Now more than ever, you can call the Los Angeles Rams' Eric Dickerson a big-money player, and it will have a nice smooth cash-register ring to it.
All Dickerson did today is run for a National Football League playoff-record 248 yards and two lengthy touchdowns on 34 of the smoothest carries you'll ever see.
So when you're recounting the Rams' 20-0 victory over Dallas in an NFC semifinal playoff game today, chalk it up to Dickerson. He just earned his teammates an extra $18,000 apiece.
"That is as good a game as I have ever seen a man play," said Rams Coach John Robinson.
"It's been a long time since I had what I call a home run . . . I believe that we can go all the way," said Dickerson, the running back with space-age goggles.
The Rams (12-5) will play the winner of Sunday's game between Chicago and the New York Giants for the NFC title on Jan. 12. A Bears victory over New York would mean the Rams must travel to Soldier Field; a Giants victory would mean the Rams will be back home here next week.
Dickerson shattered the league record for most yards in a postseason game, previously held by San Diego's Keith Lincoln, who ran for 206 against Boston in an American Football League playoff game in 1963. Reflect back to the same 1963 season and that's when Cleveland's Jim Brown ran for 232 yards against Dallas, which was the most anybody had rushed for against the Cowboys until today.
As Dickerson left the field, the 66,351 at Anaheim Stadium -- or is it Annihilate Stadium -- chanted "E-RIC! E-RIC!"
Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers gave Dickerson a grin and a shake outside the locker room when the breakaway back approached.
"We were just going to get a T-shirt (as a gift) from Eric this year that read '1,200-and-something yards,' " said tight end David Hill, one of Dickerson's best blockers. "Now maybe he will give us a sweater or something."
The Cowboys' season ended in a sorry heap. Maybe Waylon and Willie were right: Cowboys would rather give you a song than diamonds or gold.
Dallas (10-7) committed six turnovers today, including three interceptions thrown by quarterback Danny White.
It wasn't all White's fault, though. He was sacked five times, three times by defensive end Gary Jeter, who beat Dallas tackle Chris Schultz senseless. White often had no time, little chance.
"It seemed like there were about 12 of them coming at me," said White. He completed 24 of 43 passes for 217 yards and no touchdowns. "I had a hard time seeing anybody open. That's unusual with a zone defense," he said.
The Rams expanded their 3-0 halftime lead when, on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Dickerson ran for a 55-yard touchdown. The blocking was perfect. So was Dickerson. It was 10-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, Dallas' Kenny Duckett was hit and fumbled. The Rams' special teams ace, safety Vince Newsome, recovered at the Dallas 18.
Soon thereafter, Mike Lansford drilled a 34-yarder and it was 13-0. Worse yet, Dallas kicker Rafael Septien had pulled a leg muscle on the second-half kickoff and couldn't return. So when the Cowboys, trailing by 13, reached a fourth-and-14 from the Rams' 24 late in the third quarter, they weren't sure what to do.
First, linebacker Brian Salonen came out and lined up to try a 41-yard field goal. Salonen is the second-year player who hadn't tried a field goal since his sophomore year at Montana. The Rams sensed a fake, so they kept their regular defense on the field.
Dallas Coach Tom Landry called a timeout, then yanked Salonen and went for the first down. Los Angeles used a three-man rush with eight men in coverage, a quarterback's nightmare. White's fourth-down pass was batted away.
Three minutes later, Dickerson broke off a 40-yard scoring run and it was 20-0 with 14:04 to play.
Said Dallas running back Tony Dorsett: "It seemed like we just gave up. We should have gone back to Dallas and gave them the ball game at halftime."
This might have been the Cowboys' worst postseason performance since they lost, 31-0, to the Rams in a Playoff Bowl game in January 1970.
But that game shouldn't count, since Dallas already had lost a playoff game the preceding week. That NFC runner-up game later was discontinued.
When Landry was asked late today if the Cowboys ever have played worse in their 36-game post-season career (most in the league), he said, "I'm sure we have. We played poorly today and they still got only 20 points. Games like this you usually get beat by 35 or 40 points."
It's a funny thing with the Rams. Their quarterback, Dieter Brock, completed just six of 22 passes for 50 yards, with one interception. Yet they not only won, they won in a breeze. It's a cool combo: the running of Dickerson, the field position mastery of all-pro punter Dale Hatcher, the league's top kick returners in Ron Brown and Henry Ellard and a defense that hits -- hard.
This is precisely what makes these Rams unique: their quarterback isn't leading them. Rather, he is being led.
The Los Angeles defense limited Dorsett to 58 yards rushing. Safety Johnnie Johnson said the Rams drilled all week on defending against the Cowboys' famed screen passes.
"They threw three screens, to the strong side and the weak side, and we stopped them all," Johnson said. "They know we are a zone defense and we didn't want them to hit the wideouts, either."
In fact, the Dallas wideouts caught just six passes today, five by all-pro Tony Hill. But Hill netted just 41 yards.
"As far as playoff games go, I don't think we've ever been dominated like we were today," said White. The Rams outgained the Cowboys, 316 yards to 243.
If the first half was a 30-minute stretch void of momentum, the first 88 seconds of the third quarter were the game's essence. The game was Rammed down the Cowboys' throats: touchdown, fumble, field goal. A 10-point burst. Make it 13-0.
On the first play from scrimmage, Dickerson took a handoff to his right and exploded threw the line of scrimmage at the Rams' 45 and up through the middle. The run was his longest of the season.
To see the blocking was to see football Xs dominating football Os, chalkboard perfect. Left guard Kent Hill walled off all-pro defensive right tackle Randy White. The other defensive tackle, John Dutton, was done in by the dual blocking of center Tony Slaton and running back Barry Redden.
As soon as Dickerson touched end zone soil, the scoreboard flashed: 17 carries for 133 yards. Eugene Lockhart, the Dallas middle linebacker who had talked boldly last week about how Doomsday would rain on Dickerson's head, later said, "When I first realized he had 133 yards I thought, 'I'll never hear the end of this.' "
There were still 29 minutes to play. Dickerson had plenty of giddyup left in him. His trail has been full of neon from the time he left his hometown of Sealy, Tex. ("I don't like the Cowboys," he said today), through his record-breaking 2,105-yard season in 1984, through his contract holdout that forced him to miss the first two games of this season, through his signing a reported three-year, $3 million contract extension last month.
Dickerson broke the Rams' single-game rushing record of 247 yards set by Willie Ellison in a 1971 game.
Said Dickerson: "When I was three yards away from the Rams rushing record, John (Robinson) asked if I wanted to go back in. I said, 'Hell, yes, I don't know when I'll get this close again.' "