Los Angeles — Eric Dickerson, on the day he broke O. J. Simpson's single-season rushing record of 2,003 yards, told the press he can't really be typecast into one particular category such as power runner or broken field artist.
''I just go out there and take what the defense gives me,'' explained the Los Angeles Rams' versatile running back who has now logged more yards in one year ( 2,007) than any other player in National Football League history. '' If I'm supposed to go into a certain area and there isn't a hole, then I run somewhere else. It's not something your mind decides ahead of time, you just do it.
''Frankly, I'm glad the whole thing is over,'' Eric added after ripping through the Houston Oilers for 215 yards in L.A.'s 27-16 victory. ''I got tired of being asked the same questions all the time by the media. For a while I couldn't sleep because of the record. Recently, when I was talking with Simpson, he told me it would be a lot easier if I simply announced that I was off-limits to the press for a while. I took O. J.'s advice and it helped.''
At 6 ft. 3 in. and 220 lbs., and with a little bit of a Darth Vadar look because of the special protective glasses he wears, Dickerson possesses the strength and the agility to excel as either a power or a finesse runner. While he has the ability to start quickly, he is not impossible to catch from behind by any means. But Eric is great at sliding away from would-be tacklers, who make contact but never quite seem to get a grip on him.
The special rapport Dickerson has with his offensive line is outstanding; not unlike that of a mutual admiration society. He never fails to include his blockers in his credits, and he does it in a way that is totally believable.
When Eric gained 1,808 yards for the Rams last year, setting an NFL rookie record in the process, he ended the season by giving expensive watches to his blockers. Teammate Dennis Harrah has already jokingly suggested that he make it Porsches next time.
Dickerson's assault on the record was helped, of course, by the fact that the NFL schedule is now 16 games compared to the 14 of Simpson's day. Given the extra games plus the yardage Eric was piling up, it was obvious he was headed for the mark. By Sunday he was within range, needing just 212 yards to break the record. But since he had gone over 200 yards only once before in his pro career, most people assumed he would need the Rams' 16th and final regular-season game next Friday night against San Francisco to get into the history books.
What happened was that nearly everybody underestimated Dickerson's ability to rise to the occasion. However, Rams' Coach John Robinson said he had a feeling that Eric would break the record that day as soon as his running back walked into the locker room.
''I don't know when I've seen a man who I thought was more ready to play a great football game than Eric on Sunday,'' Robinson explained. ''You could tell just by looking at the fierceness in his eyes that he was ready. When he doesn't do something unbelievable like this, I'm disappointed. In fact, I probably expect too much of him.
''The running play on which Eric passed O. J. is what we call a gap 47,'' John continued in describing the nine-yard pickup around right end late in the game that broke the record. ''It's not a special play, but part of a series we run for Dickerson every week. All we're trying to do is break Eric to the outside, figuring that once he gets past the line of scrimmage he'll do the rest. Well, he did against the Oilers, including breaking three tackles.''
Robinson, of course, has been high on Dickerson ever since Eric was starring at Southern Methodist. In fact it was John who worked out an elaborate last-minute deal two years ago that gave the Rams second choice overall in the NFL draft instead of third.Since Denver was already committed to making John Elway the top overall pick, that gave the Rams the shot they wanted at Dickerson.
Dickerson averaged nearly eight yards a carry against Houston on Sunday, including flashy runs of 33, 32, 25, and 16 yards, while scoring his 12th and 13 th touchdowns of the season.
What you have to remember about Dickerson is that, at 23 years of age, breaking O. J. Simpson's record is just a beginning for him and not an ending. The man who couldn't muster enough votes as a senior at SMU to get any higher than third in the 1982 Heisman Trophy balloting isn't that far right now from being named NFL Player of the Year!