The legend of Ron Dixon — who will be next Giants-Eagles hero?
There is a cinematic flair to Ron Dixon’s story. He tells it well enough that you’re surprised Hollywood hasn’t told it first.
In the late 1990s, too much of Dixon’s time was spent at a gas station near his Wildwood, Fla., home. He already had flunked out of several colleges, never feeling the need to go to class. Traditional education was not for him, he had decided: He wasn’t getting anything out of the class, so why go?
He knew he was talented. Some of the players he had shared a football field with — longtime NFL running back Duce Staley and nose tackle Jason Ferguson were Itawamba (Miss.) Community College teammates — were going places, and he could run with any of them. But without a college platform, no one could see the ability that was being wasted in a gas-station bathroom.
That’s where Dixon worked in 1998, a maintenance gig that could pay some bills about two years after he last stepped on a college football field. The way he remembers it, on this day he was behind the cash register, but his manager told him the bathroom needed to be cleaned. He grabbed the cleaning supplies and walked into the grimiest scene he could imagine.
“I opened the stall and — excuse my language — some sucker s–tted all over the stall. Not the toilet — the stall. How’d he do that?” Dixon said over the phone on Wednesday. “I thought, ‘If I’m cleaning this up, I’ll be cleaning this s–t up for the rest of my life.’ I’m out of here.”
He left the mess, left the job, left one life and soon entered another — and then another. Two years later, Dixon became one of the unlikeliest Giants cult heroes, a playoff record-holder whose fame exploded in a Divisional round playoff battle against the Eagles — the same Eagles the Giants will try to take down Saturday night. These are the matchups, when millions upon millions are watching, that elevate a nobody into a somebody, that transform stories into legends.
The last time the Giants beat the Eagles in the playoffs, Dixon etched his way into Giants fans’ memories. He took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, kick-starting a ride that would end in the Super Bowl (in which he also returned a kickoff to the house, still the owner of the NFL record for kickoff returns for a touchdown in a single postseason).
“I did all that s–t,” Dixon said from Winter Garden, Fla., “because somebody s–tted all over a stall.”
Dixon was and is a character, declining to reveal much about his life over the past two decades and what he has been up to.
“What I’m doing,” he said, “is going to make you forget that I played football.” He did mention a book — “From the Toilet Bowl to the Super Bowl” — is in the works. He has been a public speaker and works with World Sports Alumni, an organization that says it connects “all athletes from all sports together under one umbrella.”
Few have been less likely to crack the NFL, and few have enjoyed a more fascinating three-season NFL career. After leaving the gas station, Dixon said he returned home to find his mother on the phone with tiny Lambuth University, an NAIA (Division II) school in Tennessee. He had no more NCAA eligibility, so he agreed to suit up for a team that he says only played during the day because its field had no lights.
One season with 89 catches and 19 touchdowns later, the same central Florida kid who could not bring himself to scrub one more stall was a third-round pick of the Giants in 2000, sharing a draft class with Ron Dayne.
For Dixon, football classrooms presented the same problem as college classrooms. He didn’t and doesn’t love football, and says he does not watch the game. He missed meetings, had a problem waking up on time and could get on the wrong side of Jim Fassel.
But he had a tremendous ability to run and a confidence that matched his talent. He became a lightly used deep threat as a receiver, but established himself as the Giants’ kick returner, a role in which his speed could change games. Once the playoffs began after the 2000 season, it changed a game and his legacy.
“I walked out, and I just remember the energy, the excitement,” Dixon said about the Jan. 7, 2001, playoff opener at Giants Stadium, where white towels waved everywhere you looked. “Seemed like you could just squeeze the juice out of the air.”
Where others might have butterflies, Dixon found belief. He remembers turning prophetic to a few teammates in the locker room.
“Listen, guys,” he told them, “This kickoff, I’m taking it straight back to the house. I don’t need a kill shot. I don’t need anybody to be put on their ass. Just stand in front of them. As soon as you blink your eye, I’ll be gone.”
