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The Indianapolis Colts' running game, normally a force folks had trouble keeping pace with, was running in place.

And Eric Dickerson, normally someone no one kept pace with, wasn't running much of anywhere.

Yet, incredibly, seldom was heard a disparaging word.

After having his number called only 10 times (for 27 yards) in a 27-7 loss to Miami: "It doesn't bother me at all. Whatever they ask me to do, I'll do. I'm here to do my job. That's all."

After managing only 25 yards on 14 carries in a 13-10 win over New England: "Struggle, struggle, struggle. It's a struggle right now, no question."

On a Colt ground attack which, until this past week, resided in the NFL's cellar with a 71.5-per-game average: "No comment. Really, I don't know what's wrong."

So much for an Enquirer-type story. Eric Dickerson, arguably the best pure running back ever to take a handoff, was averaging 36.6 yards in his first five games following his five-game suspension. Yet you couldn't pull a derogatory word out of his mouth with a tow truck.

Perhaps he learned a costly lesson during his self-inflicted hiatus. Placed on the NFL's non-football injury reserve list Aug. 28 when he repeatedly refused to allow team physicians to monitor a sore hamstring, Dickerson lost nearly $750,000 in wages and fines while on suspension.

Perhaps he read the fine print in the contract extension he signed when he and Colt management finally buried the hatchet Oct. 13. Indianapolis brought Dickerson back and cured his itch for a trade with a four-year extension worth nearly $10.75 million, but made sure to include precautionary clauses which severely punish Dickerson for anti-Colt actions.

"What I said, I'm sorry for," Dickerson said with a shrug. "A lot of things have happened, a lot of things that weren't pretty on both sides. But let's leave the past in the past. I'm here to play."

But here we are, seven games into Dickerson's 1990 season, and people are taking shots at him on a weekly basis. They look at the stats he'll take into today's game at the Hoosier Dome against Buffalo -- 96 carries, 386 yards -- and they see a superstar who isn't producing. They see his 4.0 per-carry average and see a legend who isn't putting out.

Basically, they see a man who ranks fifth on the NFL's career rushing list with 11,602 yards and is the only player in league history to reach the 1,000-yard plateau seven consecutive seasons, going through the motions.

Dickerson, however, refuses to get drawn into the controversy.

"I keep saying I don't have to prove anything to anybody," he said. "The guys that do all the talking, most have never played football. Believe me, it's very hard to gain 1,000 yards, to be productive every season. I have been productive every season. If I don't play the way they think I should, it's 'He's not doing this' or 'He's not doing that'.

"This year it's been tough because I've missed five games. Then I come in and we're not really a running football team anymore, so you can't expect me to have big games unless I break the long ones. I know that's the only way I'm going to get 100 yards. I'm content with that."

Dickerson proved prophetic in that regard two weeks ago against Cincinnati. While the Colts were breaking the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium, 34-20, Dickerson was breaking a personal string of six straight sub-100-yard games. He broke loose for 143 yards on 22 carries, doing big-time damage with runs of 43, 32 and 17 yards.

"Just get me into the secondary running full speed," Dickerson said. "Then I can do what I do best.

"I don't need the big, massive holes. Just give me some place -- 16 inches -- where I can turn it up without a guy stepping in. People say I've lost a step. If that's true, it's a step most backs never had in the first place."

Ahhhhh, finally, vintage Eric Dickerson.

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