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Career has run its course

Dillon is tackling next phase of his life

COREY DILLON 14th on NFL rushing list COREY DILLON 14th on NFL rushing list

Corey Dillon had left the window open, ever so slightly.

Six months ago, he said he was planning to retire, barring an unexpected itch to play come football season. There have been no itches.

"Now the window is closed, there is no doubt in my mind," Dillon said last week. "I haven't announced it publicly, but I will not play football again."

Dillon is leaving the game, in many ways, on his own terms. After 10 hard-charging seasons, he believes he still has something left in his tank.

"If I really wanted to, I think I could run for 800, 900 yards. I'd share carries, or take the load if needed," he said. "But for me, the risk is way greater than the reward. I don't feel as if there is anything else for me to do. I hit the 10-year plateau. When I came into the league in '97, I said that if I was to play 10 years, that's where I wanted to be, and I'd call it quits and do something else.

"I won't name names, but I know people who have played 10, 12, 15 years, and they can barely walk. To me, I never wanted to envision myself like that."

That is why Dillon, who lives in California and has become a regular on the golf course, resisted interest from at least two NFL teams. The Bills attempted to fly him in for a free agent visit, as did the Titans.

"That was just talk," Dillon said. "I was never getting on an airplane. I don't even like to fly. You think I was going to blow off my tee time and fly somewhere?

"The only way I would ponder getting on a flight is if the Patriots were in the Super Bowl, it was fourth and 1 on the goal line, and they needed me to pound it in. That's the only thing that would get me to put the pads on."

Might he reconsider if the Patriots needed him before that point, perhaps if Laurence Maroney sustained an injury?

"As far as I'm concerned, that game in Indy [in the AFC Championship] was the last game I played. Period," Dillon responded. "But I'll tell you what, I would have loved to have played with Randy Moss. That would have been pretty nice. But it was a year too late."

Dillon has mostly fond memories of his three seasons with the Patriots, although he was puzzled with the way the 2006 season ended. Aided by a 35-yard rush early in the game, Dillon totaled seven carries for 48 yards in the AFC Championship game. Yet he had just one carry in the second half, while the Patriots totaled just five in the final 30 minutes.

"If those guys ran the ball in the second half, I truly believe we could have won the game," Dillon said. "I don't know what happened. It was nothing by my doing. I was standing there asking myself, 'What is going on? What is this?' But being in the position I was in, any time I might ask a question, I didn't want anyone to think I was selfish. So I wasn't going to say, 'Hey, give me the ball.' I dealt with it."

The game doesn't damper Dillon's overall feelings of his time in New England. When he thinks back on his career, a turning point came April 19, 2004, when the Patriots acquired him from the Bengals for a second-round draft choice.

"I played with Tom Brady and it was the best experience of my life," Dillon said. "Then there were the Bruschis, Vrabels, Seymours, Faulks, Maroneys. I had a blast. I look at the whole last three years and they were the best three years of my career. It was all that a guy could ask for. When I look back, that group helped me get where I needed to go.

"Am I a little upset? Yeah, because I think about those seven years in Cincinnati and wonder what it would have been like, what my stats would be, if I had been in New England from Day One."

Dillon's 11,241 rushing yards rank 14th all time. The player just ahead of him on that list, John Riggins, is in the Hall of Fame. So, too, is the player right behind him, O.J. Simpson.

Which leads to the question: Will Dillon be a Hall of Famer?

"I've thought about it real deeply," said Dillon. "The thing I would say is that I hope people separate the person and his work. Some people say I'm a bad guy. Ask the teammates I've played with and I think a lot of people would say I'm a great guy. Nobody is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. But don't say yea or nay because of how you feel about a guy, look at the body of work. My numbers are better than O.J. Simpson's. If he's in, why can't I be in the Hall of Fame? I like my résumé. If I had to hand it over, I'd feel comfortable saying, 'Here you go.' "

Dillon must wait at least five seasons before he can be considered for the Hall of Fame.

At just 32, Dillon said he is transitioning to a new phase in his life. He and his wife, Desiree, recently welcomed their second child, Devin. Dillon is working on lowering his handicap and is dabbling in some real estate ventures.

Not once, he said, has football crossed his mind.

"I don't miss it at all," he said. "I'm doing the family thing, and it's quite relaxing."

Talk is of admiration for Walsh

Those who played for Bill Walsh always remembered "The Talk".

"Sometime in the offseason, you were going to sit down with the coach, and he was going to tell you how many years you have left in the league," recalled former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross, a 13-year NFL veteran who played 10 seasons for Walsh, winning three Super Bowls.

"He'd be brutally honest, not only telling you how many years you had left, but how many you had left in San Francisco. We all got that. Joe [ Montana] got it. Ronnie [ Lott] got it. And what we all noticed was how he was absolutely accurate to the year." A public memorial service will be held Friday for Walsh, the legendary 49ers coach who died of leukemia last Monday at 75.

Cross said another indelible memory of Walsh was that he often used boxing as part of his approach.

"He boxed some and loved boxing analogies," Cross recalled. "He liked the artistic side and the violent side. And with that came some interesting vocabulary that people maybe wouldn't have associated with him."

Cross said the perception that Walsh was a football genius and architect of some of the NFL's best passing offenses is accurate, but there was much more to the man.

"You have to be known for something, but he was such a complex man, and to me that makes his legacy that much more complex," Cross said. "Do you remember him as the best play caller? Probably. How about game plans? Probably. Eye for talent? Really good. There were his draft-day trades.

"Then you go off the charts for his contributions to hiring minority coaches, or that he was one of the first guys that the commissioner [Paul Tagliabue] came to for the World League of professional football. You could go and on. He was a very, very interesting man."

