For a long time, Corey Dillon ran from his past. But now he has run into history. And in an age of hype, that's hard to do.
When the line begins to get blurred between pro sports and pro wrestling, you need a shot of history to keep you going. You can't pump up history with bombastic quotes, made-for-TV matchups, trash-talking timeouts , or $70 million contracts as real as the $200 for passing Go in Monopoly.
Without history, sports would be Jerry Springer in a network blazer.
Joe Horrigan and Pete Fierle work with history every day in a basement in Canton, Ohio. They don't crunch numbers at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They caress them.
And the NFL's single-season rushing record now held by Corey Dillon, Cincinnati, 278, vs. Denver Oct. 22, 2000, is one of their babies.
"That's one of the great records, one of the records everyone knows" says Fierle, the Hall's informations service manager. "There's Johnny Unitas throwing a touchdown pass in 47 straight games. There's Jerry Rice's career touchdown record. Ask most any football fan, and they could have told you Walter Payton had the single-game rushing record with 275."
ESPN has become the 21st century version of the rough draft of sports history. The network came to Paul Brown Stadium Wednesday to tape a session with Dillon as he watched film of Payton, Jimmy Brown, Barry Sanders, Gale Sayers. Dillon analyzing the greatest is the centerpiece of Sunday's pre-game show.
But we know this is history and not sweeps week because Horrigan is coming to Cincinnati. Horrigan is the Hall's vice president for communications and exhibits, which just means he's a vulture. When someone in pro football commits history, Horrigan swoops in to take some pieces back to Canton.
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On Thursday, Dillon presents Horrigan with the jersey, pants and shoes he wore to stampede the Broncos. They have to stop meeting like this. Three years ago, Dillon gave Horrigan the jersey he wore when he broke Jim Brown's single-game rookie rushing record of 246. It's still hanging in the Mementos of Modern Football Room, next to the shovel that broke ground at Paul Brown Stadium.
That's a pretty good haul for Horrigan. He's even got the super-sized championship rings of Bronko Nagurski (19 ½) and Refrigerator Perry (23). They can't display two-thirds of their items, so they must be stashed in the basement away from the harsh light. History doesn't blink.
But Dillon's stuff won't be going downstairs. Not in the house of Jimmy Brown and Walter Payton.
"We never say anything is permanent," Friele says. "But Bengals' fans can expect Corey to be out there for a very long time."
Dillon and the rest of us can't seem to fathom it all. But Horrigan can.
"When a guy like Jerry Rice takes out Don Hutson's touchdown record, that's big," Horrigan said. "When a guy like Dan Marino takes out Fran Tarkenton, that's a big one. Now you talk about a guy like Corey Dillon taking down names like Walter Payton and Jim Brown. . ."
Now, Dillon's stuff from Sunday goes to a display case in the Pro Football Today room. The jersey Packers quarterback Brett Favre wore while breaking Ron Jaworski's iron quarterback record of consecutive starts is getting moved out to the Mementos room.
Dillon gets his own display case, with his uniform draped on T-bars along with a photo and caption.
But history has been busy.
He'll be flanked by one case storing bits from last week's game in which Vikings kicker Gary Anderson passed George Blanda as the NFL's all-timer leading scorer. On the other side will be pieces from one of Rams quarterback Kurt Warner's perfect passing rating games.
"We don't want to look like a haberdashery," Horrigan said. "We freeze moments in time. We're interested in artifacts. We're not turning the place into a charity auction. It's a museum."
Marvin Demoff, Dillon's agent, knows something about history.
One of his clients is Marino, the former Dolphins quarterback who holds all the NFL's major career passing records. He's got four footballs stored here. Demoff also represented former Broncos quarterback John Elway and his Super Bowl triumphs are chronicled on the Canton walls waiting the author's first-ballot induction.
But for Demoff, there is something special about Dillon. He was no big- strong-armed-suburban-can't-miss-quarterback. He's from the bad streets of Seattle who had to take the junior college route before getting snubbed by the draftnicks in the first round.
"John Elway and Dan Marino are supposed to go to the Hall of Fame," Demoff said. "Not Corey. People didn't think Corey would make it. He grew up tough and a lot of people just didn't think he could do it. It's a great story. Almost unbelieveable."
But it's believable. It's history. Not hype.
And for a change, that's nice.