Oh, how Texans love to talk about the way Eric Dickerson can run. After all, the Southern Methodist tailback did grow up and grow strong in so-small Sealy, Tex. (pop. 3,875). Now he is 6-foot-3, 218 pounds. Fierce and fast. A big Tony Dorsett, Texans say.
This season, Dickerson has gained 1,001 yards and scored nine touchdowns. All in six games, mind you.
He has picked up SMU, too, leading the Mustangs to a 6-0 record and a No. 4 national ranking in both wire-service polls. Their 10-game winning streak is currently the longest among major colleges in the nation. SMU plays at Texas Saturday.
"If Eric does not win the Heisman Trophy," says SMU's first-year coach, Bobby Collins, "I think it would be the biggest injustice ever done in college football."
As he sat in the SMU football offices earlier this season, Dickerson admitted he once picked up a Heisman Trophy. SMU's Doak Walker won it in 1948, and now the trophy rests in Collins' office.
Dickerson remembers the grand moment. It happened in his freshman year. Since then, he has prepared an acceptance speech for the Downtown Athletic Club many times. Just dreaming, he says.
What does Dickerson remember of his special moment with a piece of football history? "The trophy is heavy," he says.
Just like Dickerson's football credentials. After gaining nearly 6,000 yards at Sealy High School, he chose SMU after intense recruiting by such schools as Southern California and Oklahoma.
Since then, Dickerson has gained 3,834 yards, with 477 as a freshman, 928 as a sophomore, 1,428 as a junior. He needs 610 yards in the remaining five games to break Earl Campbell's Southwest Conference career rushing mark (4,443 yards) and 743 yards to break Campbell's SWC season rushing mark (1,744 yards). Campbell, remember, won the Heisman in 1977.
"Winning the Heisman is a 1,000-to-1 long shot," says Dickerson, averaging 167 rushing yards per game. "We haven't been on TV and we don't get the publicity and that makes it tough. We might as well still be on probation."
Actually, SMU still is on probation, through the middle of 1983. Last year, the Mustangs finished 10-1, but were not allowed to appear in the Cotton Bowl or on television. This year, they are allowed both. It is a probation only in name now.
In the season-opening 51-7 win over Tulane, Dickerson ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Afterwards, Tulane Coach Vince Gibson admitted of No. 19's effort, "It was kind of scary."
In last week's 20-14 win at Houston, Dickerson ran for 241 yards, a personal best. This included a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that made the score a more restful 17-7.
Then in the fourth quarter, when the Mustangs needed to maintain possession of the ball to maintain possession of the lead, Dickerson ran 12 times for 102 yards. Just in the fourth quarter, mind you.
"Eric makes the big plays when you need to have one," says Collins.
"If there is a pileup, some coaches say to duck your head. I say that's stupid," Dickerson says. "I just take to the outside and instead of gaining just one yard, I'll get 30, 50 or maybe a touchdown."
Dickerson is half of "the Pony Express." The other half is senior tailback Craig James, who has gained 517 yards in 106 carries and averages 86 yards per game. Their dual talents have prompted teams such as Baylor to stack eight- or nine-man defensive fronts against the SMU offense. Such strategies have yet to prevent an SMU victory.
It should be noted that James and Dickerson alternate playing every other series. Rarely do they play at the same time.
"We know we will get 10 yards every three downs," James says. "Just by our persistence, we will wear you down."
Soon enough, the pros will beckon Dickerson. Come draft day, they won't wait long to beckon, either.
Gil Brandt, the director of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, says Dickerson will be drafted in the first round.
Going a step further is Dick Steinberg, New England's player personnel director. He says of Dickerson, "He could be the first back to go.
"He has incredible strength. And his speed is rare for a 218-pound pounder. A great back," Steinberg says. The Patriots' head coach is Ron Meyer, the former SMU coach who recruited Dickerson.
When the conversation goes from Doak Walker to Herschel Walker, Dickerson becomes a cross between Muhammad Ali, his favorite athlete, and Clint Eastwood, his favorite actor. A little bit cocky and a little bit blatant. Dickerson says, "I think I'm as good or better than Herschel."
Collins agrees, noting that Walker is averaging 137 yards per game, 30 yards per game fewer than Dickerson. And Collins knows about Walker's once-injured thumb, too.
"If we're talking about this year, Eric is the better player," says Collins. "Anyone can investigate it. Just look at the statistics."