Would you put this man in the Hall?
By GEOFF HOBSON
September 28, 2006
Posted: 11 a.m.
Dillon: Has the numbers but is he Hall worthy? (Getty Images)
Corey Dillon left Paul Brown Stadium back in December of 2003 as a disgruntled Pro Bowler in a mid-life crisis.
He returns this Sunday for his first real game in the city of his NFL birth as a distinguished elder statesman in the final strides of a Hall of Fame career.
What better place to get 46 yards Sunday and move into 15th place on the all-time rushing list past Ricky Watters with 10,644 yards?
Dillon, who turns 32 in another month, is going to have a little tougher road proving it to people outside the Cincinnati riverfront, where he rushed for two of the biggest nine games in NFL history.
And he may even have a tough sell on the Ohio because, as his good friend T.J. Houshmandzadeh said Wednesday, “Yeah, probably he’ll get booed.”
In a minute sampling of Pro Football Hall of Fame voters, Dillon isn’t a first thought, never mind first ballot.
“Not in my mind. That’s my initial reaction,” said Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com, one of the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “He’s one of these guys you have to go back and look at his career. Does a guy smell like a Hall of Famer? I’m not sure Corey does. But he’d be a guy that deserves consideration.”
Pasquarelli isn’t alone on the 39-member panel that will be faced with Dillon’s candidacy five years after he retires. What is it that Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, another voter, always says?
“It’s the Hall of Fame,” King will tell you. “Not the Hall of Very Good,” and that’s what he says about Dillon.
“His career isn’t over so there’s no finality to it,” King said. “But the problem you have with a guy like Corey is that his peers in 10 more years are going to have a lot more yards than him. And he’s done some great things. But Corey, I would say no.”
But there is no question Dillon has been, at the very least, all of very good in nine plus seasons of running the ball in the NFL, no small feat in itself.
He’s the only active NFL player who has rushed for more than 10,000 yards. After starting his career by rushing for at least 1,000 yards in his first six seasons in Cincinnati, he stands ninth on the all-time list for average yards per season at 1,158.
And seven of the eight guys in front of him are either in the Hall or are locks. And he should go in before the eighth, Eddie George.
“I’m not sure I understand the whole process,” said Dillon’s future Hall of Fame coach, Bill Belichick. “He’s certainly in that category. He’s had a great career. I’m sure he would deserve some consideration.”
But like Belichick said, he’s not sure what is involved, and he could have been even speaking for some of the voters who are flummoxed by the whole process. Dillon has all-time numbers, but his story needs to be sold.
“Yeah, he’s not a no-brainer and I’ve probably seen the guy play more than anyone outside Cincinnati and New England,” said another voter, Tony Grossi of The Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “But there’ll be time to take a look at the guy. He’s not like Thurman Thomas, who I think should get in this time around. But there will be time to look at the record.”
On first mention, Vinny Ditrani of The Bergen Record isn’t biting, either.
“He’s not a Troy Aikman or anything like that,” Ditrani said. “He’ll need some good presentations.”
And he’ll get at least one from the man who has the Cincinnati vote, Chick Ludwig of The Dayton Daily News. Each candidate is presented by selectors from the markets where he played. Ron Borges of The Boston Globe, the man who has the Pats’ vote, couldn’t be reached.
TOP 16 NFL RUSHERS OF ALL TIME
Player Seasons Yards Rushes Ave TD
Emmitt Smith 15 18,355 4,409 4.2 164
Walter Payton 13 16,726 3,838 4.4 110
Barry Sanders 10 15,259 3,062 5.0 99
Curtis Martin 11 14,101 3,518 4.0 90
Jerome Bettis 13 13,662 3,479 3.9 91
Eric Dickerson 11 13,259 2,996 4.4 90
Tony Dorsett 12 12,739 2,936 4.3 77
Jim Brown 9 12,312 2,359 5.2 106
Marshall Faulk 12 12,279 2,836 4.3 100
Marcus Allen 16 12,243 3,022 4.1 123
Franco Harris 13 12,120 2,949 4.1 91
Thurman Thomas 13 12,074 2,877 4.2 65
John Riggins 14 11,352 2,916 3.9 104
O.J. Simpson 11 11,236 2,404 4.7 61
Ricky Watters 10 10,643 2,622 4.1 78
Corey Dillon 10 10,598 2,460 4.3 70
“I would definitely make the case for him,” Ludwig said. “Just because of his consistent excellence down through the years. Think what he could have done on a good team and look what he’s done. There might be some people who have some off-field issues with him, but that isn’t supposed to be a factor because you’re only supposed to vote on on-field performance.”
