From 1997 to 2003, right tackle Willie Anderson helped pave the way for Corey Dillon to become one of the best Cincinnati Bengals running backs of all time.
Those were the years during which the two Bengals greats’ careers overlapped in Cincinnati as Dillon was a second round pick in 1997 and Anderson a first round pick in 1996.
Unfortunately, the two went a long time without speaking, which was triggered by Dillon’s unceremonious exit from Cincinnati. That included him throwing his gear into the stands of Paul Brown Stadium after the final game of the 2003 season and saying he’d “rather flip burgers” than play for the Bengals. He was traded during the ensuing offseason to the New England Patriots and went on to win a Super Bowl with them that season.
More than 10 years have passed since Dillon and Anderson last played together and the former teammates have cleared the air.
“I texted Will two weeks ago and we talked by text and he said, ‘Hopefully when it’s time for you to go back, let’s go back on the same ticket,’” Dillon told Bengals.com of the plans for both players to be honored at a Paul Brown Stadium game this season. Both players have been selected to the Bengals First 50, a ranking of the top 50 retired Bengals of all time. Anderson was ranked 14th on the list, while Dillon ranked one spot behind at 15.
The Bengals will be honoring all 50 players who made the ranking at home games this season and the duo are hoping they can be honored at the same game.
“I’m happy we reconnected and had a good talk,” Dillon said. “Kind of let bygones be bygones. I don’t think it was a real big deal between me and him. He wasn’t what I was upset about. He knew where I was coming from and I knew where he was coming from. We didn’t have to get into it. We’ll move forward, making sure we come back and get honored and things of that nature. We’re older. No one cares about that stuff anymore. I know I don’t. He doesn’t care about it either. We’re looking towards the future. No one cares about 2003 at all.”
Anderson seems to feel the same way, as Dillon said, and is glad that his friend received recognition from the team in the form of the First 50 ranking.
“I was happy about him finding that out. He needed to hear that. That he’s appreciated and that he’s still loved in Cincinnati,” Anderson says. “I think he thinks people are mad at him still. I told him, ‘People love you. Time has passed by. Everybody in the history of the NFL has been forgiven for past transgressions. It was just a bad time. You went on to win your Super Bowl and the Bengals kept on going and now they want to honor you.’
For the most part, it seems Bengals fans have moved on from Dillon’s exit from Cincinnati and can look back on his career remembering one of the greatest Bengals running backs of all time. Dillon, who made the 1997 NFL All-Rookie team, played in four Pro Bowls and still ranks in the top 20 of two NFL rushing categories: rushing yards (20) and rushing touchdowns (17). In his seven seasons in Cincinnati, he racked up 8,061 rushing yards, 45 rushing touchdowns and a 4.3 yards per attempt average. He also added 1,482 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns.
Now, Dillon is glad he’s having his moment of well-deserved recognition and is happy to be back in the good graces of the Bengals and the team’s fans.
“It’s time. It’s good for both sides,” Dillon said. “I can kind of understand the way I left (if fans didn’t forgive and forget). Maybe I ruffled some feathers. Time heals everything. I think people can look past that one year for my outburst.”
This year, fans certainly will look past that as they welcome back Dillon, Anderson and 48 other Bengals greats to celebrate the team’s 50 year history.