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A Running Feud? : Dickerson and Walker Say What Differences They May Have Are Greatly Overplayed

December 04, 1986|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

This is a tale of two tailbacks, one part dancer, one part bullet train.

Eric Dickerson and Herschel Walker hardly know each other. It hardly matters.

Their relationship was long ago consummated and later fueled by a media determined to keep their names somehow linked.

They are not bound by an undying friendship but rather by their differences in style, their records, their leagues and their successes.

They came out of college the same season and represent a classic study in contrast.

The Rams' Dickerson is a smooth, flashy, polished runner; Walker of the Dallas Cowboys a linebacker blessed with sprinter's speed.

So who's the best? Pick your poison.

A controversy ripples.

Sunday, for the first time, Dickerson and Walker meet on a football field as the Rams and Cowboys play in Anaheim Stadium.

It seems significant to everyone but Dickerson and Walker.

"I'm an unusual guy," Walker said. "I never watch football. I've watched some highlights of him (Dickerson), but not that much. He's a great running back."

Dickerson was quick to return the compliment.

"I don't know much about Herschel," he said. "I know he's a good football player."

Any animosity or jealousy that may have ever existed between the two can hardly be detected these days.

In 1982, Walker, then a junior at the University of Georgia, won the Heisman Trophy, edging Stanford quarterback John Elway.

Finishing third was Dickerson, despite having had to share playing time with Craig James at Southern Methodist University. In the spring of 1985, Walker, then with the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, broke professional football's single-season rushing record with 2,411 yards in 18 games.

A season before, Dickerson had set the NFL record of 2,105 yards in 16 games, breaking O.J. Simpson's record.

Dickerson would not fully acknowledge Walker's feat, claiming that it was set in a "minor league."

The quote eventually reached Walker and there were rumored to be ill feelings between the two.

Walker and Dickerson, though, both insist that has never been the case. They'll get a chance to tell each other Sunday.

"I did say that it (the USFL) was not a superior league," Dickerson said Wednesday, "But I also said that 2,000 yards is 2,000 yards. That's an accomplishment, whether in high school, college, whatever."

Still, Dickerson's feelings about Walker's record have not changed.

"Mickey Sutton (Ram cornerback) played in the USFL," Dickerson said, "And he said there was a difference. It's like going from high school to major college. It was that big of a difference."

Walker has heard it all before.

"Like I've said before, Eric is entitled to his opinion," Walker said. "In this world, everyone has the right to speak out. I'm just out there doing my job. If the USFL was still here, I'd still be playing there."

Any Dickerson-Walker discussion is enticing because they represent the best in their field the last four years. No two backs in professional football have carried for more yards in that time.

Yet, their styles are contrasting enough to cause debate.

Walker, who skipped his senior season at Georgia to play in the USFL, has often been criticized for his rigid, upright running style. He doesn't have nearly the fluid style or moves of Dickerson, yet Walker's strength and speed have made him a dominant force.

There were those in the USFL who considered Kelvin Bryant (then of the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars) the better natural running back in the league.

"I'm not flashy," Walker said. "I will not go out and impress you because that's not me. But I will compare my stats with anyone through college and high school. It will show you that I'm always out there getting the job done."

Walker, in fact, rushed for 5,259 yards in three years at Georgia and 5,562 yards in three seasons with the Generals.

When the USFL was forced to suspend operation, Walker signed with the Cowboys this season.

Dickerson is a classic back the same way that Simpson was a classic back. Dickerson combines speed and moves and strength.

"He's got the tools to do a great deal," Walker said. "I consider him one of the top running backs in the whole country."

Dickerson, too, says he admires Walker. He ranks Walker in the top four or five backs in the league behind Walter Payton, Marcus Allen, Joe Morris and a guy named Dickerson.

"His stats speak for themselves," Dickerson said. "Who am I to say what his ability is because he doesn't run like me, or Bryant or Tony (Dorsett). He has his own style. It's worked for him."

Which is the more valuable player to his team is debatable.

Walker, this season, has become a much more versatile player. He's the team's second leading rusher with 579 yards and is among the league leaders in receptions with 62 for 633 yards.

The Ram offense, of course, revolves around Dickerson, but mostly as a runner. He leads the NFL with 1,523 yards and also leads the Rams in receiving, though he has just 23 catches.

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