If you were a fan of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1980s, you will recognize “him.” If you are a fan of the Rams while they currently play in St. Louis, you will recognize “him.” If you’re a fan of the NFL, you will recognize “him.” If you remember “his” signature goggles, you’ve identified him as “Mr. Fourth Quarter” himself, Eric Dickerson. But what is it that makes him worthy of such praise? Here’s a look back at his prolific career:
Southern Methodist University (1979-1982): Before Dickerson became a legend in the NFL, he played at Southern Methodist University where he debuted his signature goggles. The goggles weren’t a fashionable accessory as they were necessary to for his vision. “I hated the goggles, don’t get me wrong, but I felt naked without them,” Dickerson said in an interview which was placed on NFLCommunications.com.
The 1979 season marked the beginning of an exciting and new running back duo for the Mustangs. Promising young running back Charles Waggoner suffered a career-ending spinal injury in a kickoff return which left Dickerson and fellow running back Craig James to carry the load. These two young backs were so talented that SMU fans later dubbed the dynamic duo the “Pony Express.” Dickerson struggled early on in his only picking up 477 yards rushing and had six total touchdowns.
The following season was much more productive for both Dickerson and the SMU Mustangs. The team received the much-needed offensive production from the “Pony Express” to improve their record to 8-4 after finishing 5-6 the previous season. Dickerson led the team in rushing yards with 928 and had six total touchdowns. James wasn’t far behind Dickerson, earning 896 yards respectively. The improvement in the offense was enough for the Mustangs to earn a trip to the Holiday Bowl, in which they fell to Brigham Young University in a heartbreaking loss, 36-35.
Of course during the 1981 season, the “Pony Express” continued to improve. Both Dickerson and James broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier and were instrumental parts of the Mustangs’ 10-1 season. SMU wasn’t able to play in any of the bowl games due to being under probation by the NCAA. That didn’t stop them from labeling their final game of the season against the Arkansas Razorbacks the “Polyester Bowl.” Sixth-ranked SMU defeated 16th ranked Arkansas, 32-18. Dickerson finished the season with 1,428 rushing yards with an unbelievable 20 total touchdowns.
Dickerson led the Mustangs to a Cotton Bowl victory during his senior season. Fourth-ranked SMU defeated sixth-ranked Pittsburgh, 7-3. By this point, Dickerson took the majority of the carries and totaled an impressive 1,617-yard season with 17 total touchdowns. He was named as a first-team All-American and finished third place for the Heisman Trophy behind only Herschel Walker and John Elway.
Los Angeles Rams (1983-1987): Dickerson brought his vision to the Rams after they drafted him second overall in the 1983 NFL Draft. He ran with such grace and finesse that he quickly became a fan favorite and earning 1,808 yards rushing, 404 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns during his rookie season. Dickerson not only was named to the Pro Bowl roster and was listed as first-team All-Pro, but he also led the Rams to a 9-7 season.
It’s difficult to imagine Dickerson actually being able to top his insane rookie season, but sure enough the following season (1984) he shocked the league once again by shattering the single-season rushing record (previously owned by O.J. Simpson with 2,003 yards) by earning 2,105 yards, a record that still stands today. Dickerson has mentioned several times on how much he values his accomplishment: “The thing that made that record so special is that all of the players were involved in it.” He added in an interview that was placed on NFLCommunications.com, “Every guy wanted a piece of that; that made me feel good and I think that’s what that record means to me.” His most memorable games were when he ran wild over the St. Louis Cardinals for 208 yards and the Houston Oilers for 215 yards. His performance as a key part of the Rams’ 10-6 season and playoff berth.
Dickerson struggled at times during the 1985 season, but he still managed to rush for 1,234 yards and had 12 touchdowns. However, he came through with one of the best postseason performances in NFL history when he rushed for 248 yards against the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional playoff. It was the first and only time Dickerson didn’t make the Pro Bowl as a Rams player. He shot back up the following season when he led the league once again in rushing with 1,821 yards and had 11 total touchdowns.
It was a long time coming, but the Rams and Dickerson finally hit a wall in contract negotiations. Dickerson believed he was the best running back in the NFL, and he wanted to be paid like it. In all accounts, he was, but the Rams didn’t want to make him the highest paid running back in history. Dickerson made the Rams well aware of his demands in 1985, when he sat out two games and continuously threatened to sit out the season. Finally, the Rams traded him to the Indianapolis Colts during the 1987 season as part of one of the biggest blockbuster trades in NFL history.
Indianapolis Colts (1987-1991): Dickerson was traded during the middle of the 1987 season. Considering that the season was shortened due to a players’ strike, and he missed a couple of games due to his contract dispute, he still managed to rush for 1,288 yards (1,011 of them while playing in a Colts’ uniform). That was enough to name him an All-Pro and earned him a spot on the Pro Bowl roster.
The Colts really acquired Dickerson at his beginning of his decline, but he did have one more memorable season which came in 1988. He led the NFL in rushing with 1,659 yards and registered a total of 15 touchdowns. Despite the amount of success that Dickerson achieved, it wasn’t enough to lead the Colts into the playoffs, but they did finish with a winning record of 9-7.
His final two seasons with Colts should have been memorable, because he broke the 10,000 career yard mark. Dickerson was also the first running back to record seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. However, injuries and contract disputes would cause the Colts to trade him to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for their fourth and eighth round draft picks.
Oakland Raiders (1992) and Atlanta Falcons (1993): The physical nature of the game took its toll on Dickerson, and entering his last two seasons, he simply wasn’t the running back he used to be. Dickerson did rush for 729 yards with three total touchdowns during the 1992 season. The Raiders later traded him to the Falcons in exchange for a sixth round draft pick. His time with the Falcons was short-lived, as he only played in four games with 91 rushing yards on 26 attempts.
- Dickerson was the fastest player to reach 2,000-11,000 total rushing yards.
- He was a six-time Pro Bowler.
- He was named All-Pro five times.
- Led the league in rushing four times.
- He named NFL Rookie of the Year in 1983.
- He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
- The Rams retired his #29 jersey number.
- Has 13,259 career rushing yards.