On This Date in Sports October 31, 1987

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In rare in-season blockbuster trade, the Indianapolis Colts acquire All-Pro Running Back Eric Dickerson in a three-team deal with ten players involving the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills. The Bills would land number one overall pick Cornelius Bennett, whom the Colts were unable to sign, while the Rams got Greg Bell, Owen Gill, and six draft picks three each from the Bills and Colts, including each teams’ first and second round picks in 1988.

It as a dark time for the Colts franchise. In their fourth season in Indianapolis, they were struggling to win over fans. The Colts had not made the playoffs since 1977 and were among the worst teams in the NFL, finishing 3-13 in 1986 to get the first overall pick. The Colts had chosen Alabama Defensive End Cornelius Bennett with the second overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft but were unable to sign him as the season hit the midway point.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Rams feud with Running Back Eric Dickerson was coming to ahead. Dickerson had set the single-season record in rushing yards with 2,105 yards in 1984. However, over the next their years found himself in a contract dispute, as the Rams refused to renegotiate his contract and make him the highest paid running back in the league. As the dust was clearing from the strike and scab games, the Rams were one of several teams hopeless out of the playoff chase due to a slow start, so they decided to put Eric Dickerson on the trading block looking to retool for the 1988 season. The Colts needed to revitalize their franchise were happy to make the move, as the Bills looking to build around a strong defense entered the picture to land Cornelius Bennett.  After the trade, the Colts quickly signed Eric Dickerson to a four-year deal for $5.6 million, while the Bills signed Bennett to a five-year contract worth $4 million.

The trade to Indianapolis reunited Eric Dickerson with his former SMU Coach Ron Meyer. Just one day after the trade Dickerson made his debut with the Colts and saw limited action, with 38 yards on ten carries, as Colts beat the New York Jets 19-14 at the Meadowlands. Erick Dickerson, however, was just the spark the Colts needed in 1987, as he rushed 1,011 yards in nine games with Indianapolis helping the Colts win the AFC East with a record of 9-6. The Colts, however, would fall in the Divisional Round to the Cleveland Browns 38-23.

The 1987 season would be the only playoff appearance for Eric Dickerson with the Colts, as the team quickly dropped off despite Dickerson remaining one of the NFL’s top running backs. In 1988, Eric Dickerson led the NFL in rushing with 1,659 yards, but the Colts fell short of the postseason with a record of 9-7. The Colts managed an 8-8 season in 1989, as Eric Dickerson was once again an All-Pro with 1,311 yards. The last two seasons saw Dickerson struggle with injuries as the Colts went from 7-9 in 1990 to 1-15 in 1991. In five seasons with the Colts, Eric Dickerson rushed for 5,194 yards. He would go on to finish his career with two unspectacular seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1992 and the Atlanta Falcons in 1993. Eric Dickerson finished his career with 13,259 yards rushing and was elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in Canton in 1999.


While Eric Dickerson had some great individual success in Indianapolis, the winner of the trade was clearly the Buffalo Bills, as Cornelius Bennett was a big part of the team that went to the Super Bowl four straight season. Bennett was a five-time Pro Bowler in Buffalo and later made it to a fifth Super Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Los Angeles Rams failed to make good on the six picks they got in the trade, as none of the players developed into long-term NFL stars. Gaston Green chosen 14th overall in 1988, had three mediocre seasons with the Rams. Aaron Cox picked 20th did not play much better in his five seasons in L.A. Fred Strickland who was picked #47 in 1988 also spent just five seasons with the Rams, and had modest success before suffering a leg injury in 1990. In 1989 the Rams picked Cleveland Gary with the 26th pick. In his first two seasons, Gary showed promise before injuries shortened his career. Frank Stams who was chosen with the 45th pick in 1989 played three seasons with the Rams with little impact. Darryl Henley who was picked 53rd in 1989 had the longest tenure of any of the six Rams drafted from the picks in the Dickerson trade. He was a solid defensive back on the Rams with 12 interceptions in 76 games, before his career unraveled due to off-field troubles. Henley was arrested following the 1994 season for drug trafficking and later was sentenced to 41 years in prison as he tried to hire a hitman to kill the judge and a witness. The Rams as a consequence from the poor drafting missed the playoffs nine straight years.