Dillon knows how to act -- like a winner
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When he said a few years ago that he'd rather flip burgers than play in Cincinnati?
What he really meant was, he didn't want to flip burgers. He wanted a chance for this, to do something he'd never done in his brilliant football career.
"I've never won the big one," said Corey Dillon. "Not in Pop Warner. Not in high school. Not in college."
He paused, bowed his head, and hugged his young daughter, Cameron, tighter.
"Tonight," he said, "we won the big one."
New England's second straight Super Bowl victory and third in four years was in the books, a 24-21 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles, and now, in a large tent outside
"I thought I would cry," said Dillon. "I don't know how to act. Maybe later tonight."
For the first seven years of his career, Dillon had been the star attraction in Cincinnati, rushing for more than 1,000 yards six times. Only the Bengals were awful and Dillon was miserable. He wanted out, the Patriots needed a running back, and thus was born a perfect match last spring.
"I knew we were going to win a lot of football games. This is what I came here for," said Dillon.
Down at the other end of the room, Kevin Faulk was also catching his breath, but he had enough energy to talk about the game. Yes, he acknowledged that he now owned three Super Bowl rings, a thought that made him shake his head in disbelief, but this led him to shower praise upon Dillon.
Dillon's arrival had meant less playing time for Faulk and when injuries slowed him, the veteran played in just 11 games, but that didn't matter at this point.
"I'm so happy for Corey. I love the guy," said Faulk. "It's probably sweetest for him. I'm so proud of the way he played because he played through so many injuries."
Together, Dillon and Faulk had played superbly when the team needed them most. Oh, the numbers weren't outrageous -- Dillon rushed for 75 yards on 18 carries, Faulk ran eight times for 38 yards, but they were there when ball-control was the order of business.
Go back to the second quarter, the Eagles in front, 7-0. Not much had been going well for the Patriots on offense, so in came a couple of screen passes to Dillon. A 13-yarder. Then a 16-yarder. The Eagles had to rethink their defensive pressure and later, Dillon ripped off a 25-yard run.
That drive didn't result in a touchdown, but it convinced the Patriots they had a way to move the ball against the Eagles, that all they had to do was stop making mistakes.
"The screens got us into a rhythm. After that, we seemed to click," said Dillon, and the gentleman on the other side of the room, a man with a somber faced, agreed.
"We didn't do a good job against the screen," said Philadelphia's defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson. "We knew they ran a good screen play, but they caught us with it. I'm surprised, but they did."
After a quiet first half, Dillon and Faulk did yeoman work on a couple of scoring drives in the second half. The key one came on a nine-play, 66-yard drive at the end of the third, crossing into the fourth quarter.
Faulk caught a pass for 13 yards and ran once for 8, and Dillon carried the ball on a third-and-2 and chewed up 9 crucial yards and later finished the drive by diving in from 2 yards to put the Patriots up, 21-14.
Later, Dillon touched the ball four times on an eight-play drive that covered 43 yards and led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal that proved to be the winning points.
"We were able to regroup and get it together [after a mistake-filled first half]," said Patriots center Dan Koppen, who nodded toward Dillon, sitting one podium to his right.
His young daughter was the picture of patience, sitting with her father while the questions kept coming. A reporter peppered Dillon about New England being a dynasty and Dillon kept shaking his head.
"I'm not going to say the `D' word," he said. "All I'm saying is, we won, we're the champs and I feel good."
Dillon had put his hands on the Vince Lombardi Trophy, not a spatula. He had proven his worth as one of the game's most dependable running backs, not a short-order cook. It was all too much, so he kept shaking his head.
"I knew we would win a lot of football games," Dillon repeated, "and this game was always in the back of my mind. I don't know how to feel. But I know I haven't felt this good in a long, long time."