Dillon seeks unity

3-2-03, 9:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After the most frustrating season of a frustrating career, Corey Dillon has received the whiff of fresh air from the hiring of Marvin Lewis. His phone conversation a few weeks ago with the new head coach has sped up his mental rehab.

"Life is good," reported Dillon this weekend from his suburban Los Angeles home. "I'm getting away from it. I've been to some Lakers games. I have to paint some walls inside here this weekend, so the way I look at it, I'm taking care of my house while Marvin is back there taking care of his house."

Dillon loves Lewis' passion and his singular goal of winning the Super Bowl. But while there have been a franchise-best 7,520 yards for the three-time Pro Bowl running back, there is also a record of 26-70 and the countless of bruised Monday mornings.

"I'm glad he's the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals and I think it's a wonderful move. But I've still got some issues. After six years, I've got some personal issues," Dillon said. "I'm very tired of losing. It's been so draining. And I'm tired of people pointing fingers and talking about who's getting paid and who's not. Who's in the spotlight and who's not. Who's getting the ball and who's not. There can't be any of this Pop Warner stuff. You never hear of a divided team winning the Super Bowl."

From what he has read and heard, Dillon says it sounds like Lewis can be the unifying guy.

Dillon didn't exactly feel "the love," from some pockets of the team at the end of last year, and he sensed some resentment about his

paycheck and ink. He heard grumblings that he got special treatment other players didn't get and it wore on him late last season.

"Why is everyone so concerned about me?" he asked. "There is just a lot of bull that doesn't mean anything. Why get mad at me because all I want to do is win? My thing is, if you don't want to win a Super Bowl, then get out of my way."

Lewis likes the sound of that and loves the fact that Dillon's punishing, hungry running style is on his side the ball. He's also not surprised to hear about some of his issues.

"It's not out of the ordinary on a team that hasn't had much success," Lewis said. "As a team, we have to learn to be happy with each other and support each other whenever it is and no matter who it is."

But Lewis let Dillon know that he is always looking more from his players at the top of the roster.

"There are some guys you look to like Corey Dillon who have to have more responsibility and more accountability (than other players). "We have to lean on those guys because they are our better players."

Dillon, 28, can understand that, but he can't understand why the work environment has to be filled with what he calls backbiting. The last half of the season was particularly tough because he felt a lot of eyes on him when he couldn't score on several goal-line situations.

"I know not everybody is going to be the best of friends and it's not going to be perfect," Dillon said. "But on Sunday, everyone has to be together. I feel like I've earned everything I've got in this league. It's not like I just showed up and had it handed to me. I've been through the wars, and if I've offended people by saying some things, well, I'm just trying to get to the Super Bowl."

Dillon may have found his guy in Lewis. The foundation of Lewis' rebuilding program may be the tired cliché everyone on the same page but he means it. During his first week on the job, he called and chaired a meeting of the entire organization. Dillon has noticed.

"All the changes, they're overdue, that's all I'll say," Dillon said. "Marvin has a great track record, he's young, he's energetic, he's got a great passion for winning."

Dillon hears it's different around here.

"But," he said, "I'll believe it when I see it. It's been six years and it's been a long time."

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