Which, Giants fans can tell you, is exactly what happened. If Dixon, who sliced through the middle of the field before breaking down the right sideline, was touched, it was by desperate kicker David Akers, who had no chance to bring down the blazing rookie. The Giants opened the game with a touchdown, rolled to a 20-10 win and destroyed the Vikings the following week. Their luck ran out against the Ravens in the Super Bowl, but Dixon’s didn’t. Playing at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium — about 70 miles from the Wildwood gas station that he could stand for only so long — Dixon accounted for their only touchdown, on a 97-yard kick return, in the 34-7 loss.
Dixon’s sophomore NFL season was sidetracked by an emergency appendectomy during minicamp. He says he had undergone a pair of knee surgeries before even reaching the pros, and he was both breaking down and looking around. He enjoyed the New York nightlife. He eyed Los Angeles for Hollywood opportunities. He could not make himself fall in love with football. He tore the PCL in his left knee and did not play a game after 2002.
The now 46-year-old has bounced around after football, searching for a passion that he could not find within the game.
“I was looking for something, like we all are,” Dixon said. “I’m always looking for something, and it wasn’t in class. And I’ve never been a football player. I was just good at football.”
Who will be the next Dixon? Maybe we’ll find out Saturday. He has advice for any little-known Giants about to take a stage he remembers well.
“Be ready to make a play,” Dixon said. “Know what you’re supposed to do. Be where you’re supposed to be. Be 100 miles per hour. Stay ready and stay excited.”
Today’s back page
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🎾 Jenson Brooksby becomes second American to pull off major upset at Australian Open
Mets keep slapping their roster together
The Mets have a new possible fantasy football commissioner.
Steve Cohen’s club landed Tommy Pham — who infamously slapped Giants outfielder Joc Pederson last season over a fantasy football dispute — on Wednesday, when the Mets put some finishing touches on what looks like a solid offseason.
Pham, a righty who hits lefties well, likely will spell the end for the 36-year-old Darin Ruf, who never hit following his acquisition at the trade deadline last season. Pham can get DH at-bats against lefties (when Daniel Vogelbach will sit) or spell Mark Canha, Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte in the outfield. The 34-year-old is not an All-Star, but he is a solid major league player who fills a need.
In mid-January, it does not look as if the Mets have many more needs. They probably could use another lefty reliever, but there is not a lot of urgency with such a small vacancy.
Among their position-player group, the weaknesses project to be at third base, where Carlos Correa would have replaced Eduardo Escobar, and catcher, where Tomas Nido will be back and Omar Narváez will replace James McCann.
It is probably not a coincidence, though, that two of the Mets’ top prospects play these positions. The Mets won’t have a third base problem if Brett Baty emerges and outplays Escobar. The Mets wouldn’t have a catcher problem if Francisco Alvarez proves he is ready.
The team looks just about complete — as long as everyone familiarizes himself with the rules of the Mets’ fantasy football league.
Nets, Harden’s Sixers have unfinished business
A plea to the NBA: Please find a way to match up the Nets and 76ers in the first round of the postseason.
The Nets have tried to avoid taking off-court shots, but a few have been flung toward James Harden since last season’s deadline trade. In the immediate aftermath, Bruce Brown (now with the Nuggets) proclaimed, “Everybody likes everybody” after the Nets dumped Harden, who wanted out.
On Tuesday night, Nic Claxton called the environment around the team last season “toxic” because “we didn’t know if everybody wanted to be here at the time.” He didn’t need to say Harden’s name. We know who he’s talking about.
Imagine how fun it would be to see Kevin Durant, upon returning to health, Kyrie Irving and the Nets against Harden, Joel Embiid and the 76ers.
If the season ended today, the No. 4 seed Nets (27-16) would take on the No. 5 Cavaliers (28-18), pitting Irving against his former Cleveland club and Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert against Brooklyn. The No. 3 76ers (28-16) would face off against the No. 6 Heat (25-21). Meh.
But only 1.5 games separate the No. 2 Bucks (29-16) from the fifth-place Cavaliers. Here’s hoping the jumble finishes with Harden and Durant staring each other down.
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