Oregon QB won't win the Heisman thanks to a November knee injury
Dec. 4, 2007
By Adam Caparell
Adam is CSTV.com's football editor and national football writer. E-mail here!
NEW YORK - About a month ago, this would not have been, in all likelihood, Dennis Dixon's big appearance in the city.
As it was, the Oregon quarterback was in town to be honored as one of 15 National Scholar-Athlete award winners before the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2007 inductions later on Tuesday evening at the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel. And while receiving such an honor certainly is nothing to scoff at, Dixon had to be wondering what could have been as he watched one Heisman winner, Doug Flutie, joke about how now that he's a Hall of Famer maybe he'll be remembered for more than one play.
But all kidding aside, it was only a month ago that Dixon was seemingly ready to run away from the pack of Heisman Trophy candidates as he put up some superb numbers through Oregon's first eight games in leading the Ducks to an undefeated record and a spot in the top 5. Then during Oregon's biggest game of the season, with No. 6 Arizona State visiting Eugene, everything changed.
Dixon left the game after suffering a left knee injury early in the fourth quarter of Oregon's win that we would later learn was a partially torn ACL. Of course, the Ducks and Dixon didn't let on right away how potentially serious the injury was, keeping it under wraps.
Initially, there was speculation that Dixon might miss some time, but doctors, coach Mike Bellotti and offensive coordinator Chip Kelly left the decision to play up to Dixon. And all assured he was totally fine.
"There wasn't any swelling, my knee felt stable and the doctors gave me the option if I wanted to go out and do it," Dixon said. "I'm a player and I want to play. So I went out there and just tried to play on it and it was just one freak accident."
The freak accident would come less than two weeks later on a Thursday night in Arizona. With the win over the Sun Devils, the Ducks had jumped up to No. 2 in the both the AP poll and BCS standings and were set for a road test with the Wildcats. Dixon was said to be healthy and would start for the Ducks. He would don a knee brace for added protection and some reassurance, but the brace would not prevent him from spending the final 51 minutes of the game watching helplessly on the sidelines as Oregon became the fifth No. 2 team in the nation to lose.
On an option play midway through the first quarter, Dixon planted his left leg, only to have his knee go in the opposite direction. It gave out, he buckled to the ground.
"I hope I didn't do anything severe," Dixon remembered thinking as he lay waiting for the trainers to arrive. "I hope I didn't do anything I hadn't done already and that was the case."
But Dixon, despite walking off the field on his own, was done for the evening and done for the rest of the season, the rest of his college career. The loss of their trigger man sucked the life out of the Ducks, who never looked the same after that one play. Their spiral from the national title picture had officially commenced with roughly six minutes to go in the first quarter and hasn't stopped with two straight losses following the upset to end the season.
We found out that night the answer to the questions many defensive coordinators had failed to figure out. How do you stop Dennis Dixon? You don't. Only Dixon could stop Dixon, because no one before had been able to figure him out. Heading into the Arizona game, Dixon had thrown for a shade under 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 500-plus yards and nine scores. He was the best dual threat quarterback in the country west of the Mississippi and was quickly becoming the hot Heisman favorite.
"I was playing for my teammates. The Heisman was out there, but there's nothing I can control about it," Dixon said.
Dixon will assure you he has no regret that his senior season ended like it did - he's just happy that his season was taken away by him rather than some by linebacker or defensive end. But it killed him to watch on the sidelines the following Saturdays as his teammates were shutout for the first time in 22 years against UCLA and lost to hated OregonState in the Civil War.
"Seeing that you're a senior you want to play all the games," Dixon said. "I'm truly blessed with the opportunities that came upon me during my senior season and I wouldn't regret anything at all."
But what does the future hold for Dixon? It's the question everyone wants to know when they see him.
Doctors have initially given him a 2-3 month recovery window. He elected to have the surgery and begin rehab right away, and as of right now he's able to walk around without any crutches, go up and down stairs just fine so the plans are for him to be ready to go for Oregon's pro day in late March. He won't be ready for the NFL Combine, but he'll be there in Indianapolis for the gauntlet of evaluations and interviews.
And if football doesn't work out, there's always baseball to fall back on. Dixon spent the summer playing in the Atlanta Braves farm system and if he proved he was healthy he would undoubtedly get a shot with some team somewhere. Baseball will always be a part of his life and there's still a part of him that gets tugged toward the game his father would have preferred he play.
"It's hard for me to choose one right now," Dixon said.
But for the time being, he's focused on football. Dixon's going to rehab the knee, see where he lands in the draft and take it from there. The Heisman's gone, and so is the national championship, but he's still able to smile and laugh when you could otherwise easily forgive him if he just wanted to mope around.