player just like ED.
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