Los Angeles — Although running back Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams gained only 37 yards against the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins Sunday, it probably didn't hurt his chances of being National Football League Rookie of the Year.
Dickerson, the league's leading rusher (including 19 touchdowns), has already accomplished too much this season to lose any of his credibility. Besides, the Redskins seldom allow any team more than 100 yards on the ground. The Rams also fell behind so early in a 42-20 loss that there wasn't time to grind things out. Eric only carried the ball 12 times, and just once in the second half, so he never got a chance to wear his opponents down in the final period the way he usually does.
Dickerson is special because he does with balance, strength, and intuition what most runners can do only with speed.
''The man doesn't run, he glides,'' said Coach Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears. ''You think you've got him stopped and then he'll bounce away from tacklers and find an opening somewhere else.''
''The day we played the Rams we had someone picking up Dickerson on every play and he still gained more than 100 yards against us,'' said George Siefert, defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers: ''There are a lot of fine running backs in this league, especially if they get loose beyond the line of scrimmage. But there have only been a few like Eric, who can cause good athletes to overcommit themselves and then break the big play against them.''
With seven 100-yard games, the product of Southern Methodist University still has a chance to tie the league one-season record of 11 held jointly by O.J. Simpson and Earl Campbell. Steve What? John Who?
With Steve DeBerg out for the season with injuries and John Elway unable to play because of illness, the Denver Broncos went to rookie quarterback Gary Kubiak of Texas A&M on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. The results were unexpected. Kubiak, who had never handled the ball in an NFL game before, threw for one touchdown and ran for another as Denver beat Seattle, 38-27.
How did Kubiak last until the eighth round of the NFL draft after leading the Southwest Conference last year in passing accuracy (55.9 percent) and TD passes (19)? During his high school days in Houston, Gary made all-state in football, basketball, and baseball in both his junior and senior years. Pro scouts apparently were concerned that Kubiak, listed as a six-footer, wasn't as tall as desired. NFL tidbits
* The Dallas Cowboys, and this should surprise nobody, have already clinched a league-record ninth consecutive playoff berth and 16th overall. With Tony Dorsett scoring twice and becoming only the ninth player in NFL history to gain more than 8,000 yards, the Cowboys beat Kansas City 41-21 Sunday, boosting their record to 10-2. Even if they should lose all four remaining games they would still be at least a wild card team according to the various tiebreaker rules.
* Move over O.J. Simpson, you've got company. Despite the rain, Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears sloshed for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday to move past Simpson on the NFL's all-time rushing list. Payton, who now has 11,257 career yards, trails only Jim Brown (retired but who says he may try a comeback), and Franco Harris, still active with the Pittsburgh Steelers.