10-22-03, 6:35 p.m.
10-22-03, 11:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
On the third anniversary of breaking one of his sports' greatest records, Bengals running back Corey Dillon could no longer contain the frustration of playing hurt and amid trade rumors during a bizarre Wednesday at Paul Brown Stadium.
During a locker room session before practice, Dillon responded to last week's trade rumors that were spiced with doubts about his future durability with a plea for a change of venue . He also left the door open for happiness in Cincinnati if the Bengals continue to turn things around under head coach Marvin Lewis
"Get it done. Make me happy. This thing has been lingering around for years and years. This is my confession. Change is good. Change is very good. The question is, do I want to see myself here next year," Dillon said of trades. "Dude, plug me into a Denver, Plug me into a Dallas, I'd have the rushing title hands down, period. Put me in a different situation and you hear my name every Sunday. These are things I know."
Dillon, the emotional heart and soul of an offense that hasn't had a winning season since he arrived in 1997 to become the club's all-time leading rusher, sent more mixed messages than Morse code during the day-long vent.
He sounded a more conciliatory note when he walked into the media room after practice in an effort to clarify his statements. Asked if he wanted to be here or somewhere else next year, he said, "I'll just leave it like this. I'll be somewhere contending for a Super Bowl. . .Next time you guys see C.D., he'll be hoisting up a Super Bowl trophy." Asked why he couldn't do it here, he said, "It could. Why couldn't it?"
He also said, "there's a way out of everything," apparently referring to his five-year $26 million contact that runs out after the 2005 season. He also said during the course of the day that Lewis is "a great coach," and that he'll turn around the team.
But he also indicated he doesn't have many friends among his teammates and said, "I'm going to get somewhere where I'm appreciated, and everybody respects my services and they re going to love what I do and what I bring to the table."
The trading deadline passed last Tuesday and they had no desire to trade him because it would be at least an immediate salary cap hit in excess of $4 million. (The yearly pro-ration of his $10.5 million bonus would have accelerated instantly.) He seems to think the trade seed started in Cincinnati. Economically, they can't change his status until after June 1. And when the first Dillon-to-Dallas rumor appeared on various web sites and on the Oct. 12 Cowboys-Eagles telecast on Fox, Lewis refuted all talk of Dillon being on the block.
Lewis spoke to Dillon after practice and was left with the impression that Dillon is frustrated by what he believes are reports being sent out of Cincinnati that he is washed up even though he turns just 29 this coming Friday.
Dillon didn't practice Wednesday, but he's listed as probable and Lewis said he has no plans to bench him because of the comments, that he'll start against the Seahawks Sunday at PBS, and that he feels better this week than he did last week.
"He's venting it and he's just disappointed how he's been treated and that's all you can do. It's nothing personal against anybody in that building at all. It's not personal to anyone at Paul Brown Stadium," Lewis said. "He feels like outside of it he's not getting a fair shake. When he gets on the field here he'll have his fair shake. He knows that. He can't be himself (because of the injury).
"I'm sorry it's alarming. It ain't us. It's you guys," Lewis said to the media. "You love Corey's spirit and he's disappointed he can't quite be himself. He feels like people are writing and informing people around he country that this guy is not who he was. Everybody gets hurt. Why all of a sudden when he gets hurt is it such a big deal? That's what is frustrating him."
In what he called "a confession," Dillon endorsed Lewis Wednesday, but didn't know if he'd here to see the end result.
"It's time for me to make a confession. Am I happy? Maybe I am, maybe I'm not," Dillon said. "This thing is much deeper than Marvin Lewis. He's a great coach. He's doing a great job, and by no way am I trying to tarnish what he's doing here. He's a great coach. Is he going to turn this thing around? Yes. Will I be here to see it? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?
"You hear, 'Corey's not a guy that fits in with what Marvin is doing.' Possible," Dillon said. "Maybe I want to do different things. Maybe I see myself in a different situation doing what I envision me doing. Will it get done here? I don't know. How we go from being one of the strongest running teams to one of the weakest, I don't know. When I'm healthy, I don't get the ball more than 20 times a game."
Dillon hasn't carried more than 23 times in a game in a full year, or since he went for 138 yards on 30 carries last Oct. 27 in a 30-24 loss to Tennessee. The Bengals are ranked next to last in NFL rushing, but know that a large part of that is because Dillon hasn't been healthy since the first half of the second game.
He carried sparingly in the second half of the Sept. 14 Raiders game after hyperextending his knee. Then, after injuring his groin the next week at Paul Brown Stadium (which he blamed the field), he played pretty much only in the first halves against the Steelers and Browns before sitting out his first game in 52 against the Bills on Oct. 5.
The whispers about his health combined with last week's NFL trade deadline rumors and his 39-yard effort on 18 carries in the win over Baltimore appeared to put him over the edge. He's got just 203 yards on 62 carries this season. Three years ago today he got 278 yards on 22. He said he has been boiling over with these thoughts since his rookie year.
"When I'm healthy, I'm the most dangerous running back in the game. Period," Dillon said. "I don't see any other teams stacking their defenses for seven consecutive years to stop one man. That should be evidence of the caliber of player I am. Since I've got a groin injury, people want to cancel me out. I've been a warrior, I come in and put my hard hat on, go to work get the job done. It's always something. If I didn't play, that would be something. When I play, 'Ah he can't make any cuts.' Lets see how many people in this profession try to make these hard cuts with a groin injury.
"Do I feel a little stepped on. Yeah, I do. Have I been feeling this way for a long time? (Yes). It has nothing to do with the new regime, the new coaches. This boils back to '97, and it's been like this for a long time."
Lewis said he has no plans to fine Dillon, and Dillon said the club has no right to fine him because he was only talking about himself and no one else.
"When they do that," Dillon said, "they can clean out that locker, too."
The seven-year itch seemed to be hitting Dillon hard Wednesday. But Lewis said he talked to him Tuesday and he seemed fine, as he did after Wednesday's practice.
"However they get it done, they can get it done," Dillon said of now what would have to be an off-season trade. "I'm tired of clashing with the media here. I'm tired of being unhappy. I just want to be happy and play football and reach my goals. What's wrong with that?
"I'm not saying anything against anyone here. They're doing it the right way. By far. It's just my goals, my dreams. The things I want to get accomplished in my life. I don't want my career to go by with could have, would have, should have. I don't want to be that guy."
Dillon is no doubt going to get criticized for his timing of the vent, which comes in the middle of a big stretch for the 2-4 Bengals in which Sunday's victory over the Ravens began a spate of four PBS games in five weeks.
Asked about being a distraction this week for the Seattle game, Dillon said, "This isn't personal. This has nothing to do with Jon Kitna, or the offensive line, or anybody else. Just me, Corey Dillon." But Dillon doesn't think he'd be missed around PBS: "If I left, there'd be a Boston Tea Party."
Dillon's agents couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday night. Although there is one school of thought that suggests Dillon was politically adept enough to not say enough to get fined but say enough to put the Bengals and other teams on notice, history shows that Dillon has rebounded from even more toxic vents to have some of his finest seasons in Cincinnati.
After the last game of the 1999 season and looking at restricted free agency, he claimed some Bengals assistant coaches ripped him behind his back for not playing because of a bad knee and said the last time he would wear the striped helmet would be in the Pro Bowl. Then the next month he said he'd rather flip burgers than play for the Bengals.
But he overcame the frustration and ended up having a career year in 2000, not to mention setting the single-game record, and then he signed the five-year deal in May of 2001. Since it was severely front loaded, he will have made $18.5 million from '01-03.