Corey Dillon  

In the NFL, a bad reputation is like a good bloodhound. Both are nearly impossible to shake. That makes Corey Dillon’s transformation all the more amazing. A kid who knew the back of a police car as well as a Power-I backfield, he almost threw away his career before it started. Sentenced to life with the Benglas, his thousand-yard seasons were overlooked, but his me-first attitude wasn’t. Though most feared the worst when he was paroled to the defending-champion New England Patriots in 2004, Corey delivered his best—and now has the Super Bowl ring to prove it. This is his story…


Corey Dillon was born on October 24, 1974, in Seattle, Washington. His mother, Jerline, was a single parent who did her best to raise him and his two older brothers, Charlie and Curtis. Corey knew his father, and saw him on a semi-regular basis.

The Dillons lived in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district, one of the city’s more depressed areas. Trouble wasn’t hard to find. Thought Corey wasn’t a bad kid at heart, he hung with a dicey crowd, and his loyalty often put him in the wrong place at the wrong time. As Corey got older, he became a more willing participant in his running mates’ illegal activities. In fact, he was charged with seven different offenses in juvenile court as a teenager. His most serious offense came as a 15-year-old, when he was arrested and convicted for conspiracy to sell cocaine to an undercover cop. To this day, Corey insists that he was never involved in dealing drugs.

One of Corey’s few escapes was sports. Charlie and Curtis were both good athletes, and he followed in their footsteps. They introduced him to football after his seventh birthday—on the patch of lawn and pavement in front of their home. Charlie and Curtis offered no breaks to their little brother. He was treated like a peer in their football games, which meant they pounded him whenever possible. The first time Corey ever touched the ball, he raced off in the wrong direction. Charlie and Curtis made sure he never committed the same mistake again.

To handle the punishment his older opponents dished out, Corey developed his own workout regimen. Every day he did 200 push-ups and 200 sit-ups. Within a few years, he matured into a strong, nasty runner who sought out contact rather than avoiding it.


Corey’s passion for football was equally hard to contain. His home was within walking distance of Husky Stadium, where the University of Washington played. He watched some good football in those days, with stars like Warren Moon, Mark Brunell and Napolean Kaufman suiting up for the purple and gold. Corey was also a huge NFL fan. His heroes were all running backs, and he voraciously studied videos of Hall of Famers like Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson.

When he wasn’t on the gridiron, Corey was turning heads on the baseball diamond. A speedy center fielder with a powerful bat, he attracted the attention of pro scouts during his last few years at Franklin High School. The San Diego Padres tabbed him with a late pick in the 1993 draft, but by then he was certain an NFL career was in his future.

As a senior for the Quakers, Corey was named first team All-State at running back and earned honors as All-Metro Player of the Year. His bruising style caught the eye of Dick Baird, the linebacker coach at Washington. Though white and middle-aged, Baird had a special rapport with inner-city kids. He was certain Corey had the talent to play for the Huskies. It was a matter of whether he was emotionally stable enough to handle the rigors of big-time college football.

Out of high school, Corey didn’t meet the NCAA’s minimum academic requirements, and his rap sheet scared off most of the nation’s top programs. He searched for a community college to improve his grades and his reputation. In the fall of ’93, he started at Edmonds, a 90-minute bus ride from Seattle. After six weeks, he tired of the commute and quit. Corey did nothing for nearly 12 months, until Jerline convinced him to get work as a night janitor. He hated the job.

In 1994, Corey landed in Kansas at Garden Community College. He impressed coach Jeff Leiker on the field, starring as a running back and free safety. Off it, however, Corey was a handful. He skipped classes and got into more than one fight. In August of 1995, Leiker had had enough. Corey was kicked off the football team.

Leiker, however, still had a soft spot for the kid. He called Greg Croshaw, his buddy and the head football coach at Dixie College, in St. George, Utah. Croshaw was happy to oblige. Given another shot, Corey capitalized fully on the opportunity before him. He re-committed himself to his classwork, regularly bringing his books with him on road trips. When he put on the pads, Corey played like a man possessed. In practice, he finished every run by crossing the goal line, even if he took a handoff from inside his own red zone. In games, Corey was unstoppable for the Colonels, rushing for 1,899 yards and 20 touchdowns. Suddenly, he was one of the most coveted juco stars in the country.


