JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Jan. 31 -- New England Patriots running back Corey Dillon savored his first taste of the Super Bowl experience Monday afternoon, and devoured it like someone who had spent seven years marooned on football's version of a deserted island, otherwise known as the Cincinnati Bengals.
When he sat down behind a table positioned in a crowded media interview room at the Jacksonville Convention Center, Dillon had a wall at his back and a five-deep crowd all around that included a half-dozen mini-cameras and at least 50 print and broadcast reporters jostling for position. They had converged to hear Dillon expound on his new life with a championship team that has won two Super Bowl titles in the last three years, and is poised to add a third -- with him as the leading rusher in franchise history.
"He's been consistent from Day One, both on the practice field and the meeting room," Coach Bill Belichick says of Corey Dillon, above.
(Julie Jacobson -- AP)
"It's unbelievable, it's Hollywood . . . a tremendous honor," Dillon said at one point, leaning back in his chair. "This is not exactly what I like to do. I'm just trying to take it all in stride. . . . I couldn't write it up any better than this. I'm 30 years old, going over 1,600 yards [rushing]. It's crazy, huh?"
Dillon spent the first seven years of his career toiling for a Bengals franchise that hasn't had a winning season or made the playoffs since the 1990 team went 9-7. In 2003, when he missed three games because of a groin injury, he told the team he wanted out, and he was accommodated when the Patriots traded a second-round draft choice to the Bengals.
But there is a little more history than that. Paul Daugherty, a longtime Cincinnati Enquirer columnist, wrote last month early in the postseason that "the revisionist paint job on Corey Dillon is getting a little thick. . . . Losing didn't help his disposition. It doesn't help anyone's disposition. To hear Dillon, Dillon was unique in feeling losing's dull aching pain. He's special."
Daugherty also pointed out a laundry list of Dillon's petulance over the years, ranging from once throwing his driver's license at a young clerk who asked to see his identification and yelling "don't you know who I am?" to an infamous quote that he'd rather "flip hamburgers" than play for the Bengals.
Marvin Lewis was Dillon's coach in 2003. That was Lewis's first year as a head coach, and Dillon's last in Cincinnati.
"Let's just say Corey is in a good situation right now," said Lewis, who felt a year ago that Dillon could not remain productive and happy in Cincinnati. "He's been able to just play football. Corey only reacted to things he felt were negative and to people who questioned him. He wasn't a problem with me. He did what we asked him to do. The best thing for this team was to do what we did. We got a pick. He didn't think he could function here, so it worked out best for both sides."
The acquisition worked from the outset for the Patriots, according to Coach Bill Belichick.
"He's been consistent from Day One, both on the practice field and the meeting room," Belichick said Sunday. "In the games, he's given us a presence in the running game, both in terms of making tough yards and short yardage goal line type situations. He's elusive. He's got good run vision. He's been able to break off some good chunks of yardage and changed field position. He's caught the ball well out of the backfield. He's been a complete player for us. The thing I admire and respect about Corey is that every day, he's the same guy. He's prepared, he's ready to go and he works hard."
His teammates say he has been a perfect fit in the locker room as well.
"No, I wasn't stunned," offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi said Monday when asked how he felt when he first heard Dillon was coming to the Patriots. "I can't picture it, but a lot of people wrote bad things about him. We haven't seen anything like that here. The first day he showed up he had a smile on his face. He's a great teammate and a great player to play with."
That smile was evident on Monday afternoon as Dillon answered questions about the good times in New England, and the bad ones in Cincinnati.
"I think there were a lot of misconceptions out there that I wasn't going to be a good fit here," Dillon said. "New England thrives on being more of a team and I think people labeled me selfish and a 'me' guy, which is totally not true. We made it work and it's a great situation for me.
"Whenever there was any negative situation down there [in Cincinnati], it always stemmed from not winning, it was never me going off. It wasn't what people would call an attitude. I've said that since 1997. They tied it into me having a bad attitude. It was me wanting to win.
"Listen, people will view me how they want to. People didn't think Jesus was Jesus, so who am I? It was just word of mouth, what people read in the paper about me, but if you sit down with me one on one you'll get a different feeling about me. Anyone will pass judgment on you if they don't know you, if they heard this or heard that about you. But these guys got to know me and they see I'm a good guy."