A year ago at this time, Corey Dillon had finished his seventh season with the Bengals and was about to watch the New England Patriots march through the post-season to capture their second Super Bowl. This year he is on the other side of that fence preparing for his first appearance in the big game and he couldn't be happier about his situation with is new team.
When in Cincinnati, Dillon was saddled with the "problem child" label for a serious of off-the-field incidents. Before long, he was fighting the stigma of being a selfish player and a bad locker room guy, something that he still does not entirely understand. "That's never been me, and I don't know where that came from," he said. "I understand things are going to get said when you go from one organization to another. That's just one of the things that was brought up. I was never that person (in Cincinnati). I've always been a team guy. I really didn't care about individual stats and don't now. I don't know where that surfaced from."
The perception that Dillon was not a team player stung the former University of Washington standout especially since he was the Bengals most productive offensive player throughout most of his tenure. "I think the thing that irritated me the most was when they said that I was a cancer to the team," he said. "That really kind of ruffled me a little bit. For a guy that for seven years went out and put his heart and soul on that field and at the end of the day be looked upon as the reason why we weren't successful, that rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't really appreciate that. I think that was the worst thing that was said."
Dillon attributes his past frustrations, and some of the mistakes he made in Cincinnati, to not feeling the joy of winning enough. "I'm a competitor. I like to compete and win and that's how I was brought up from Pop Warner," he stated. "I wanted to win that bad. At times my behavior may have been erratic, but I was (ticked) off. I wanted to win."
When Dillon was traded to New England this past April for a second-round draft pick his slate was wiped clean and none of his demons from Ohio followed him to Foxboro. His new teammates were ready to make their own judgments and not rely on rumors or reputation. "When I came in, they welcomed me with open arms," Dillon recalled. "Since training camp, everything's been going pretty good. I play with a great bunch of guys, great coaches and a great owner."
Right from day one Dillon's new teammates, coaches and support staff assured him they would not hold anything that happened in Cincinnati against him. "As soon as I got here they said, 'Corey, we're really not concerned about what happened in Cincinnati. Just as long as you get here and be positive and work hard, you'll be fine,'" he offered. "And that's what I did."
Dillon also made a conscious effort to be more accessible to the media upon his arrival in New England, something he had struggled with in the past. "Going into a new situation, you don't want to have stuff reoccur," he commented. "Something that I learned from my time in Cincinnati was just to be more personal with the media and just go in there and try to do my best," he said. "I think I got a bad label. Some of the times, I wouldn't speak to the media, and a lot of times I had good reason not to. As I came here, I just wanted to turn a new leaf."
After seven years without a playoff appearance and several last-place finishes, Dillon wondered if he would ever get the chance to play in a Super Bowl. "I never imagined it," he admitted. "For years I really lost hope. I can say for about seven years I did. I really thought I'd never get to this stage, but I just kept pressing and working hard. God blessed me and put me in a great situation. He surrounded me with great people, and I love going to work and working hard to try to help this organization win."
In his first season in New England, Dillon set career highs with 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns. But more importantly to him was the chance to reach a goal he at times never thought would be in his grasp. "I went through some tough times and tough years. To get traded and in one year end up in the Super Bowl, it's awesome. I really appreciate this," he said. "I needed a change for the better and I got that opportunity."