Belichick says to pile on the cameras

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long been a proponent of placing cameras inside the pylons for use in instant replay. His thinking is that there are few places more important on the field, and if coaches were assured they would have a clear view of the goal line, their strategy regarding replay challenges might change.

Longtime NFL official Larry Nemmers would favor such a change, especially in the wake of a new rule this year regarding plays near the pylon.

Starting in 2007, when a player dives toward the pylon, he must extend the ball inside, over, or on the pylon to be awarded a touchdown.

This is different from in the past, when players could dive toward the pylon -- and as long as part of their body hit the pylon before they were downed, it was a touchdown, regardless of where the ball was.

"Knowing that replay is permanent now and that this is a reviewable play, any additional camera angle we could have will be of help," Nemmers said during a visit to Gillette Stadium last week.

Nemmers, who will retire following the 2007 season after 23 years as an official, thinks the rule change could lead to some challenging judgments regarding fumbles.

"Now that players know they have to get the ball inside, over, or on the pylon, you could see more contact on the ball, leading to loss of control," he said. "Then the question is where the ball goes out of bounds. If it goes out of bounds before the goal line, the offense still has the ball. If it goes into the end zone or hits the pylon after a loss of control, it's a touchback. You know a lot of those plays are going to be challenged near the goal line."

Etc.

Fish story
It would be a significant upset if veteran quarterback Trent Green does not start for the Dolphins in Week 1, but coach Cam Cameron insists no decision has been made. It caught the eye of at least a few observers last week when backup Cleo Lemon took some repetitions with the first-team offense, and some believe Lemon has outplayed the 37-year-old Green -- who was acquired for a fifth-round draft choice from the Chiefs -- in the early part of camp. Cameron isn't putting a timetable on the decision, as he says he wants to watch the leadership develop and that exhibition games will be a significant factor.

He's there in a snap
While the Giants are counting on top draft picks Aaron Ross (cornerback) and Steve Smith (wide receiver) for big things, it turns out former Brown standout Zak DeOssie will probably be the rookie under the brightest spotlight in the early going. That's because the Giants lost incumbent long snapper Ryan Kuehl to a calf injury last week, and with Kuehl facing a minimum 3-4-week timeframe before the extent of the injury can even be diagnosed, DeOssie, a fourth-round pick, gets first crack at the job. "We will give him every opportunity," coach Tom Coughlin said.

Tough to say goodbyeWhen it comes to shoulder pads, it can be hard for some football players to let go. Just ask Patriots safety Eugene Wilson, whose blue-and-orange pads were the same ones he wore at the University of Illinois. Quarterback Tom Brady apparently is in the same category. "I was talking to him the other day and he said he's had his for 12-13 years," Wilson said. "It's just like a pair of shoes that are real comfortable, you don't want to get rid of them. As long as they're not falling apart, why not keep them?"

Receiving time at QB
In a wrinkle that has likely caught the eye of their opponents, the Jets have been working 2006 fourth-round draft choice Brad Smith more extensively at quarterback. Smith played quarterback at the University of Missouri, was drafted as a receiver, and now could have a diverse role in the Jets' offense, possibly replacing signal-caller Chad Pennington at times. "It was more a function of being able to expand Brad's package and being able to expand what people have to prepare for with Brad," coach Eric Mangini explained. "It's the ability to add more pressure [on opponents]."

Words of wisdom
The Saints, who face the Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game tonight, invited basketball Hall of Famer Joe Dumars to speak to the team last week. Why Dumars? Now serving as the director of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, he grew up in Shreveport, La., and has long rooted for the Saints, so when coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis invited him to give the team an inspirational talk, Dumars rearranged his schedule to make it happen.

Dedicated team
Nice touch by the Steelers last week, dedicating a football field at their longtime training camp home in honor of former coach Chuck Noll. The team held a 20-minute ceremony, but the 75-year-old Noll, who is battling back pain, could not attend. Noll coached the Steelers from 1969-91, totaling 209 wins (including playoffs), nine division championships, and four Super Bowl titles. The Steelers, one of the true throwback organizations in the NFL, have held training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., for the last 41 years. Only the Green Bay Packers, who are holding their 50th camp at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., have held camp in the same place longer.

Could he fit the Bills?
Nate Clements manned the right cornerback spot in Buffalo for the last six seasons, but with Clements signing with the 49ers, the competition at that spot has been one of the key topics at Bills camp. The early leader is Jason Webster, whom the team signed as a free agent after a disappointing three-year stint with the Falcons. "He's going to be a hard player to unseat," coach Dick Jauron told the Buffalo media. "All the positions are open for challenge, but if he's healthy I think he'll be hard to knock out of there."

Extra points
The Colts have given 2007 second-round draft choice Tony Ugoh the first crack at replacing veteran left tackle Tarik Glenn, a 10-year veteran who unexpectedly retired just before training camp . . . Eagles fans are passionate; more than 17,000 showed up for the team's practice Friday morning . . . The Redskins got off to a tough start in camp, with starting left tackle Chris Samuels, arguably their best lineman, potentially sidelined for 3-4 weeks after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee . . . Packers first-round draft choice Justin Harrell, a defensive tackle, reported to camp at 320 pounds despite playing at 305 throughout his college career . . . Free agent defensive end Simeon Rice, who was unexpectedly cut by the Buccaneers as training camp opened, visited the Giants and Titans last week . . . Offensive lineman Adrian Klemm, the first draft choice of the Bill Belichick/Scott Pioli regime in New England (2000, second round), signed with the Raiders last week as he attempts to resurrect his career . . . The NFL's unrestricted free agency period ended late last month and 126 unrestricted free agents signed with new teams, down from 149 last year.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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