12-29-03, 6:25 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Corey Dillon went one better than Carl Pickens Sunday on the Bengaldom meter and threw his uniform into the stands piece by piece. Then, he reminded everyone his Cincinnati home is up for sale and he has no desire to return to the Bengals next season.
But after Pickens danced off the field singing, "This is it," at the end of the 1998 season, he got no takers in free agency and actually returned for one more painful year. Right tackle Willie Anderson doesn't see that happening now.
"They definitely can't bring him back, because he would destroy us next year," Anderson said. "The cancer would take affect."
Dillon praised Marvin Lewis' rebuilding project, called him "a great coach," and predicted a great future for the Bengals.
"They're going to be more than all right," Dillon said.
But the franchise's all-time leading rusher has given all signs he wants nothing to do with it. He wants out.
"I'm backing up the truck in here tomorrow," said Dillon, as he motioned to clean out his locker. "We all knew this day was coming. It's not a big mystery. Nobody needs to be shocked. Nobody needs to be asking why. I'm happy. I'm giddy. I'm just happy. . . .It's time for us to do some business decisions."
Anderson, who blocked for pretty much all of Dillon's 8,061 yards, took offense.
"I'm taking it personally, That means you don't want to play with me, and you don't want to play with (center) Rich Braham and you don't want to play with the guys that
played hurt for you for a lot of years and a lot of yards," Anderson said. "Basically, he was the guy we were playing our tail off for. We didn't have a lot to play for in a lot of those years, but the one thing we could take pride in is that we could help the running back go to the Pro Bowl. That was something we shot for. He knows that we were looking to give him the big games. It hurts me to see him laughing over there. If you want out of here that bad, adios."
Dillon has always felt the team has underused him, and it reached a boiling point this season when he suffered his first major injury – a torn groin – that forced him to miss the most time of his career. After he came back healthy for the San Diego game and got his only 100-yard day of the season, he carried the ball only 45 times in the final five games.
And he has some backers who point to his 4.5 yards per carry average in those games, which include his 6.3 Sunday on eight carries against the Browns and his 5.3 last Sunday in St. Louis on seven carries. Some suggest the Bengals never really did figure out how to use Dillon and Rudi Johnson effectively at the same time.
"I was doing my thing as usual and then I was on the bench for the next two quarters," Dillon said. "That's not my call. I don't substitute. I'm pretty sure they wanted Rudi to get his 1,000 yards. That was fine with me. "The last time I had over 15 carries was the San Diego game when I busted 100," Dillon said. "They made their mind up who they wanted running the ball regardless if I was healthy or not."
Alone, Johnson was terrific with four 100-yard games in becoming the first Bengal back in history to rush for three 150-yard games in the same season. But Dillon also had a yards per attempt that makes you wonder why they didn't use him more. In the end, Johnson finished with 957 yards and Dillon 541, the first sub 1,000-yard season in his seven-year career.
"First, it was the injury," said Dillon, as he began listing his grievances. "Second, you heard, 'He's expendable. We can do without (him).' Third, it was 'We've been winning without him.' Fourth, 'It's going to be hard to get him carries since Rudi's running well.' Fifth, I'm back healthy and I've averaged 10 carries over the last six games. You guys do the mathematics.
"They kind of made their bed and chose who they wanted to roll with," Dillon said.
The Bengals are no doubt going to soon be embroiled in the math of Dillon's salary-cap status. At first blush, it would appear the Bengals would save about $1.3 million if they trade him before the April draft or release him before June 1. What they can get for a back who turns 30 next season and has salaries of $3.4 million and $3.9 million the next two years remains to be seen.
Contacted Sunday night, David Dunn, Dillon's agent, had no comment.
But Anderson was visibly upset. He doesn't understand Dillon's anger.
"At the beginning of the season, he had a coach (Lewis) that loved him. Loved him," Anderson said. "There were years we had no passing game, and we didn't have a defense and we didn't have the luxury of a lead where we could sit and pound it with him.
"This year we had that," Anderson said. "But he was hurt. I don't know why he's mad. I don't know why he's mad at Mike Brown, (running backs coach) Jim Anderson, the players. If he had been healthy, that would have been him in there. But Rudi had to step in. Nobody hurt you, bro. You got hurt."
Dillon made an effort not to get emotional.
"To be honest with you," Dillon said, "there are some players in here who I love dearly. If I am gone, then I'm going to miss them. But it's not a love affair here. It's a business."
Dillon has often said Johnson is a worthy successor.
"It's not so much about me wanting to be a part of the growth," Dillon said. "I wasn't part of the growth this year, in many people's eyes. People said the team was doing whatever they were doing without me. I sucked it up like a man, and came back, and played ball. That's the type of person I am."