INDIANAPOLIS, OCT. 18 -- The thing Eric Dickerson may do best, besides run the football with unique brilliance, is take care of Eric Dickerson. He definitely is a member of the Look Out Generation: If you don't look out for yourself, no one will.
The recent debacle with his team, the Indianapolis Colts, demonstrates the duality of Dickerson, the most gifted running back in the game today. He seems to be a blessing and a curse all wrapped up in a 224-pound frame. But foremost is the talent, the unbelievable talent.
On Tuesday Dickerson put on pads for the first time since the bickering began with his club during the offseason. It quickly became obvious that he has lost little -- if anything. The Dickerson trademarks are intact: galloping strides and swishing hips combined with omnivision; and uncanny ability to know where a defensive player will be even before the defender's neurons signal him to go there.
That is only half of Dickerson, the half that is 11 yards shy of O.J. Simpson's status as the fifth-leading rusher of all time. The other half is, well, weird. Unpredictable. It asked to be traded and called his offensive line "terrible." Dickerson also said he would never play in Indianapolis again, threatened to quit football and refused to take a second physical after flunking his first because of a hamstring problem.
The danger -- and Dickerson admits this -- is that half of Dickerson may be taking too much away from the football half, at least in the minds of others.
"Eric knows that he is good," Coach Ron Myers said. "Except his attitude is not the American way, where you give all the credit to your teammates and be humble. That's not Eric's way. And it has cost him dearly in terms of public image. He has paid a horrendous price."
"Some of the stuff that I've done probably does alter the way people perceive me as a football player," Dickerson said after a recent practice. "But I don't care what people think. I never have. I don't play for other people, I play for myself. I like football, I love football. Sometimes you hate it just like everyone else sometimes hates their job, but I play it because God gave me a chance to play. And he made me good at it. Opinions, I don't care much for opinions.
"Of course I understand that people are mad at me. But they have to understand that this is my life. I'm an adult and I choose to live my life the way I want to live it. You have to do what's best for you, because no one else is going to do it. You have to get it while you can. If you don't, no one else is going to give it to you."
Dickerson almost assuredly will be in the Hall of Fame. But in people's minds, an asterisk may follow his name.
His problems are temporarily on hold. He will see plenty of playing time this week against Denver, an important game for both teams since the Broncos are 2-4 and the Colts are 2-3. Still, he is living with the repercussions of his actions during the offseason in two ways: His contract situation and his dealing with the hurt he caused some of his teammates.
Dickerson signed a four-year contract extension that two league sources and Dickerson said is worth $11.2 million, slightly higher than previous estimates. Dickerson was scheduled to receive $1.45 million this season, but he will lose about $600,000 after being placed on the non-football injury list and suspended for four weeks for conduct detrimental to the team.
Dickerson already received $200,000 from the new deal. His base salary is $2.1 million in 1991, $2.3 million in 1992, $3 million in 1993 and $3.2 million in the final year. There also are $100,000 in reporting and roster bonuses for each year.
The problem for Dickerson is that none of the money is guaranteed, so the Colts are protected if Dickerson pulls another Dickerson. Even should he break his leg -- no money. Basically, General Manager Jim Irsay is saying, Eric, we think you're talented, but we don't trust you.
"I'm happy with my contract," Dickerson said. The negotiations and feuding with management made it "a very tough time for me, but my strong religious beliefs helped get me through it all. I think everybody thought I was going to come in here a wreck, or out of shape, my mind all messed up. I'm not like that. I know what it takes. You have to be a man about it. I was on an island all by myself and that was the path I selected.
"I haven't lost anything. I feel like I still have it all. Like I tell a lot of these guys: Some guys don't need training camp. Most guys need to practice, but some of us don't. I don't need to practice. Some of us have God-given talent. I have God-given talent.
"I never did not want to play. My thing was, I wanted to be on a winner. If we win here, that's great. If I go to Green Bay and we win, it doesn't make a difference to me. If it's with an expansion team, I just want to win."
But can the Colts win with him? Since 1987, when the Colts acquired Dickerson on Halloween in a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Rams, he has averaged 23.1 carries and 95 yards a game. The question is: Can he improve those numbers on a team in which some players have expressed their dissatisfaction with him?
Besides calling the offensive line terrible, Dickerson called the team terrible. Much has been made about the team's resulting bitterness toward him, but Dickerson as well as other players say there are only about four teammates who can't stand him. The problem is, two of them are starting offensive linemen, Ray Donaldson and Kevin Call. Neither would comment on Wednesday, but both have expressed anger about Dickerson's comments.
"At this level," said quarterback Jack Trudeau, "you don't have to love somebody to play with him. That's how most of the guys feel about it."
Even the quiet Albert Bentley, a cult hero here and one of the most underrated running backs in the league, said he was "not really glad" to see Dickerson back. Bentley, who has 533 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, now will share time with Dickerson. Bentley probably will be used more as an H-back, catching passes out of the backfield or from the slot position, while Dickerson probably will do most of the running.
Sharing time with Dickerson is fine with Bentley -- as long as it stays that way.
"I feel like it's not fair sometimes," Bentley said. "But the reality is life isn't always fair."
Said Dickerson: "I have four guys on this team I don't get along with. And we don't want to have a problem. We don't talk, we don't speak and that's it. Four out of 45 isn't much.
"You don't have to get along. No one has to get along. You can have a whole team of guys that don't get along, but when you play on Sunday, that's when you get along. There are guys I don't care for and they don't care for me, but on Sunday I'm going to fight for them. Now when the game is over, they're not going to come to my house and I'm not going to come to their house. And that's it. On the field we're teammates, off the field we're nothing."
Dickerson fully expects to be booed this week in the Hoosier Dome. "Fans are fickle," he said. True, and when he breaks that first long run, fans will forget about one half of Eric Dickerson and cheer for the other half.