Not surprisingly, the mail I've received on the football strike has been predominantly pro-owner. Letters effusively praised the replacement players, admired their grit in seizing a labor opportunity with no promise of reward, trumpeted their embodiment of the American Dream. The same letters vitriolically condemned the strikers as selfish, greedy, overpaid louts who don't appreciate what a good deal they have.
Those who read this column regularly know my position. I agree with most of the players' aims, particularly the right to free agency. My view was that the owners forced the strike to disable the players union, and won it by riding uncompromisingly on the back of scab labor. As to the question of greed, it's a short career, it's a business, and a player has to look out for himself.
But even I have my limits.
Eric (Dotted Line) Dickerson is a selfish, greedy lout.
This is Dickerson's fifth season in the NFL and his second renegotiation. At this pace he's likely to break the two most cherished records in football: He'll gain more yards than Walter Payton, and sign more contracts than Lou Saban.
Hand the guy a pen and make way.
Have ink, will travel. Wire Dickerson. Indianapolis (temporarily).
Two years ago Dickerson withheld his services from the Rams for two games, forcing the team to renegotiate. He accepted a three-year contract, reportedly worth $850,000 per year, including his $500,000 signing bonus, and agreed to a letter that specifically prohibited him from renegotiating again for the life of the contract.
This season he decided to renegotiate again.
Either he's awful on dates or his word isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
GM: Can we count on you, Eric?
Dickerson: I signed the contract, didn't I?
GM: That's why I'm asking.
Throughout the strike there were reports of Dickerson's unhappiness at how much money he was losing by staying out, and routine speculation that he would momentarily cross the line. When he didn't, one might have reasonably assumed, as in the case of Dexter Manley, that Dickerson thought the better course was to stay solid with his teammates.
Now we see that solidarity had nothing to do with Dickerson's staying out. He wasn't striking. He was holding out to force the Rams to renegotiate again. Dickerson's strike wasn't about principle -- but principal.
When asked about his new $5.4-million contract Dickerson said, "It's fat," adding, "I'm very satisfied."
Until sundown anyway.
Dickerson's sense of commitment is like a parking meter: It's fine as long as you feed it money every 12 minutes.
His justification for breaking another contract with the Rams was: "I want to be appreciated. With the Rams I don't think I was appreciated."
No applause, folks, just throw money.
Publicly, Dickerson has taken the stance that he's done a great thing for all the underpaid workers in the NFL by taking all these scads of bills to his house. Ripple effect, you know. It's a soothing theory, but somehow it's hard to see Dickerson as Eugene V. Debs.
Dickerson, you'll recall, is a product of the Bonnie and Clyde Academy of Football at SMU, where he was coached then -- as he'll be now in Indianapolis -- by Boss Tweed fellow, Ron Meyer. (Reportedly, Dickerson recalled that when he was a freshman at SMU, Meyer promised he'd make him rich someday. Is that some kind of SMU inside joke?) The temptation is to say they all belong together: Dickerson, Meyer and team owner, Robert "Gas 'N Go" Irsay. What an honorable collection of gentlemen. And you wonder why Holiday Inns bolt down their TVs. Can you imagine the scene if Pete Rozelle ever has to present them with the Super Bowl trophy? Dickerson will try to melt it down. Meyer will want it sliced up and given to the boosters. And Irsay will try to smuggle it out of town in a moving van.
Dickerson's the NFLPA's public relations nightmare: demonstrably greedy and self-absorbed. To a degree it's no wonder, coming out of that background. Here is a player who was exposed to the seamy side of athletics at a tender age. His college coach was judged to have cheated, to have broken NCAA rules. Dickerson himself, though he never admitted being paid at SMU, spoke publicly of numerous offers from rival schools of cars, cash and other illegal inducements.
Even if we're to believe that Dickerson wasn't paid in college, some of his teammates admittedly were. Dickerson was no babe in the woods. He knew how the game was played. What did he learn in college except that rules were made to be broken? Dickerson's self-serving attitude is exactly what he was encouraged to develop by coaches and authority figures who consistently demonstrated to him the double standard available to great athletes. Reuniting him with Meyer is like throwing Br'er Rabbit in the briar patch.
But what a staggering price he fetched: three No. 1s, three No. 2s and two running backs. Even more than the compensation the Rams would get if Dickerson was a free agent! No wonder the NFL owners don't want free agency. The way they'd spend, they'd be broke in six hours. (One question: How can Cornelius Bennett, who's never even played a down in the NFL, be worth so much? Maybe Buffalo got him confused with Tony Bennett.)
Perhaps even more amazing than the ransom was the fact that Dickerson was able to move at all. We know free agency is a mirage. We've seen major trades become almost extinct in the NFL. Dickerson is one of maybe 10 players in the league who can force a trade because he has irreplaceable services. In a curious way, Dickerson's abrupt movement underlines how tied down are the rest of the rank and file.