With his professed passion for winning, newcomer Dillon has been ideal teammate so far
FOXBOROUGH -- As if Rodney Harrison hadn't done enough in his first year as a Patriot, he decided to assist the team in landing its biggest offseason acquisition. Harrison shares an agent with Corey Dillon, and over the past seven years had come to know enough about Dillon to the point that, last spring, he recommended to New England that it pursue the Bengals running back, who was on his way out of Cincinnati.
From the outside, it would appear Harrison not only risked his reputation but also asked the Patriots to jeopardize their team chemistry by inviting a player whose attitude was reputed to be as nasty as his game. But Harrison had been around long enough to have an idea about what was going on during Dillon's last days as a Bengal.
"I knew what he brought to the table," Harrison said after a training camp practice. "I knew what type of guy he was. I knew he was getting a bad rap in Cincinnati.
"Any time you've been somewhere and endured losing seasons, and all of a sudden a new coaching regime comes in, sometimes they try to make you look like you're the bad guy," said Harrison, who was unceremoniously shown the door in San Diego after nine seasons. "When you're hurt and out there trying to play and people are promising you one thing and something else is happening, of course you get bitter feelings and things start happening. It happened to me. So I understood the media were giving Corey a bad rap.
"And I knew Corey was one of the hardest-working guys I was around. I used to watch Corey in warmups and watch him play, and he just worked so hard and ran the ball so hard. How could a guy like that not help you? I kind of put myself in his shoes, like maybe this could be a Rodney Harrison kind of story."
Dillon's story is well-known. He compiled a lengthy arrest record while growing up in Seattle. He spent time at three junior colleges before playing a season at the University of Washington. He lasted until the second round of the '97 draft. He was selected to three Pro Bowls and rushed for 1,000 yards in a season six times for the hapless Bengals, and at one time held the rookie record for rushing in a game and the overall record for rushing in a game. At times it seemed as though Cincinnati was a one-man team, and Dillon, thanks to some critical public statements about the organization, gained a reputation as a selfish player.
Dillon was the anti-Patriot, one who epitomized everything they aren't about. Or so it seemed. Now that Dillon is here, courtesy of an April 19 trade, the opposite is true. Dillon has plenty in common with the Patriots. He likes to win.
"Don't get my passion for wanting to be the best I can be and win football games and turn it into, `Oh, he's a bad person,' " Dillon said. "If that's the case, hey, I guess I'm a bad person because I've got a passion for winning football games. I'll live with that."
The Patriots lived with Antowain Smith at running back for three seasons, and after declining the option on his contract after last season, were in need of an upgrade. No one expected them to reach this high, though.
The Bengals wanted a second-round pick for Dillon, their all-time leading rusher who had become expendable with the emergence of Rudi Johnson last season, and they weren't coming down from that asking price. That eliminated Oakland from the sweepstakes. According to a source familiar with the negotiations, Bengals president Mike Brown told Patriots coach Bill Belichick that the Dolphins were talking about surrendering a third-round pick for Dillon and taking on the remainder of his contract (which means Brown either was trying to use an AFC East rival as leverage with New England, or Miami had an idea then it may be without Ricky Williams this season).
Belichick was willing to give up one of his two second-round picks -- but not without meeting Dillon and his agent first, in part to discuss restructuring his contract. Dillon was receptive to earning his salary through incentives if it meant getting a shot at earning a Super Bowl ring. Belichick, only after a thorough investigation into Dillon's background and a chat between Dillon and owner Robert Kraft, liked the idea of adding a proven performer with something to prove. That's how an odd couple can make a perfect match.
And so far, as expected, Dillon has been the ideal teammate.
"Let me tell you, he's one of the silliest guys in the locker room," Harrison said. "The guy is actually a funny guy. When he's off the field, there's not a harmful bone in his body. On the field, he's a beast."
Harrison's locker is near Dillon's. "He's always focused, he's always laughing, he's always having a good time," Harrison said. "Guys in the locker room love him. He's no problem whatsoever."
Instead, he's been a resource to his fellow running backs, offering them tips on how to keep their hands inside when blocking, and to some of the younger members of the Patriots' defense, offering them advice on how to play the run.
This isn't a case of someone in Rome doing as the Romans do. This is the real Dillon, he said.
"I'm just being real. I'm not here putting on no show," he said. "The Corey Dillon you see is who I've been for a long time. There's been all kinds of stories from Cincinnati, but you've got to really look into it. How is it one of the most prolific players in their franchise history, why does he have to be the problem? I'm out there producing, why am I the problem? I think people need to look into that and find what the real situation was, because I don't think I was the problem. I think people got it twisted up because I'm a competitor and I've got a passion for winning, and I don't like losing.
"Don't look at the players there, look at the situation, and you'll figure it out. I mean, I'm not the only guy that said I wanted out. Everybody wants to look at me, but just think, a year before that, Takeo Spikes said the same thing, and it wasn't a big uproar about him. But when I say something, it's like E.F. Hutton. Everybody listens."
Dillon said all the right things during his pre-trade visit to Gillette Stadium, and that was all the Patriots needed to hear to know that Dillon would, if he had to, force himself to fit in.
"He said some things that struck me as very important for us," running backs coach Ivan Fears said. "I remember saying to myself, `This is going to be great.' He talked about wanting to come here and be a part of a team, and that's what we were looking for."
When he first arrived, Dillon could feel those around him looking for the person they knew -- or thought they knew -- from Cincinnati. Turns out that guy didn't make the trip. "They came to the conclusion, `Corey's just like us. He works hard, he wants to win,' " Dillon said. "And ever since then, it's been like this is my family."
Said quarterback Tom Brady, "He's come in and been just like the rest of the guys."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.