PHILADELPHIA — Eric Dickerson was late for the Rams' charter flight Friday. By about 46 days.
But after he finally showed up, the airplane soared eastward--as far as the Rams were concerned--on wings of joy. The Franchise was back in the fold.
Dickerson won't play against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, but he will watch from the sideline.
"I wish I could play," he said.
"He's gotta prove he can play," Coach John Robinson said, joking.
Dickerson called the agreement that brought him back "a good compromise. I got most of what I wanted. I didn't want to be bullheaded about it. I don't have any regrets. I did what was right for myself."
With Ram owner Georgia Frontiere seated next to him as he spoke, Dickerson said he ended his holdout because "I have her word" that a contract extension will be negotiated in good faith.
That, he said, was all he has wanted. His advisers claimed that they had received such a commitment from Ram Vice President John Shaw on June 21--a commitment Shaw later denied.
Coach John Robinson said that the star running back would make his 1985 National Football League debut--when else?--on the Sept. 23 Monday night showcase event from the Seattle Kingdome.
Robinson said: "I don't know the details. Once he told me he was coming, I didn't care about anything else."
Under an agreement hammered out over the past two days, Dickerson will:
--Receive his full '85 salary of $200,000 and reporting bonus of $150,000, without being docked for the two games he will have missed.
--Be covered against disabling injury by a $4-million insurance policy purchased by the Rams.
--Receive a "good faith" offer from the Rams next Tuesday to launch negotiations on a three-year contract extension starting in '87.
Good faith is believed to run at least $1 million a year for guys who hold the NFL rushing record.
David Epstein, one of Dickerson's advisers, said: "We think he ought to be the top-paid running back in the NFL."
As of now, the top two are Marcus Allen of the Raiders, at about $925,000, and John Riggins of the Washington Redskins, at $850,000.
A statement issued by both sides also said that Dickerson "intends to pay a fine for late reporting."
Forty-six days late could mean $46,000, the maximum allowed under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. But that trifle will no doubt be absorbed in negotiations.
It was going on 2 o'clock Friday, the Rams' scheduled departure time from the freight terminal at LAX, and Dickerson was driving toward the airport from his home in Irvine. At the same time, Epstein and Jack Rodri were talking with Shaw and general counsel Jay Zygmunt at the Rams' executive offices.
Dickerson phoned Epstein from his car.
"Not yet," Epstein told him.
A short time later, as Dickerson approached the off-ramp, he phoned again.
"OK," Epstein said.
Dickerson met Frontiere near the airport, and they arrived on the Tarmac together, 20 minutes late. Smiles all around.
Robinson didn't learn of the agreement until he got to the airport, where Zygmunt was waiting to make his day.
Dickerson boarded the plane with Frontiere, who walked him down the aisle introducing him as "number 67"--a reference to Robinson's teasing threat to play Dickerson at nose tackle when he returned.
The players chanted: "Leo . . . Leo . . . Leo," a reference to the look-alike younger brother who was the only Dickerson seen around training camp this summer.
If anyone was bitter, it didn't show. The mood was upbeat and playful.
"I had a bag in my hand with all the stuff I could grab before I left," Dickerson said. "They all asked me if it was full of money. I said, 'No, I have all your contracts in here.' "
Offensive tackle Bill Bain yelled at Dickerson for holding up the plane and later said that the Rams should fine him.
"I hope they do," Bain said. "Fine him a Porsche or two."
A few minutes later, Dickerson was absorbed in a card game with Johnnie Johnson, Jackie Slater and Mike Wilcher, almost as if everything was back to normal.
"Yeah," Robinson said with a long sigh and low whistle. "Normal."
The coach gave the sign of the cross.
"It's a lift to all of us," Robinson said. "Our team was all happy to see him get on the airplane. The relationship Eric's had with the team has been a fun relationship.
"He'll get a lot of practice next week, and we'll give him the ball 30 times at Seattle to see if he's in shape."
Robinson was asked if Dickerson's mere presence on the sideline would be a lift Sunday.
"Sure as hell is for me," he said. "It's like going to see the Jacksons and Michael isn't there. It's just not the same. But then you find out Michael's going to be there, after all, and everybody's happy."
No one more than Dickerson, it seemed. In a late-hour press conference at the Rams' hotel here he said: "No one likes to hold out. I like playing football. It's tough, no matter who you are. You get tired, angry, depressed, tired of just lying around. I got tired of working out every day."