Eric Dickerson Enshrinement speech
Pro Football Hall of Fame
August 7, 1999
Jackie Slater (presenter):
Hello everybody, how are you doing today? Listen, several years ago, Eric Dickerson said to me, he said “Jackie, if I’m ever presented and elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I want you to be the guy to do the honors.” And I knew then it was just a matter of time before I had to write this speech.
In preparing for today, I though to myself “how can I do this man justice? How can I capsulize his greatness in a matter of four minutes?” Which is what they’ve given me, I don’t know if I’m going to stay to it, but nonetheless. And I concluded, that to adequately represent this man, I’ve go to take a quick look at his numbers. I got to do it.
The second overall pick in 1983, Eric came to the Rams a focused young man, a rookie with something to prove. He rushed for 1,808 yards on 390 carries with 18 rushing touchdowns. Now folks, that is a rookie rushing record, all of them are, that stand to this day. And I’m proud of it. After making the Pro Bowl and All-Pro and the NFC’s Most Valuable Player, Eric Dickerson had only just begun. After his record-breaking rookie year, many asked that question “Eric, what will you do next? And what about that sophomore jinx, we’ve all heard of that sophomore jinx?” We should all have a sophomore jinx like Eric Dickerson had in ‘84. The man went out and he rushed for 2,105 yards. A single season rushing record that stands to this day. And it’s a benchmark for all runners. In his third year he broke five Rams’ rushing records. In his fourth, he went over the 1,800-yard mark for the third time in his career, capturing his third league rushing title, and was named the offensive MVP in the National Football League. Now in 1987, as far as I’m concerned, one of the darkest days in NFL history occurred. After only three games as a Ram, Eric Dickerson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. And this left many players, coaches, and fans from around the country wondering what might have been if only Eric had remained a Ram. It also made and left nine 310-pound offensive lineman saddened and disappointed, because they knew that they would never get the $1,800 ostrich skin boots that you promised us by year’s end.
One of the qualities that I always admired in young Eric Dickerson was his resolve to be the very best that he could be, regardless of the circumstances. In Indianapolis, Eric went on to break many other records, but with 1,659 yards in 1988 he became the first Colt to lead the league in rushing in 33 years since Alan Ameche did it. Now during my 20 years in the National Football League, I blocked for 37 different running backs. And you know, all these guys had unique talents. They had a gift that kept them in the league. You know, it could have been their vision, it could have been their quickness, their power or their speed. And most of these guys kept their jobs because of one or two of these talents. But in my opinion, Eric Dickerson was the original freak in that he possessed all of these, and the greatest of them was his speed. You know, they say speed judges speed better than people who don’t have it, and I’ve found that to be true. We were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, and I remember we ran the 47- Gap. And I kicked out on a guy and rolled around, and all I could see was two defensive backs with an angle on him. All they had to do was keep running. Close right in on him. But, you know, speed judges speed better than people who don’t have it, and they adjusted those angles, and they tried to head him off at the pass. But they couldn’t head him off at the pass. Forty-two yards later, he went into the end zone untouched. I’m telling you the man was great. You know, I played with Eric Dickerson for four and a half years, and he never once missed a practice. Now think about that. Everybody on the football field knew this man was going to get the football, and he still had success. I remember a game in St. Louis, a couple of bonehead offensive lineman had gotten some holding penalties, and backed us up in our own end zone. Third down and 33, and John Robinson put all the confidence a head coach can have in a running back, gave the football to Eric around right end. Thirty-two yards later down the field, they finally brought him down. I’m telling you, the man was great.
Now listen, I have known Eric Dickerson, I have known him since 1983. And by his own admission, he’ll tell you that, you know, I’ve changed and I’ve grown. As we all do, I think. But there are few things about Eric Dickerson that I have found to be as consistent today as they were in 1983. And those qualities consist of the following: An unshaken loyalty to his family and his friends. A willingness to take responsibility for his shortcomings and to try to improve. And last, but not least, Eric’s supreme confidence in his abilities that he felt came directly from God, almighty.
Ladies and gentleman, join me as I welcome my friend, the National Football League’s own, Pro Football Hall of Fame’s newest superstar, Eric Dickerson.
Thank you, Jackie. Well the last couple days, we guys, we’ve been kind of sitting around thinking, who’s going to cry, you know, and that kind of stuff, who going to forget to thank who, we do it. So I would like if Mrs. Pat Shaw would please stand up. It’s his wife, he forgot to thank his wife. I think that’s his better half. You’re welcome.
First of all, I would like to thank God for my gifts. And, oh boy was it a gift, let me tell you. Matter of fact, when I found out that I was actually accepted into the Hall of Fame, I wrote on my calendar, thank you God for this gift. And for me, that meant so much. I’d like to also thank the guys that voted for me. One in particular, John McClain, from Houston, who did such a beautiful story on my family. Anybody in the Houston area who saw it, it was something like I’ve never seen. I mean my family loved, I loved it, and also Mark Burman. I mean it was just, it was great. Sometimes in life, you feel like that, are you getting a fair shake? Well I honestly say that the guys who voted for me, I promise you, you will get a fair shake, because I will never do anything to make you not proud of me as a Hall of Famer.