Among the schools interested in Corey were Washington State, Arkansas, Tennessee and TCU. But he had maintained his ties to Baird, and the idea of retuning home to play for the Huskies was too tempting. Washington head coach Jim Lambright welcomed Corey to the team for 1996 campaign. He spent the summer at North Seattle Community College, taking classes in English and microbiology to complete his eligibility requirements.

The Huskies had some NFL-caliber talent on their roster, including quarterback Brock Huard, defensive lineman Jason Chorak and offensive lineman Benji Olson. In front of Corey on the depth chart was junior Rashaan Shehee, who had gained 995 yards the previous season. Lambright liked Shehee, and Corey realized he would have to work for every minute of playing time. A month into the campaign, however, Shehee went down with an injury. With the door open, Corey had a season for the ages.

In his first game as a starter, against Arizona State, he bowled over three defenders on an 11-yard TD run. From there, he rattled off seven straight 100-yard rushing performances . Corey pummeled Oregon with 259 yards in a 33-14 blowout. In a 41-21 win over UCLA, he scored five times and racked up 198 yards in total offense.

Jim Brown, 1989 Swell



His biggest day came against San Jose State—in just one quarter of work. Running all over the overmatched Spartans, he piled up 222 yards as the Huskies raced to a 25-0 lead. Though Corey was on pace to break Hugh McElhenny’s 1950 single-game school mark of 296 yards, Lambright pulled him to avoid embarrassing San Jose State further. Corey ended his sparking season with 140 yards and two TDs against Colorado in the Holiday Bowl. When it was all said and done, in just eight starts, he had set a host of school records, including rushing yards (1,555), attempts (271), total touchdowns (23), rushing touchdowns (22), all-purpose yards (2,185) and scoring (138).

The rumors soon began to swirl that Corey was headed to the NFL. Initially, he denied them, saying he had made a two-year commitment to Washington. But as draft day approach, and a high-round selection beckoned, Corey confirmed he was going pro.

Interestingly, NFL teams weren’t all on board with his decision. Corey’s agent told him to expect a call in the first round, but one club after another passed on him, fearing he was too much of a head case to excel at the next level. When the Cincinnati Bengals finally took him in the second round with the 43rd overall pick, Corey was fuming. He refused to speak to the media or his new team. He wouldn’t even talk to Al Roberts, one of his former college coaches, whom the Bengals had hired the previous winter, and who had lobbied hard for Corey’s selection.

Seeking some payback, Corey and his agent squeezed the Bengals until they bled. Then he got down to football. Former Penn State star Ki-Jana Carter was the starter as the 1997 season opened, but Corey supplanted him by mid-season and wound up breaking Ickey Woods’s club rushing mark for a first-year player with 1,129 yards. He enjoyed his best game in December against the Oilers. In a 41-14 laugher, he ran through the Tennessee defense for 246 yards, surpassing Jim Brown’s 20-year-old NFL rookie record of 237. Afterwards, the Cincy coaching staff awarded Corey with the game ball.

Hugh McElhenny, 1955 Sport

Crucial to Corey’s development was his friendship with quarterback Boomer Esiason. The veteran recognized the rookie’s vast potential, and took him under his wing, showing him the ropes on and off the field. But Esiason couldn’t help Corey in March of 1998, when he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in Seattle. Though he contended that over-aggressive police were the real culprits, he pleaded guilty to negligent driving and driving with a suspended license. He was ordered to spend a day in jail, and attend an alcohol information program.

Corey’s brush with the law got a lot of play in the Cincinnati papers. So did an off-the-cuff remark in which he jokingly predicted he would run for 2,500 yards. Never a stellar interview to begin with, Corey decided to shut up around the media. He made plenty of noise on the field, however. Though he fell short of 2,500, he rushed for 1,130 yards and four TDs in the midst of a brutal 4-12 campaign. The Bengals fell behind so frequently that they often had to take to the air and he averaged fewer than 20 touches a game.

