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WEIGHING THE DICKERSON TRADE : Some Components Are Missing, but Developing Picture Indicates Rams, Colts and Bills Benefited

September 13, 1989|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

\o7 One team's fairy-tale ending to a famous football trade. The scene: Super Bowl XXIX, 1995. "Thank you, Commissioner Trump, thank you," Eric Dickerson says in the Indianapolis Colts' locker room as he hoists the Lombardi Trophy over his head. "I thought the first Super Bowl was sweet, but four is a nice round number." (Cheers, cameras flash, applause.) "What was the question? Who? John Robinson? Yeah, I hear he's selling commercial real estate with Steve Dils in Atlanta." (Laughter.) "Let him run 47-gap with a Thomas Guide!" (More laughter.) "Boy, this trophy's heavier than Greg Bell." (More laughter.) Dickerson steps down from the podium.)

Another team's version:

"Georgia," says tailback Gaston Green, the Humphrey Bogart movie buff, "this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship." (Cleveland Gary and Greg Bell, part of the famed Triangle Backfield, join Green on the rostrum and douse each other in champagne.) "And we'd be remiss not to thank Senator Robinson," Bell interrupts, "for leading us to our first three titles. . . . Why the goggles? Oh, it's just my way of paying tribute to the man who got me out of Buffalo. What's Dickerson up to these days, anyway? Someone said they saw him on People's Court."\f7

The experts say it will take years to evaluate the Eric Dickerson trade. We can't wait, especially with all the pieces finally in place and the Indianapolis Colts coming to Anaheim Stadium Sunday.

The $682,000 question (Eric's 1987 Rams salary) remains: Was one football player, great as he is, worth seven players in return? And we're not talking seven shirts right off the rack here, either. We're talking four firsts and three second-round draft choices.

The three-team trade on Halloween 1987 was so complex it was only completed last April, when the Rams cashed their final picks on first-round fullback Cleveland Gary, second-round linebacker Frank Stams and cornerback Darryl Henley.

Dickerson, remember, was shipped to Indianapolis after a bitter contract dispute had turned ugly and personal. Yet it would take a steady finger to pull the trigger on this trade.

On Friday, Oct. 30, Colts General Manager Jimmy Irsay walked into Ron Meyer's office and asked the head coach if he would like to make a run at Dickerson. Meyer, who coached the star at Southern Methodist University, almost fell off his chair.

The Colts, however, needed more ammunition to entice the Rams. So they shopped their unsigned first-round pick, linebacker Cornelius Bennett, to the Buffalo Bills for two first-round picks, a second rounder and tailback Greg Bell.

Now, the Colts were in business. For Dickerson, they could offer three first round picks, three seconds, Bell and one of their own backs, Owen Gill. Throwing in the players was one team's way of saying "Keep the change."

Late that Friday afternoon, history was made in time for Dickerson to catch a red-eye to Indianapolis. Nearly two years later, only one player, Gill, no longer figures in the equation. He's out of football.

But we need winners and losers. Who got the best in this deal? Who got the worst?

So far, this much is known: Each of the three teams, all struggling before the trade, has made the playoffs since, although Dickerson's Colts were edged out last season.

The consensus among analysts and league personnel experts interviewed is that all three teams improved themselves by the trade, although the Rams might be the long-term winner. Bennett gives the Bills a menacing presence on defense for years to come; Dickerson remains the best back in football; the Rams have re-stocked their team with top personnel.

Still, an evaluation isn't that simple.

"A trade in football is a lot different than baseball or basketball," Dick Steinberg, director of Player Development for the New England Patriots, said. "You have exact stats in those sports. You don't have stats for linemen. It's hard to put an exact value on players. You can't tell if one guy is worth all this. With Dickerson and Indianapolis, they scare the hell out of us. We have to play them twice and they can win on any Sunday just because of him. But you'd have to say this is one deal that worked out well for everyone."

Rams fans who opposed the trade dreamed of a backfield that included quarterback Jim Everett and Dickerson.

Joel Buchsbaum, a writer who scours the nation's football talent for Pro Football Weekly, wonders if a Dickerson-Everett backfield would have been so great.

"Everett's role would be reduced," he said. "His development wouldn't have been as rapid. And the Rams would be an older team now. And, if you've got Eric Dickerson, you've got to run the Eric Dickerson offense."

Buchsbaum said the philosophies of the teams involved in the trade are clear: The Rams traded the present for the chance to become the team of the 1990s; the Colts went for the quick-fix with Dickerson, whose prime-time years are winding down at age 29.

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