FANS WATCHED GOGGLE-EYED in 1983 as running back Eric Dickerson set record after record during his rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams. The next year he broke the NFL single-season rushing record. Today the onetime football star of Sealy High School and Southern Methodist University ranks third in NFL history (behind Walter Payton and Barry Sanders) for career rushing yardage—13,259; no wonder he was just inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Dickerson was known for more than agility and speed. Because his vision was poor, he habitually wore goggles on the field. He also had trouble seeing his fans’ point of view: He alienated many by grousing about his low pay and his dissatisfaction with his chosen sport.
He was born on September 2, 1960, in Sealy. When he was fifteen, he discovered that his mother, Viola, was actually his great-great-aunt and that the person he had always thought was his sister Helen was his biological mother.
At SMU he and teammate Craig James, also a fleet-footed back, were dubbed the Pony Express. He racked up 4,450 yards, breaking Earl Campbell’s Southwest Conference rushing record, and ran for 47 touchdowns, besting the SMU record of another Heisman trophy winner, Doak Walker.
In April 1983 Dickerson was the first-round draft pick for the Los Angeles Rams and the second pick overall, after John Elway. He angered Houston fans by stating flatly that he didn’t want to play for the Oilers and later irritated many more Texans by asserting that he hated the Dallas Cowboys.
In his first season he set rookie records for rushing yards (1,808), rushing attempts (390), and rushing touchdowns (18). In his second he rushed for 2,105 yards, breaking the single-season record of his childhood idol, O. J. Simpson, and setting yet another, for combined yards from scrimmage (2,244).
His nicknames included Mr. Fourth Quarter, because of his stamina; Mr. Benny, because of his frugality; Number One, for obvious reasons; and—thanks in part to his name—the Dick.
His incessant complaining led the Rams to trade him to Indianapolis in 1987. The Colts suspended him for part of the 1991 season for “conduct detrimental to the team,” and subsequently traded him to the Los Angeles Raiders; when the Raiders released him, he signed with the Atlanta Falcons. He retired in 1993, never having played in the Super Bowl.
Today Dickerson is back in L.A., where he devotes his time to public speaking and charity work.