I’m going to take you back some years to when I first started as a Mustang at the SMU Mustangs. Who are all the Mustangs? Will they please stand up! All the Mustangs! When I got recruited out of senior high school by Ron Meyer. I know Ron’s here, Ron, stand up, this is my coach, Ron Meyer. Ron told me ”Eric, I’ll make you a superstar, and I’ll make you a rich man.” Well Ron I’ve got to say, you kind of kept your promise on both of those. So Ron, thank you for recruiting me. I was so glad that I went to SMU.
A guy like Cass Birdwell. Now at SMU, you’ve got to understand, I was there for my freshman year, I was kind of afraid of what was going to go on. I mean, a young guy playing at SMU. We had an award called the Diver’s Award, that’s for the guy that stayed in the tank all of the time. I am like, God, I do not want to get that award. Well my freshman year I stayed hurt all of the time. And the Diver’s Award was coming up, there was a trophy and everything. And I’m like, oh man, I know I’m going to get the Diver’s Award. Well when I came up, I didn’t get it, and I just got to thank Cass, that has like haunted me for the all of my life. I did not want the Diver’s Award at SMU.
People like George Owens, who treated me like a son when I was at SMU. Who when things were tough for me, he’d sit and talk to me. When I couldn’t get back to Texas, back to Sealy, Texas, he’d talk to me. And I really thank you George, for that.
In my NFL career, when I went to the Los Angeles Rams, I went there with high hopes. I’ll never forget, when I got there on draft day and I stood there holding my jersey, at that time, it was number 25 and I changed it later because I wanted to be number 29, I told them, I said “I’m not going to be a savior, I just want to play football.” And that’s really what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the best I could possibly be. And the thing about it is, is when I went in on the field and I played with guys like Jackie Slater, Irv Pankey, and all those guys, I mean it was just, it was phenomenal. I just cannot tell you the feeling when you hit the field with guys that you know that’s giving 150%.
And also Mrs. Georgia Frontiere, who has always treated my family like family. Even when I left the Rams, she always called my grandmother, sent her cards. It’s just the little things to me, I think, that meant the most, because I really am, I’m a family kind of guy. My family means more to me than anything in this whole world, except God.
As I saw John Robinson on the film, talking about the way I ran the football. It was funny because I remember the particular day he’s talking about. I come in, would run the plays, he’s like “Eric, you’ve got to run faster…Eric, you’ve got to run faster.” I’m like “Man,” I’m like “John, I can’t run any faster, I’m running as fast as I can.” He says “Okay, we’ll see.” So after my first game, by my third game we played the Jets, as they showed the long run, that was my first long touchdown run, I came to the sidelines he said to me “Well son, I guess you were running fast.” Which made me feel real proud.
When I go back and think about people who have really changed my life in certain ways, who comes to mind most definitely, John Shaw of the Rams. Now if you know John Shaw, John Shaw was the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams at the time. John Shaw and I could not see eye-to-eye on anything. Me and him had an argument one day in his office about who led the league in rushing. I’m saying “John, I led the league in rushing.” “No you didn’t” “Yes I did.” “No you didn’t” “Yes I did.” I said “John, get the book.” “Oh, you did lead the league in rushing.” It was just amazing. But one thing I can say, after all the years, and you step away from the game of football and you sit back and you get to know a person on a one-on-one basis, it makes it a bit different. John and I, we had lunch about three years ago, and I don’t even know if John remembers this, we’re sitting in a restaurant, and we’re talking about the old times, the old teams, old players, and he said to me, he said “Eric, I want to say something to you, and I don’t want you to think I’m saying this cause you’re in front of me.” I said “Okay,” I’m like “Okay, what you going to say.” He says “Eric, I just want to tell you, you were the greatest running back I’ve ever seen in my life.” To me, that meant more to me than all the contract disputes I’d ever had. To me, it just laid everything to rest, for someone to actually take notice of my talent and say “Hey, you were great, and things just didn’t work out at the time.” And that meant a lot to me. And John. I just want to thank you for that moment. Because I don’t know if you remember it, but I remember it very well.
Let me talk about players, lets talk about that offensive line of the Los Angles Rams. We had guys like Irv Pankey, Tom Newberry, who I think is here – is Tom hear, is Tom Newberry here? Tom Newberry, my offensive lineman. Guys like Doug Smith, Kent Hill, Bill Bain. Bill are you here, I know you are here, I saw you. Billy Bain. Dennis Harrah, Duval Love, is Du Love here? Big Du Love. David Hill, and most definitely, my friend Jackie Slater. I can tell, if you’ve never been in a situation where you played in the National Football League, where you sit in the locker room with guys and you get ready to go to war, it was a good feeling for the guys to come up to and say “Dick, we know you going to do it today, we know you going to do it today.” I mean, that was the ultimate feeling for me as a player for my guys to feel like if they got me past the line of scrimmage, then I would take care of the rest.