The team tried to address its woes in curious fashion in 1999 by tabbing Oregon quarterback Akili Smith with their first-round draft choice. But when he and wide receiver Carl Pickens held out, Cincinnati was left severely shorthanded. The club stumbled through another miserable campaign, again with Corey as one of the lone bright spots. Earning his first Pro Bowl nod, he was usually the Bengals’ only offensive threat, racking up 1,490 total yards. His most productive output was against the Cleveland Browns in December, when he rushed for 192 yards and three touchdowns.

Corey was learning how to handle NFL defenses, but his sixth-month-old marriage was a different story. In August of 2000, a few weeks before the start of the season, he was charged with fourth-degree assault on his spouse, Desiree. Things were already tense with the team, as Corey was holding out for more cash. When receiver Darnay Scott fractured his leg in training camp, coach Bruce Coslet could see his whole season going down the drain. Fortunately for Cincinnati, Corey inked a new deal in time for the opener. But he made one thing very clear: if the Bengals didn’t start winning, he wasn’t staying. He told one Cincinnati radio station that he would rather flip burgers for a living.


The Bengals got off to another horrid start in 2000, losing their first six. Most of the time, Corey had no room to run. With rookie wideout Peter Warrick the team’s only other plus-player on offense, opponents crowded the line of scrimmage to stop Corey. Against the Baltimore Ravens in September, he had the worst day of his career, gaining a total of just four yards. It was time to adjust.

Boomer Esiason,
1998 Sports Illustrated

In an October game at Denver, Corey discovered a whole new gear. He rumbled for 278 yards against the Broncos, breaking Walter Payton’s single-game mark of 275. He finished the year with 1,435 rushing yards to surpass the franchise mark (1,239 yards) established by James Brooks in 1989. The Bengals managed four wins in their final 10 games, but their 4-12 record left them well short of respectability.

By now, Corey was completely fed up with the Cincinnati brass. He hired super agent Leigh Steinberg (his third rep in three months) and told him to find a way out. Steinberg confirmed the verdict of his predecessors—the Bengals had Corey over a barrel. They had slapped the Franchise Player tag on him, and fully intended to match any contract offer he received from another team.

Resigned to his fate for another year, Corey went out and had his usual great season in 2001. He ran for 1,315 yards and scored a team-high and career-high 13 TDs. His three receiving touchdowns were also a club best. Cincy improved slightly to six wins, but they were still a far cry from the playoffs, and the strain of losing continued to drain Corey.

The 2002 campaign was the sorriest yet for the Bengals. They won only two games all year, posting the worst record in franchise history. Head coach Dick LeBeau was given the pink slip, and Cincinnati fans wondered if their team would ever return to the glory years of the 1980s, when they made it to a pair of Super Bowls.

Corey shared their dismay, but went out and gave another virtuoso performance despite his terrible supporting cast. For the third straight year, he started all 16 games, surpassed the 1,000-yard mark, and led the Bengals in TDs. His teammates applauded his efforts, and he got respect from opponents around the league for his perseverance, but he was inconsolable.

To their credit, the Bengals hired defensive whiz Marvin Lewis in the off-season, and he went to work cleaning house, firing 15 assistant coaches, including longtime Cincinnati stalwarts Ken Anderson and Tim Krumrie. Lewis oversaw a $250,000 upgrade to the team weight room, and he lured several big-name free agents, including Kevin Hardy and John Thornton, convincing them that Cincy was about to experience a rebirth.

Corey regarded these moves with apprehension. Lewis tried to win him over by giving him more leadership responsibilities, but he wasn’t interested. When injuries slowed Corey in the early going, Lewis inserted Auburn rookie Rudi Johnson, who did some nice running. Eight weeks into the season, the Bengals were actually showing signs of life, but Corey was openly campaigning to be traded, telling reporters he wanted to go to Dallas. With the Bengals in the hunt for a playoff spot, his comments were particularly ill-timed.

The team finished 8-8 and boasted a couple of Pro Bowl picks in receiver Chad Johnson and tackle Willie Anderson. Corey, on the other hand, had a rough year. Playing in only 13 games—his streak of 52 consecutive starts ended in October—he gained 541 yards on 138 carries. On the final day of the season, he threw his helmet, shoulder pads and cleats into the stands at Paul Brown Stadium, signifying his Bengal career was over.

