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VERDIN SAYS DISSENSION HURT COLTS DICKERSON'S ANTICS SPICING OFF-SEASON

So you thought the Buffalo Bills cornered the pro football market for turmoil? Guess again.

Compared to one of their AFC East rivals, the Indianapolis Colts, the Bills are like the well-known TV family living on Walton Mountain.

Clarence Verdin, a veteran wide receiver for the Colts and the AFC's top punt returner in 1989 (his 12.9-yard average on 23 punt returns was second-best in the league), is loaded with horror stories from last season.

Indy's internal problems had gotten so bad, he and other players called a "get-it-off-your-chest" meeting three-fourths of the way through the year.

"I got upset, because a lot of guys on the team were talking behind other guys' backs," said Verdin, one of several NFL players instructing youngsters this week at the Jim Kelly Celebrity Football Camp at St. Bonaventure University.

"Whenever a guy would leave the locker room, you'd hear someone say, 'He isn't any good.' And when he came back to the locker room, the same guy would be really friendly and say, 'How you doing, dude?'

"It was getting out of hand."

But the meeting didn't prevent the Colts from the kind of finish that raised serious questions about their attitude. With a playoff berth at stake, they lost, 47-36, to New Orleans in their regular-season finale. That gave them an 8-8 record, and set the stage for more problems in the off-season.

Running back Eric Dickerson got things started with a contract dispute that led to his demanding to be traded, threatening to retire and criticizing teammates.

Verdin expects the issue to be resolved with Dickerson receiving a hefty pay raise and "strolling in on the last day of training camp, just late enough to keep him out of the contact." He has no quarrel with the nature of Dickerson's fight with management, but doesn't like some of the methods.

"Eric went on TV and said that running behind our line is like 'playing Russian Roulette,' " said Verdin. "When I heard that, I thought a lot of those linemen should have stood up and spoken out, but they didn't. I mean, when Eric fumbles the ball -- and he'll fumble it when we really need him to hang on to it -- nobody says anything. And it's not like those guys aren't trying to block for him.

"But the whole thing came from his frustration over not being paid what he thinks he should be paid. So he was using some strategy to try to get himself out of Indianapolis. He was thinking that if he takes shots at his teammates, the general manager's going to say, 'We can't have that dissension on the team, so we'll get rid of him.'

"We have a lot of guys who are mad at Eric, but they're just saying, 'Eric's going to be Eric.' "

The next bombshell of controversy was dropped just before last April's NFL draft when the Colts traded offensive tackle Chris Hinton, wide receiver Andre Rison and a first-round choice in 1991 to Atlanta for Illinois quarterback Jeff George. In Indianapolis and throughout the NFL, the consensus is the Colts gave up way too much.

But, as far as Verdin is concerned, the pressure is much greater on George than on Colts GM Jim Irsay, whose father, Robert, owns the team.

"This might sound crazy, but if we go through the preseason not throwing the ball as well as we want to throw it, if Jeff doesn't go in there and produce the way they want him to produce, he's going to be out of there," Verdin said. "The Irsays are like that. They'll pay you that money . . . and get you out of there -- quick."

For instance, Rison was their first-round selection in '89.

"The pressure's on Jeff, but he shouldn't worry about it because he's rich," Verdin said, laughing.

"We've sat down and talked, and he really is concerned about his situation because he wants to be a winner. Everybody thinks it's a joke, but look at (Miami's) Dan Marino. Look at Jim Kelly. Everybody doubted those guys, and look what they've done.

"Jeff is my teammate, so I want to see him come in and take us to the Super Bowl. Whatever I have to do to make him better, I'm going to do it."

Verdin was impressed with George's performance while catching passes from him during recent workouts in Indianapolis.

"But anybody can look good in shorts," the receiver said. "It's a different story when you have Bruce Smith in your face and Cornelius Bennett coming around the corner. I can't judge his heart, yet."

Verdin thinks a number of critical questions will be answered during the Colts' 1990 regular-season opener against the Bills at Rich Stadium.

"That first game will determine a lot," he said. "We're not going to have another break-even season this year. And I think that game will tell us whether we're going to be a great team or a piece-of-crap team.

"It should be a heck of a war."

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