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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Corey Dillon can't get over his acquisition by the Patriots. For his teammates and coaches, the feeling is mutual.
By JOANNE KORTH
Published January 21, 2005
FOXBORO, Mass. - Corey Dillon is getting to be a pest in the Patriots locker room.
Every day, without fail, the running back grabs the arm of a teammate, coach, equipment manager - anyone who doesn't see him coming - to say again how grateful he is to New England for rescuing him. For believing in him. For giving him a chance.
Every single day.
"There's not a day goes by that I don't thank them," Dillon said moments after rushing for 144 yards in Sunday's 20-3 victory against the Colts in an AFC division game. Grass and mud sprouted from the face mask of his helmet hanging on a peg in his locker.
"Ask any of these guys. They're probably a little annoyed that I do it, but I do it to let them know. I'm just ecstatic about being in this situation."
Labeled a troublemaker at the end of seven mostly losing seasons in Cincinnati, Dillon, 30, has become the poster boy for selflessness in New England, where he has given the defending Super Bowl champion the reliable runner it lacked. The Patriots have seen nothing of the disgruntled Dillon, only the delighted one.
"He's come in and worked hard, and he's got a great attitude," quarterback Tom Brady said. "You know, I don't care what someone's reputation is, you come to this team and you fit in. You can't help it. ... I know he's glad he's here. He's told us that a bunch of times."
As New England prepares to play Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game Sunday, Dillon is the ace up the Patriots' sleeves. Because of a right thigh injury, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound workhorse did not play in a 34-20 loss that ended the team's NFL-record 21-game win streak Oct. 31 at Heinz Field. Without a running attack, Brady was forced to throw 43 times.
"We did plenty of things wrong in that game regardless of whether Corey was there or not," Brady said. "I'm certainly glad Corey's going to be there. We've got to go out there and try to do the same type of things we did (against the Colts): establish the run, maybe make a few plays in the passing game."
The Steelers, who have the league's top-ranked rushing defense at 81.2 yards per game, are quite familiar with Dillon. They saw him 13 times when he played for the Bengals, a division opponent.
"You have to account for him," Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said. "He is a great back that we know all so well from playing against him during his years in Cincinnati. We have a lot of respect for him. He just gives them another weapon."
By the end of last season, Dillon was a pest in the Bengals locker room. His playing time reduced by injury and the emergence of Rudi Johnson, Dillon complained publicly the team was not using him properly and asked to be traded. His me-first attitude had a poisonous effect.
On April 19, Dillon was traded to the Patriots for a second-round pick in the 2004 draft.
With New England, which has won two of the past three Super Bowls with teamwork, Dillon is having the season of his career. He set a single-season Patriots rushing record with 1,635 yards during the regular season and had career highs for carries (345), rushing touchdowns (12) and average (4.7 yards) - all in 15 games.
Against the Colts, Dillon turned in one of the best performances by a back in Patriots playoff history. His 144 rushing yards were second to Curtis Martin's record 166 against the Steelers in 1997, and his 42-yard run to set up the clinching TD was third longest.
"Corey was just nasty out there," linebacker Willie McGinest said.
These days, Dillon leaves his nasty side on the field. Teammates who might have been skeptical that Dillon would fit into the Patriots' tightknit locker room have been impressed with his willingness to be a cog in the machine.
"Having him is such a plus because he plays with so much heart and effort and it's just contagious. It's like a domino effect," tight end Christian Fauria said. "Even when we miss blocks, he is making players miss and stiff-arming guys. He is just the heart of the offense."
So very thankful.
Did he mention he's thankful?
"Usually at this time of the year, I was at home," Dillon said. "To actually be in the playoffs and playing for something, this is special. I'm going to cherish it. I came here to experience something like this. I just love being around the guys and going out there and fighting. This is paying off."