In the ensuing months, Corey did everything he could to alienate management. He appeared on national TV in an Oakland Raiders jersey, and then blasted Anderson, who had criticized him for being selfish during the campaign. Cincinnati ultimately granted Corey’s wish, dealing him to New England in April of 2004 for a second-round draft choice.

Walter Payton, 1988 Topps

Joining the Patriots was a revelation for Corey, who assumed that the players in his next NFL clubhouse would eye him with a certain amount of suspicion. However, no one in the organization—from owner Bob Kraft to head coach Bill Belichick to star quarterback Tom Brady—pre-judged him. Corey kept a low profile in the locker room, while on the field his new teammates saw and respected his intensity and his desire to win. Coming off a Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers, they were eager to defend their title, and adding a proven thousand-yard back for a draft choice seemed like just the way to do it. In 2003, they had made do with Antowain Smith.

New England’s quest for a return trip to the big game began on a Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts—a likely roadblock on their way to the AFC title. Interestingly, Belichick used Corey as a decoy for a good part of the contest. Confused, the Colts wound up giving Brady all kinds of room to throw the ball, and he picked them apart. The Pats won, and Corey ran for the sweetest 86 yards of his life. A week later, the Cardinals sought to stop the Patriot air attack, and Corey ran it down Arizona's throat for 158 yards on 32 carries to produce a 23-12 victory.

New England won every game it played until a 34-20 defeat to the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Halloween. The Patriots lost just once more and snared the second seed in the AFC. Corey was magnificent, amassing 1,519 yards and 11 TDs on the ground. His rushing total represented a new franchise mark for New England. As offensive coordinator Charlie Weis got more accustomed to having a dominant back, the Patriot attack became more balanced and more difficult to stop. By season’s end the team was averaging 27.7 points per game, and with Corey in his backfield, Brady enjoyed a superb season. The Pats’ defense, meanwhile, absolutely battered opponents.

Corey’s first post-season experience was a snowy day in Foxboro, but he played as if the conditions were perfect. In a 20-3 dismantling of the Colts, he led the team in rushing (23 carries for 144 yards) and receiving (five receptions for 17 yards). Runs of 42 yards in the second quarter and 27 yards in the fourth quarter keyed two scoring drives.

In Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game, New England overwhelmed the Steelers 41-27. Corey’s 25-yard third-quarter touchdown run put the game away for the Pats, who let Corey run out the clock. He finished with 74 hard yards on 23 carries.

Tom Brady, 2004 Football News
  Super Bowl XXXIX matched the Patriots against the Eagles. Pre-game hype surrounded the health Terrell Owens, who was recovering from a broken leg. As the Philly receiver promised, he suited up and was effective. With both teams appearing a little tight, however, the contest turned into a defensive struggle. With the scored tied at 14-14 to open the final quarter, Corey powered into the end zone for the go-ahead TD. New England held on for a 24-21 victory, the team’s third NFL title in four years. For Corey, the smile plastered on his face said it all.

  Will Corey continue to be a model citizen and teammate? Why not? He says he now has everything he’s ever asked for—an organization committed to winning, coaches and teammates who appreciate him, and a Super Bowl championship. Don’t be surprised if his next stop after New England is Canton.



Corey is a runner molded in the classic power-back style. At 6-1 and 225 pounds, he has the body to back up the punishment he likes to dish out. He seeks out contact, and more often than not wins the physical battle with would-be tacklers.

Corey’s speed is often underestimated. In his younger days, he rarely got caught from behind. As he has aged, he has slowed a bit, but his explosiveness when he spies an opening is still excellent. While 80-yard dashes might not be in his arsenal anymore, he regularly breaks off runs of 30 and 40 yards.

Corey’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is also overlooked. He has good hands and a nice feel for soft spots in the defense. For a wily quarterback like Tom Brady, Corey is a good safety valve.

The knock on Corey has always been the baggage he hauls around with him. But as his one season with the Pats proved, he is driven by an intense desire to win. When surrounded by like-minded teammates, he showed he can be a true leader.

Corey Dillon,
2005 ESPN The Magazine

Corey Dillon


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