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Jim Murray

Is This Colt Stampede to Super Bowl?

December 10, 1987|Jim Murray

INDIANAPOLIS — If the Indianapolis Colts go to the Super Bowl--and that may be the way to bet--will it be the biggest heist since Brink's? Should these guys wear ski masks or carry burglars' tools? Is there a part in here for Redford or Newman?

Willie (the Actor) Sutton never made a score like these guys. They should be on every post office wall in the country. The FBI should make them all 10 of their most wanted.

Whatever you do, don't get in a card game with them. If they raise, fold.

Never mind that they lifted an entire football team out of the center of Baltimore in the dead of night and had it rolling halfway out of Clarksville before the alarm went off.

The real sting is, this outfit abducted Eric Dickerson out of L.A. in a modern version of the pigeon drop. When L.A. opened the bag, all they had was a whole bunch of pieces of paper. The Colts should have at least had the decency to write, "Ha! Ha!" on some of them.

Ron Meyer does not look like a member of a stagecoach robber gang. It's hard to picture him with a bandanna over his mouth and a black hat saying, "Your money or your life."

The face is handsome, unlined. It glows with health. The eyes, though, are a bit hawkish. They have the look of a guy who might shoot first.

As you might expect, he laughs a lot these days. He's got lots of hair, he wears an expensive deep-blue suit, a two-toned shirt and a home-colors blue tie with a handkerchief peeking out of a breast pocket. You half expect him to sell you a lot or tell you to pick a card. He has the look of a guy who just stole Christmas.

Ron Meyer is the coach of a team that just dealt itself aces.

The Indianapolis Colts, when Ron Meyer came to them, were funnier than the Marx brothers. They had just managed to lose 13 games in a row without working up a sweat. They had scored 147 points--to 339 for the opposition.

Meyer came west to accept the coaching job at his alma mater, Purdue University. But en route, he passed through Indianapolis. And he pooh-poohed Purdue.

Coaches are kind of complicated migratory workers. They stop to pick wherever the car breaks down and the beds are soft.

Some say Ron Meyer dropped anchor in Indianapolis because he saw that the Colts were the best 0-and-13 team in the business. They were, in fact, a pretty good team--as Meyer was shortly to prove when they won the last three games under his direction.

Not as good as they were to become.

Giving the Indianapolis Colts Eric Dickerson was like giving a tiger another claw.

No one knew this better than Meyer. He reacted to the news of Dickerson's availability as if he had just got news that the White House was for sale. Or the Super Bowl.

"I couldn't believe it," he admits.

Busy with team preparation for an important game with the New York Jets that week, he resisted the impulse to fly to L.A. and bring Dickerson home on a short rope.

It would not have been the first time Ron Meyer had recruited Eric Dickerson. The first time, he had to fight off half the universities in America and all the universities in Texas and Oklahoma.

Meyer, as a coach, is a specialist in distressed real estate. His first head-coaching job was with the 1-10 University of Nevada Las Vegas. He boosted the Rebels to 11-0 before heading for Big D and Southern Methodist University. There, he got Dickerson and he built them into a 10-1 team one season and a Cotton Bowl team the next.

By then, though, he had gone to the New England Patriots.

The Patriots were 2-14 the year before Meyer took over in 1982. He began winning and never had a losing season. The Patriots were 5-3 in 1984 when management suddenly cut him loose. It was more a mutiny than a firing, Meyer contends.

"They had the reputation for having a country-club atmosphere down there and it was a bad time," he says. "They had all that paranoia about cocaine in the locker room in the NFL and all, and some of the veteran players thought I was too strict on them."

Has he changed at Indianapolis?

Meyer laughs. "I don't carry a whip," he says.

When the Colts moved to Indianapolis, the football world thought that would be the last anyone would hear of them. They would be the answer to a trivia question: Where were the Baltimore Colts headed when they were last seen?

Well, the answer may be the Super Bowl. The team had not been on national TV since it got to Indianapolis.

Eric Dickerson going to Indianapolis is almost a Frank Capra movie. All it needs is a dog. The heartwarming story of the big time coming to the poor but honest people of America's heartland. Indianapolis leads the world in war memorials and other people's football property, but it could be the biggest victory for down-home America since Green Bay.

Ron Meyer couldn't understand why the Rams didn't just give Eric Dickerson Santa Monica and forget about it. The notion of their calling around the league and asking, "Anybody want a Super Bowl?" is flabbergasting to a coach who had Dickerson once.

The Colts would seem to have only an open field ahead to San Diego and Super Sunday. There aren't many Eric Dickersons in the AFC. The air seems to be coming out of the contending teams, the San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, even the Cleveland Browns, whom Indianapolis beat last week.

Parity is supposed to do that in this league. But, this is not parity. It's a heist. These guys may have stolen an elephant--or hijacked a Super Bowl.

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