EDITOR’S NOTE: When O.J. Simpson became the first running back in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in 1973 (2,003 yards in 14 games), he set an incredible standard for all future backs in the NFL. Since then, six other players would eclipse the 2,000-yard mark in one season. Over the course of this NFL season, BASN Newsroom will take a special look at this unique group we’ve now dubbed “The Simpson Six”.
By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
To really understand the impact Eric Dickerson left on the NFL, you have to look at some simple facts. When the Hall of Famer ended his career in 1993, only the great Jim Brown had more career rushing yards in league history.
While the 1983 NFL Draft is mainly remembered for the Hall of Fame quarterbacks that were chosen in the first round, the SMU product was the second player picked overall just behind John Elway.
What also gets forgotten is that he flirted with a 2,000-yard season during his rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams. That year, Dickerson set rookie records in rushing attempts (390), rushing yards (1,808) and rushing touchdowns (18).
But it was his second season that would gain his membership into the 2,000-yard club.
Following a season where they made the playoffs for the first time since 1980, there were high expectations for the Rams heading into the 1984 season. To his credit, Dickerson hit the ground running — literally.
Opening at home on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys, Dickerson ran for a touchdown in the first quarter which helped pace L.A. to a 13-0 lead. However, the Cowboys — who the Rams eliminated in the NFC Wild Card Game a season ago — would strike back with a vengeance.
Quarterback Gary Hogeboom threw for 343 yards and one touchdown while future Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett added 147 total yards (81 rushing) and the game-winning score in the fourth quarter to give Dallas a 20-13 win.
Dickerson ran for 138 yards on 21 carries, but it was the Rams’ passing game — a season-long weakness — which proved to be L.A.’s undoing. Starter Vince Ferragamo (11-of-33 for 84 yards) threw four interceptions in the loss.
It was almost a carbon copy in Week Two as the Rams were down 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter against the winless Browns. A Ferragamo scoring pass to speedster Ron Brown would tie a game at 17-17.
L.A. would eventually pull out a 20-17 win on a Mike Lansford 27-yard field goal. Dickerson added 102 yards on 27 carries but was held out of the end zone. The next two games would have a lasting effect on the Rams’ season.
Playing at Pittsburgh, the Steelers held Dickerson to 49 yards (23 carries) in their 24-14 win over L.A. After throwing a pair of interceptions, Ferragamo was knocked out of the game due to a season-ending hand injury.
Replaced by Jeff Kemp, the Rams’ offense struggled mightily as the rookie from Dartmouth went 9-of-17 (132 yards) and was sacked three times. The offense also had three turnovers.
A week later, the offense started to show some signs of life in a 24-14 win against the Cincinnati Bengals. Dickerson (89 yards, 22 carries) ran for a touchdown and Kemp (13-of-23, 205 yards) passed for another as L.A. evened their record at 2-2.
Over the next four weeks, Dickerson would start to assert himself on the ground:
— 120 yards on 22 carries in a 33-12 win against the New York Giants.
— 107 yards on 19 carries in a 30-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
— 175 yards on 20 carries in a 28-10 win against the New Orleans Saints.
— 145 yards on 24 carries in a 24-10 win against the Atlanta Falcons.
At the season’s midpoint, L.A. found themselves sitting at 5-3 on the season. Dickerson had been held under 100 yards just twice in the first eight games leading into a divisional showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.
It would be no contest. The eventual Super Bowl champions held Dickerson to a season-low 38 yards, Kemp was sacked five times, and the offense also turned over the ball five times in a 33-0 thrashing at home.
With their playoff hopes (5-4) on the brink, L.A. would travel to meet the then St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The team would respond and to no one’s surprise, it was Dickerson who led the way.
He ran for his first 200-yard game of the season (208 yards, 21 carries) and the defense sacked Neil Lomax (34-of-52 for 341 yards and a TD) six times as L.A. nipped the Birds 16-13 on Mike Lanford’s late field goal.
For the second time during the season, Dickerson would run for over 100 yards in a four-game period as the Rams fought to solidify a playoff berth. It started with a 28-carry, 149-yard performance (2 TDs) in a 29-13 win over the Chicago Bears.
He followed that up with 132 yards (25 carries) in a 31-6 loss at Green Bay, 191 yards and three touchdowns (28 carries) in a 34-33 shootout win at Tampa Bay, and 149 yards on 33 carries and a score in a 34-21 win over New Orleans.
Averaging 155.2 yards during that stretch, Dickerson had 1,792 rushing yards on the season and was within striking distance of Simpson’s record with just two games remaining.
Enter the 3-12 Houston Oilers, the league’s 28th-ranked defense against the run. Adding flames to the fire, several Houston players claimed that Dickerson was overrated and that he wouldn’t break the record against them.
All that did was fire up Dickerson and his offensive lineman. By the end of the first quarter, No. 29 had a ready scored a touchdown and L.A. was up 17-3. The Rams led 20-13 at the half.
Houston added a field goal in the third to cut the lead to four at 20-16. But once again, the Rams would turn the offense over to Dickerson in the final quarter. Progressively wearing down the Houston defensive front, No. 29’s date with destiny became a foregone conclusion.
With 3:22 remaining, Kemp called for Dickerson’s signature play “47-gap”. Needing just six yards to break the record, Dickerson cut right, broke a series of tackles, and galloped for nine yards and history.
He finished the day with a season-high 215 yards on 27 carries and a pair of touchdowns in L.A.’s 27-16 win. Dickerson had 2,007 yards on the year and the win also clinched a playoff berth for the Rams.
While he added another 98 yards in the season finale at San Francisco, the season would prove to be bittersweet for Dickerson and the Rams (10-6). L.A. would lose their Wild Card showdown with the Giants 16-13 at home.
Ironically, Dickerson added another 100-yard performance (107 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown) in the loss. He finished the season with 2,105 yards on 379 carries (5.6 yards a carry) and 14 touchdowns.
He also broke Simpson’s record for 100-yard games in a season with 11. He followed up his historic season with another 1,000-yard campaign (1,234 yards) in 1985 despite missing the first two games of the season.
The Rams would win the NFC West that season and Dickerson’s impact on the record books would be seen again. In a Divisional Playoff battle with the Cowboys, he ran for a postseason record 248 yards in a 20-0 shutout.
However, the Rams would fall to eventual Super Bowl champion Bears a week later.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.