INDIANAPOLIS, OCT. 21 -- Eric Dickerson walked onto the field before the Indianapolis Colts' game against the Denver Broncos followed by a group of photographers and a chorus of boos. Dickerson had been prepared for the acrid welcome, and it's lucky he was, since the sound must have registered a thundering 10 on the Richter scale.

The Return of Eric Dickerson, that much-awaited drama played out today before 59,850 at the Hoosier Dome, was the latest segment of a long episode between Dickerson and the Colts. The Broncos' 27-17 victory almost seemed relegated to the backdrop, especially since both teams are below .500 and the Colts' playoff hopes are all but gone. Dickerson's return was the talk of the town all week, with fans talking about booing him into early retirement.

And most tried, that is until Dickerson broke his first long run from scrimmage since the Pro Bowl last winter. With only 3:24 gone in the first quarter, he took a handoff from Jack Trudeau, shot up the middle by high-stepping through a huge gap, then twisted and turned for 11 yards.

On the next play, Dickerson took an outside handoff and sprinted for 20 more, changing the crowd sentiment. Suddenly the fans were willing to forget Dickerson's holdout, his comments about wanting to be traded and the labeling of his teammates as "terrible." Two anti-Dickerson posters disappeared after his 20-yard gallop.

With his nine carries for 55 yards, Dickerson surpassed O.J. Simpson for sixth place on the all-time career rushing list. The 30-year-old running back has 11,281 yards, and needs 71 to surpass John Riggins. Dickerson also moved ahead of Ollie Matson (12,884) into 10th on the all-purpose yardage list.

"It was good to finally play," Dickerson said. "I felt like I got all the kinks out. I felt really good. {Simpson's record} is just another milestone. I like O.J. {because} to me he's one of the great runners. But one day someone is going to break my record. I think I did okay and did everything they asked of me."

Dickerson ran well despite spending most of the game watching, either from the bench or on the field. Late in the contest Dickerson spent most of his playing time as an emergency outlet, staying near the line of scrimmage should Trudeau be unable to throw deep.

Dickerson's low numbers weren't so much a reflection of his play as it was of the Broncos (3-4), who ended their three-game losing streak, the club's longest since 1983. Denver quickly sprinted to a 7-0 lead as John Elway threw 52 yards to wide-open Ricky Nattiel, who sneaked behind the coverage. Elway was brilliant, completing 21 of 30 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns. But just as important, the Denver offense controlled the clock, holding the ball for 10 minutes in the first quarter. The Broncos also had an overall advantage of 10 minutes. Long drives kept Dickerson and the Colts' running game on the bench.

"In the first quarter you could tell he was feeling it," said Denver safety Steve Atwater. "Then they stopped giving him the ball."

At times it looked almost as if Trudeau was ignoring Dickerson in the flat, and several times a wide-open Dickerson stood waving his arms.

"You have to understand," Trudeau said, "that sometimes he was covered in the flat even though it didn't look like it."

Dickerson's first-quarter success was partly due to the fact Denver's defensive coaching staff wasn't sure how Indianapolis was going to use its running back. Colts Coach Ron Meyer used a variety of formations so both Dickerson and running back Albert Bentley could get equal time. Bentley had six catches for 43 yards.

"We just didn't have the ball enough to use them as much as I would have liked," Meyer said. "In that first quarter when we did get the ball, it was three plays and out."

Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said it was this easy: If Dickerson lined up on the weak side of the line, the Colts threw. If he was on the strong side, he ran to the weak side.

"He's not going to do much damage hanging around in the flat," Phillips said. "A guy like him, you don't throw it to him. You hand it to him."