Part of the reason for the first lukewarm response could be that he labored so obscurely on bad Bengals teams in a small media market made even smaller by the losing.
Another reason is because a lot of people simply don’t know about him because he eschews the media so triumphantly.
Even this week he turned down the request from the Cincinnati media to do the weekly opponent conference call. And he routinely blows off the Boston press, speaking about once a month, which started last year when the whispers about his age got to him.
Dillon prides himself on being prickly and it may keep him out of the Hall at first. Not because he treats guys like that, but because his name and achievements don’t get out much beyond the glowering visage.
“That has nothing to do with it,” Grossi said. “That doesn’t bother me. There are plenty of sourpusses in the Hall of Fame.”
“There are two questions I’ve never heard in that meeting room,” King said. “A, was the guy a good interview and B, what kind of guy was he.”
Those close to Dillon think he’s a no-brainer. His best friend on the Bengals, Houshmandzadeh, says simply, “Look what he’s accomplished. Just on that alone.”
Dillon couldn’t even get along with player-friendly Marvin Lewis, but Lewis has always admired the track record even though Dillon forced him to trade him. (Hey, it’s the Hall of Fame, not Hall of Team.)
“That's awesome. He is the only active running back right now in the NFL with 10,000 yards. His accomplishments are huge,” Lewis said.
Patriots Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison, who has spent the better part of a decade tackling the best, is convinced.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment enough to be a defensive player, but never mind being an offensive player taking the pounding,” he said. “Time in and time out, and play at a high level consistently over 10 years, I think that’s pretty amazing. If I had to pick a Hall of Fame, I would definitely consider him just because of what he’s accomplished.”
Dillon must have something on his mind after just the second sub-1,000-yard season of his career last year. Houshmandzadeh said, “He worked out like a mother during the offseason, man,” in Los Angeles.
“He played basketball, lifted weights, running hills,” Houshmandzadeh said. “CD never worked out. He was blessed. He didn’t have to. I think because he got hurt last year (pulled muscle) and didn’t come back from it the way he thought he would, or as soon as he thought. You know, trying to avoid (pulls). It’s smart.”
OK, King says the offensive numbers are inflated. But when Dilon gets to 11,000 yards, he’ll become the 15th man to do it. Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Jim Brown, Marcus Allen, Franco Harris, John Riggins and O.J. Simpson are in the Hall. Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis and Marshall Faulk will be. Thurman Thomas probably.
Throw in the fact that two of his games with Cincinnati rank in the top nine of all-time. His 278-yarder, now second, broke Walter Payton’s 23-year-old record. His 246-yarder against the Oilers broke Jim Brown’s 40-year-old rookie record.
And, the obstacle that Ludwig always faces when presenting for Bengals such as Ken Anderson and Ken Riley, Dillon has a Super Bowl ring. Here’s a number Ludwig can trot out. The Pats are 25-5 in the games Dillon has played for them, 1-4 when he doesn’t.
“Winning a Super Bowl is probably given too much weight, but Corey has done that,” Ludwig said. “I don’t know what else he has to do.”
Probably campaign, but he won’t do that. He probably won’t even get cheered Sunday.
“They might boo him because you paint a bad picture of him,” Houshmandzadeh said to the corps of reporters that fought its battles with Dillon. “Some his fault, some not his fault.”
But, there is no faulting the numbers.