Thursday, January 31, 2013
The One Who Got Away: Eric Dickerson
By Sam Khan Jr.
In the state where football is king, the story is legend.
When it comes to decommitments, there's one that any Texas A&M fan who was closely following the Aggies in the late 1970s remembers well. And thanks to ESPN's acclaimed 30 for 30 sports documentary series, now countless sports fans know about the biggest one that got away:
Eric Dickerson is considered one of the best running backs to ever play the game.
Considered to be the No. 1 recruit in Texas and arguably the top prospect in the nation as a senior, the running back from Sealy (Texas) High School was a coveted prospect whom Southwest Conference schools (and countless other premier programs around the nation) aggressively pursued.
Dickerson told stories about recruiters showing up at his house at all different hours, even the wee hours of the morning, to see him. But it was Texas A&M that secured his commitment roughly a week before national signing day in 1979.
But on Feb. 16, Dickerson signed a letter of intent with SMU.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound back became part of a huge one-two punch picked up by then-SMU coach Ron Meyer, who also signed Craig James of Stratford High School in Houston. Both were considered top-flight recruits, and both led their teams to state championships. The duo eventually became the "Pony Express" and led the Mustangs to a 21-1-1 combined record and top-10 rankings in the 1981 and 1982 seasons.
Dickerson not only went on to become an All-American and rush for 4,450 yards and 47 touchdowns at SMU, he also went on to the NFL, became a Pro Football Hall of Famer and still holds the NFL single-season rushing record (2,105 yards).
It wasn't just that the Aggies lost Dickerson, though, but the way it happened.
The part of the story that makes it compelling and noteworthy is the fact that Dickerson showed up to Sealy High School with a new gold Pontiac Trans Am shortly after announcing he was going to sign with Texas A&M. Suspicions ran rampant, but Dickerson claimed that his grandmother, Viola, purchased it for him. Meyer joked that they called it the "Trans A&M."
Even while sticking to that claim, Dickerson admitted in the 30 for 30 documentary "Pony Exce$$" that Texas A&M offered him money, saying that the Aggies "showed my mother $50,000 in a briefcase."
How did SMU up the ante? Dickerson will never tell.
Steve Endicott, who was an SMU assistant at the time, said in the documentary that Texas A&M "made the down payment on the car, and we helped him with it after he got to SMU."
Of course, as many college football fans know, SMU was found guilty of numerous major recruiting violations on repeated occasions and eventually was subjected to the NCAA's death penalty. But seeing Dickerson head north to the Metroplex instead of College Station, Texas, is something avid Aggies likely will never forget.