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'Running for history

7-27-01, 3:30 P.M.


GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Corey Dillon would like to see his face on a billboard in Cincinnati pushing a name product.

But with Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage a day away, he got to recalling the days when his name lay in the gutter.

"Sure, I remember that," said Dillon of his first intrasquad scrimmage. "That's when I was just trying to prove I was worthy."

It was four years ago at the Bengals' first training camp here at Georgetown College, long before the two Pro Bowls, best rushing game in NFL history, and richest contract ever in Bengaldom.

Still upset the NFL dropped him to the second round of the draft because of his string of juvenile offenses, Dillon ran so angry and so effectively in his pro debut here that day it was clear he would soon supplant Ki-Jana Carter as the starting running back at some point during his rookie season.

And that's the question for Dillon on the eve. He was always fueled by anger. Either taking revenge on the league or showing the Bengals he deserved a long-term deal long before he got one.

But now for the first time, he has both. He is at peace enough with himself to say Cincinnati suits him because it's conservative like him.

So where will the anger come from?

"I'm running for history. . .To be the best. That's drive enough," Dillon said. "When the game is done for me, I want to be recognized with everybody else. I would like

to be known as one of the all-time greats. That's why I'm out here now."

He would rather be remembered for the numbers off the field as he continues to wipe the slate clean from his teen-age years and a domestic dispute before last season that ended in reconciliation with wife Desiree early in the season.

The numbers he likes are the 65 kids he hosted last week at a free football camp in his inner city neighborhood in Seattle.

But the numbers on the field are calling him, too. His first four-year rushing totals are 11th on the all-time list and he's just one of seven backs to gain at least 1,100 yards in his first four seasons.

And, he's 1,554 yards shy of James Brooks' career rushing record for the Bengals.

"I'm not chasing the numbers now," Dillon said. "When it's all said and done, I would like to have nice numbers and I would liked to be mentioned with the best."

There does seem to be some Hall-of-Fame motivation. Earlier in the offseason, he talked about taking two-year-old Cameron to Canton to see the exhibit from his 278-yard game last year that broke Walter Payton's 23-year-old NFL record. And he mused about becoming the first back in the Hall to have cornrows on the bust of his head. That's figuring Warren Sapp gets elected before him.

But now it sounds like he doesn't want to make the trip until he stops playing so he won't jinx himself.

Still, he is thinking like Anthony Munoz, the Bengals' only born-and-bred Hall-of-Famer. If elected five years after he stops playing, Dillon thinks it would be nice if one of his children presented him. Michael Munoz presented his father at the 1998 inductions and, maybe fittingly, Payton had his son present him in 1993.

"Probably the oldest, so that would be Cameron," Dillon said.

Saturday won't be such a glitzy day. Dillon said he's open to any action, not like it was in 1997:

"I'll take no snaps or take them all," but he'll probably spend much of the 45 snaps watching rookie Rudi Johnson, Curtis Keaton, and Michael Basnight try to get an edge on Brandon Bennett for the right to be his backup.

Which means the kid who wasn't supposed to find his way has come full circle.

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