Not many things went right for the Bengals that season, especially the beginning of their schedule which started with six consecutive losses, three of them being shutouts. The team looked, at times, as if they were not capable of beating most major college teams and Bengals fans were ready to run Mike Brown out of town and out of the NFL.
The fans might still like to run Mike Brown out of town at times, but they were lucky enough to receive the thrill of the year provided by the running of Corey Dillon. The Cincinnati Bengals' fans were treated to what at the time was the best single-game rushing performance in the history of the NFL.
On November 20, 1977, Walter Payton rushed for 275 yards to set a mark that would stand for almost 23 years. Payton had been bed-ridden with the flu two days before the game, but he seemed to burn the illness out of his system with every play as he racked up 77 yards by the end of the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings' defense. Adding another 67 yards in the second quarter, he went to the locker room at half time having already rushed for 144 yards.
Payton added another 48 yards in the third quarter, and then in the fourth he busted loose for a 58-yard scamper, allowing him to eclipse O.J. Simpson's record by two yards. Payton finished his historic day with 275 yards on 40 carries.
Walter Payton retired from the game in 1987, and ten years later Corey Dillon began his NFL career. As a rookie, Dillon broke Jim Brown's 40-year-old single-game rookie record by rushing for 246 yards against the Tennessee Titans. In each of his first three seasons in the league, he rushed for over 1,100 yards, making him only the eighth player in history to do so.
Through six games of the 2000 season Dillon had rushed for only 323 yards, but he nearly doubled that total when he exploded for 278 yards against what was at that time the league's second-ranked rushing defense of the Denver Broncos.
"I still don't believe it", Dillon told reporters after the game. "From how I was running, I didn't see that I had that many yards. I was just out there trying to get four yards."
Dillon was already on his way to a fantastic game when he broke loose for scoring runs of 65 and 41 yards in the final five minutes of the game to give him the edge over Payton. When his accomplishment was announced, Dillon dropped to his knees and prayed while his teammates dumped ice water on his back.
Corey Dillon has assured himself a place in the Hall of Fame, at least for this game's performance, and he has claimed one of the most coveted records in all of football. The Bengals may continue to be a bad football team, but Dillon will never forget the day that he was the best running back in NFL history.