Dennis Dixon waited until exactly 11 o’clock to make the call he dreaded making all day long.
Dennis Dixon Sr., with his wife cradled in one arm, picked up the phone
and placed it to his wife’s ear.
Just as her son began to speak, 46-year-old Jueretta Dixon died right
then and there in an Oregon hospital.
A three-year battle with breast cancer ended on Feb. 3, 2004 for
Jueretta Dixon with the last voice she ever heard was that of her then
“I could never have another low point besides losing my mom,” Dixon
said. “Nothing can get worse than that. Anything else doesn’t seem as
So it's easy to understand why this star three-sport high school athlete
turned college football phenom took his benching late during his junior
year at Oregon in stride. Nor was he bothered when Oregon coach Mike Belotti denounced him for signing a contract with the Atlanta Braves after Dixon was drafted in the fifth round after that junior year.
That devastating ACL injury near the end of last year when the Heisman
Trophy and national championship was within reach? Took that in stride,
Falling from one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL draft all the way
down the list where a guy from Delaware and a guy from San Diego State
were taken before him? Not a big deal.
That’s the mentality he got from his mother and that mentality got him
selected by the Steelers in the fifth round of the NFL draft in late
April, despite only having a damaged knee at the time.
“It took a long time to get over it,” said Dixon about the passing of
A tattoo of her on his arm and a medallion around his neck sped up the
process of the loss of the woman who had seen nearly every baseball, football
and basketball game her son played through high school. But sports wasn’t the main focus of Dixon’s mother. It was academics. So much so that she concealed her illness from her children for as long as she could, because she feared it would cause them to lose focus on
their school work. At her funeral, Dixon proclaimed to the mourners that he would get his
degree at Oregon. Early.
“My dad had me in numerous sports,” Dixon said. “I played anything. My
mom was the one who stayed on me as far as my grades. One of my goals
was to earn my college degree and to finish early, and I did. I think
she would be proud of me.”
She would be just as proud that her son was able to put a
devastating knee injury -- that might've cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars -- into perspective and move past it.
“It was hard at first, I am not going to lie,” Dixon said. “But my dad
got into my head and compared it to losing my mom. I took that as a big
booster and took it as a minor bump in the road. It is all about how you
react in the end.”
To him, what’s a knee injury especially compared to the other things he
has overcame over the past couple of years?
That benching near the end of his junior and the denouncement of by his
coach for playing baseball in the summer? He responded by being a
finalist for the Heisman Trophy. That ACL injury? He is back to near 100 percent. Falling to the fifth round of the draft?
“This is an opportunity for me,” Dixon said. “I am going to do the best
I can and hopefully that is enough.”
Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert saw enough of
Dixon during a September trip the Ducks made to the ‘Big House’ in Ann
Arbor, Mich., to sell him on the kid.
“He was winning that game by himself,” Colbert said. “It was amazing
what he was doing, deep balls, short balls, running. The first thing
that I thought about was Vince Young. The more you watched him the more
you were impressed.”
Dixon finished his first and only trip into Ann Arbor with a tremendous
stat line: 16-of-25 for 292 yards and 3 touchdowns, including an
85-yarder, to go along with 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground in a
“This kid he is a passer first, he played in a spread offense, but boy
he is a patient guy in the pocket, finds open receivers,” Colbert said.
“He has to work on some short accuracy, more so than deep ball accuracy.
He laid out some beautiful deep balls. Then when things weren’t there he
took off and ran, not only fast but instinctively.”
Dixon added: “I was just happy to be in that game. It was a blast out
there. We gave 110 percent each side of the ball and if I am remembered
for that then that’s fine.
Dixon’s senior season was going even better than he'd imagined, before a game
against Arizona State, where he clutched his knee and limped to the
sidelines near the end of a 35-23 win over the Sun Devils. It was called a knee sprain at the time, but six days later it was
revealed to be a torn ACL. He tried to play the next week against
Arizona, but didn’t make it to halftime as Oregon’s national title hopes
ended with a 34-24 loss.
“I don’t regret anything I did,” Dixon said. “I don’t regret coming back
and trying to play the next week. Things like that happen.”
Dixon had 20 touchdowns and four interceptions and nine more scores on
the ground before being shut down for the year.
Now a new chapter of the Dennis Dixon story is in the works.
“The sky is the limit,” Dixon said. “If I could perform to the best of
my abilities on the field then it is up to the next level for me. I just
try to do the best that I can on the field and everything else will work