EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With sorrow for his friends, but enthusiasm for his future, Eric Dickerson has no room for anger at the Rams anymore. They traded him to a first-place team that doubled his salary.
"I appreciate that," Dickerson said Sunday. "I want to be on a contender. I like winning. I hate to lose. I'm not 1 and 5."
Make that 1 and 6. As the Rams' stock continued to drop, the Indianapolis Colts (4-3) and Dickerson flew back home to Indiana Sunday night, soaring above the rest of the AFC East following their 19-14 upset of the New York Jets (3-4) before 60,863.
That left the one-time doormats of the division sharing the lead with the New England Patriots, whom they had upset a week earlier, 30-16.
Not that Dickerson had much to do with it. On the same Meadowlands carpet where he started his professional career, he started another one Sunday, as nervous as a rookie.
The star of the day was the tailback Dickerson will displace, Albert Bentley, who rushed 29 times for 145 yards but is destined to become the next Wally Pipp. Or Barry Redden.
Participating in 16 plays, Dickerson carried the ball 10 times for a net of 38 yards, caught one pass for 28 and botched two scoring opportunities when the Colts had to settle for a couple of Dean Biasucci's four field goals.
All was quickly forgiven, however, because this was a honeymoon afternoon. Before the trade late Friday night all Dickerson knew about Indianapolis was that it had a major auto race every year.
"I was a little nervous, believe it or not," he said. "I didn't know the offense that well. We went over it last night and I tried to learn as much as I could in one night."
On the last play of the third quarter, third-and-two at the Jets' two-yard line, quarterback Jack Trudeau pitched out to Dickerson going left but the ball bounced off his chest for a 19-yard loss (not charged to Dickerson).
"Nerves," Dickerson said. "I was nervous, and I was thinking too much. I didn't know the plays and I didn't want to mess up--like, is that the right play? Am I going the right way?
"The terminology here and at the Rams is different. Even numbers were to the left. Here they're to the right. I'm out there trying to reverse 'em in my mind. I'm not a thinker on the football field. When you think, you're dead."
A few minutes earlier, second-and-four at the Jets' 25, Trudeau turned left to hand off to Dickerson, who ran behind his back. Trudeau took a two-yard loss.
"That was an audible," Dickerson said. "I just wasn't sure. That was my fault. When we practice, I can learn a lot in a week."
Dickerson didn't play after the bungled pitchout.
"They got more complicated and I didn't know the plays that well, and they passed a little more, and the passes I really didn't know," he said. "I knew two pass plays and four run plays."
He said his sore leg wasn't a factor.
"It was a little sore at times," he said. "I kept talking to (Coach) Ron (Meyer) and he kept asking me how it felt. It loosened up, but then I stopped playing and it tightened up again."
Trudeau said: "I'm surprised he made only one mistake. I was audibilizing a lot while he was in there and he picked 'em all up."
Trudeau said he expects both Dickerson and Bentley to contribute heavily this season, although the latter's performance inspired such TV comments as, "If you have a Bentley, who needs a Roll-Royce?"
Those were forgiven, too, just this once. Now Dickerson will be expected to start earning his $5.6 million over the next four years, beginning against the San Diego Chargers in the Hoosier Dome next Sunday.
Unfortunately, the league didn't book the Colts for any Monday night games this season, which can be the difference a Dickerson makes.
Without the player Trudeau calls "a big-time superstar," the Colts might be the most anonymous title contender around.
Their defense, with five first-round draft choices, contained the Jets on all but two long scoring drives. One of those premium picks, Duane Bickett from USC, was credited with 3 1/2 of the 7 sacks of Jet quarterback Ken O'Brien.
If that keeps up, O'Brien will need a new pair of pants. He has now been sacked 23 times in 4 games.
"He takes his time and looks around and the defensive backs had excellent coverage today and didn't allow him a lot of open guys to throw to," Bickett said.
The Jets were unable to put similar pressure on Trudeau, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 192 yards, including a 44-yard handoff-lateral-back-to-the-quarter-back-pass that went to Matt Bouza and fooled the Jets completely.
Besides O'Brien being shaky, the Jets' once-solid defensive line is a shambles. Joe Klecko remains out with a knee injury, Mark Gastineau's greatness is a memory and Marty Lyons missed Sunday's game because his wife was hospitalized after a car accident near their farm in Alabama.
Dickerson talked about being unappreciated in Los Angeles, but Gastineau, who crossed the picket line in the strike, must be the most hated athlete on either side of the Hudson River.