From the Rams I went on to the Colts. Everybody would say that, I don’t know, it was a bad deal for the Colts, you shouldn’t of went to the Colts. That’s how history, that’s how life is. Playing for the Indianapolis Colts with Jim Irsay and Bob Irsay really was a, it was a nice experience. I mean, one thing is, is that, when you read the paper, and you say this and you say that, a lot of things that happen, I most definitely take responsibility for. But I loved playing for the Colts. I was proud to wear that horseshoe on my helmet by all means. Playing with guys like Billy Brooks. I mean, there was nothing like it, Billy had those soft hands, he laid down and catched the ball. He made it look too easy actually. Guys like Chris Hinton, was another big guy I loved playing with.
After I left the Colts, I went on to play with the Raiders and then the Falcons that was basically the end of my career. Which people would say that your career could have been so much better. It would have been this, it could have been that. But I must say this, I thank God for the opportunity to play in the National Football League, by all means. Everything that happens, like I say, happens for a reason. My friends, that were there when I was playing as a young player, guys like Charles Drayton, who I went to school with, who would say, was my biggest fan. There was nothing like having a best friend who could talk, talk to you problems to, and let him hear what you were thinking.
Also, I guess a special thanks to a friend, a young lady I dated for a long time, Miss Holly Frey. I think one of the reasons that I stand here today because I still have my health, it’s probably, I know through God, for sure, but through my friend. Because it was her that made me say “Eric look, there’s something wrong with you. You need to go to the doctor.” That’s when I had an injury in my neck. Said I had to go to the doctor. I’m like “Oh, I’ll just finish this season out and I can get past it.” Well finally it just got so bad that finally I did go to doctor. And I found out how bad I was hurt. And those are people who really care, not the people that are really concerned about that next touchdown or that next paycheck. So for her, I really thank you, and, you know, it’s not enough thank yous and I love yous in this world to thank someone for your health, because you can’t put a dollar or anything on your health at all.
And most of all, my family. People who know us have met us has heard about my grandmother Viola Dickerson. She’s 94 years old, she couldn’t be here today, I wish she could have, but from Texas is a pretty long hike. She was like the rock of Gibraltar in our whole family. It was like, you do it this was, or not at all. You do it that way, or not at all. You can’t go out. Okay, I can’t go out. You know I wanted to go out, but I couldn’t go out. For her to make decisions for me, to where I go to my university. Basically, she chose the Rams for me. It was the USFL or the NFL. I’m like, I kind of leaning to the USFL. She asked me this question, “Who’s been around longer?” I said “The NFL.” “Well that makes sense, you go to who’s been around longer.” I’m like “Okay, I guess that does make sense.” So that’s why I chose the NFL.
Also my mother Helen, who has been just like a friend to me. I mean a friend I can talk to about anything. I wish she was here today, but she’s ill, just got out of the hospital. And I want to send my love out to here.
My brothers and sisters. My brother Leo, my brother Robert, who supported me through all my ups and downs. My sister Lisa, the same thing, through my ups and downs of my career. But also, my sister Tasha, who’s been more than just a sister. She’s been my friend, she’s been my sister, she’s been my buddy, she’s been almost everything. I mean it’s great when you can talk to a sister like you talk to a girlfriend or a wife and they’ll listen. And if you cry, they cry. When you hurt, they hurt. If someone says something about you that they don’t like, most definitely she’ll take it very personal. She said the other day, when she was watching the films at the luncheon the other day, she said” Eric, when I saw your films I was ready to go. They could turn it off at that point.” Which was, you know, that makes you feel very good.
And the last of all, my dad, who never saw me play in the National Football League, who only saw me play in high school, because he passed away. He would go sit in the stands and he would sit there and read his Bible while I played and while I practiced. And I’d go sit beside him after practice and he’d say “Son, let me tell you something. “ He said “This is great.” He said “But I want you to understand one thing, it’s that you can gain the world, but don’t lose your soul.” And at one point, I never understood what that meant – Gain the world, but don’t lose your soul. And as an older man, I understand. I mean I really do understand now, because this is worldly things, it is. These are things we will soon pass and leave behind, but my dad loved me so much, and I loved him so much, and he would always say these words to me “Son, all you do, do what you might, things done by halves are never done right.” And as I played in the National Football League, I think that I did it right, I did the best way that I possibly could, and I hope that I brought you some joy as fans. When you look back and you see a guy…you see a guy with a long stately stride you’ll say “God, that guy reminds me of Eric Dickerson.” But he won’t be Eric Dickerson.
And last of all, my daughter Erica. Who I explained to her, she didn’t understand what this is all about. I was sitting in the back, and I said “You don’t understand what this is all about right now.” I said “ When you get to be your dad’s age.” I said “When you can come here and bring your kids, bring your grandkids and you can say “Hey, your granddad was a pretty good football player.” Or “My dad was a good football player.”” Then I think she’ll understand. Thank you very much.