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Top 50 Moments: Corey Dillon Sets Rookie Rushing Record

Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon rushes for a first down during a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills in 2001.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon rushes for a first down during a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills in 2001.

The only thing missing in this Thursday night ESPN game at the river on Dec. 4, 1997 is the throwback jersey.

In the third start of his reunion tour, 36-year-old quarterback Boomer Esiason dissects the Oilers' eight-man front so precisely that running back Corey Dillon breaks Jim Brown's 40-year-old rookie rushing record with 246 yards that sends the Elias Sports Bureau head over heels in commas and decimal points during the Bengals 41-14 victory.

The 6-1, 225-pound Dillon crashes into the NFL conscience in Brown-like fashion with a powerful 1950s black-and-white running style even punctuated by an old-fashioned stiff arm. He not only bests Brown's 237 against the Rams for Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns, Dillon becomes the first Bengal to score four rushing touchdowns in a game and breaks Pete Johnson's 14-year-old franchise record with a violent 39 carries in the game.

It is the most rushing yardage in an NFL game since O.J. Simpson rung up 273 in 1978 and only 29 off Walter Payton's league record of 275 set 20 years before.

Dillon knows the company he's in. "Jim Brown is the greatest running back to play the game and to be in the same category with him is a great honor," he said. "I try to be like the great running backs in certain ways and what I've seen in Jim Brown is his power, his strength."

Even though the game against Tennessee (yes, it is a season they are the Tennessee Oilers) is just his fifth start, Dillon finishes the night with 942 yards on the season. Dillon, who fell to the second round in that April's draft because of a troubled youth and because he played just one season of Division I ball, finishes the season with 1,129. That begins a streak starting his career with six 1,000-yard seasons for a milestone that in 2002 has only been reached by Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin.

But this night almost belongs as much to Esiason. In his first two starts, Esiason puts up 31 points in a win over Jacksonville and 42 in a loss in Philadelphia, and now he posts 41 with the chilling efficiency of 20-for-28 passing, 245 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Yet it is Esiason's preparation for the Oilers' Bear defensive front only 96 hours removed from the Philly debacle that stuns offensive line coach Paul Alexander later in the locker room. Anticipating the movements of the eighth man in the box, strong safety Blaine Bishop, Esiason checks off at the line and gets Dillon into the best position possible.

"The offensive line did a great job," Dillon says. "A lot of times I had only had one guy to beat, and I did."

Dillon, who couldn't bear to answer the phone for two days after the draft when the Bengals called because he was so disappointed he didn't go in the first round, gets another call the next day.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is on the horn.

Dillon takes it and agrees to send them his No. 28 Bengals jersey.

It's not a throwback, but the '97 version is good enough.




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