In one painful move, Dixon's season goes from magic to tragic.
TUCSON, Ariz. - Where were you when it ended? When a national title shot, and a Heisman campaign, too, crumpled with Dennis Dixon to the turf?
Dennis Dixon Sr. was on the first row of the old stadium, about the 10-yard line.
He was wearing his son's No. 10, and watching his son's Heisman moment unfold. And at 7:26 p.m. Mountain time, he saw his son's knee buckle, again.
"It just stuck in the turf," Dennis Jr. would tell his dad a few moments later.
More than six minutes remained in the first quarter. Oregon led 8-7. But the Ducks were done. Dixon's left knee was unstable, Mike Bellotti said. Further tests are needed, but it doesn't look good, not at all.
"I feel bad for Dennis, because this year was one of those magical years," Bellotti said. "And it looks like it might be at an end."
And also: "Playing for the national championship was fun while it lasted."
Everyone understood these two things were inextricably linked.
Before the game, Arizona coach Mike Stoops was standing on the sidelines, talking about how hard it is to build a program. "There's just so many moving parts," he said. "People just don't understand."
Shifting gears, he talked about how good Oregon was, how all the moving parts of Chip Kelly's offense were so tough to defend. And how the biggest difference between the Ducks this year and last was: "No question, Dennis Dixon."
A few minutes later and a few yards away, an Arizona assistant was saying that ever since Dixon twisted that knee against Arizona State, they'd been wondering if Dixon was hurt more than the Ducks were letting on.
The answer came on Oregon's first possession, on fourth-and-three, when Dixon executed one of those spectacular fakes. The crowd went nuts when a defensive end tackled Jonathan Stewart, who did not have the ball. Dixon scooted 39 yards untouched for a touchdown.
He did not look injured, not at all.
Next time up, Dixon led the Ducks downfield again. And after a sure touchdown pass popped off Derrick Jones' pads and right to a Wildcat, who raced to midfield and set up a touchdown, Dixon moved the Ducks right back down the field.
He was unfazed. He was in control. And you could see Oregon was going to win this one going away. The Heisman? The national title? Well, sure. They were sitting out there for Dixon and the Ducks.
But then Dixon looked to pass, was pressured, tried to escape - and melted to the ground, holding his left knee.
Even as this season edged toward special, it always verged on snakebit. Brian Paysinger, and Jeremiah Johnson, and A.J. Tuitele, and Cameron Colvin, and John Bacon. Each time, the Ducks plugged in new guys and kept on playing. Kept on winning.
Thursday night in the desert, the biggest bite was too much. When Oregon's most important part stopped moving, the Ducks did, too.
When his son went down, Dennis Dixon Sr. got up from his seat on the front row and made his way to the sidelines. Twelve days earlier, he had made the same trip and gotten the same word from his son: I'm OK.
And after the game, Dennis Jr. was still holding out hope, saying he thought he might have just aggravated the sprain, and he'd try to play next week.
"It's all about rehabbing," he said. "That's all it is."
Except, that's almost certainly not all it is. As Dixon stood on the sideline, fighting back tears, his father leaned close, hugged him, talked quietly to him.
"He was upset," Dennis Sr. said late in the first half, as he followed his son toward the locker room. "Yeah. Yeah. He was very upset."
Dennis Sr. took a couple more steps, and sighed: "Oh, man."
Dennis Jr. came back out for the second half wearing black warm-ups with a matching black-and-yellow ski cap - ear flaps turned jauntily up to reveal gleaming earrings. He worked the sidelines, smiling and clapping and encouraging his teammates, and whispering words of instruction to backup Brady Leaf.
But Dixon wasn't the only injured Duck. Aaron Pflugrad spent the second half with his left leg in a boot. More important, after injuring his left ankle in the third quarter, Leaf was only slightly more mobile than Dixon. At one point, redshirt freshman Justin Roper was warming up, and an Arizona fan yelled, "We're running out of stretchers!"
Anyway, Leaf hobbled and hopped and struggled just to hand off the ball and to complete short passes. And although the Ducks somehow rallied from a 31-11 deficit to within a touchdown, the spare parts didn't move well enough.
In the final seconds, as Dixon waited to do an interview with ESPN, Dennis Sr. pulled him close one more time.
"You don't have to do this thing if you don't want to," father told son. "You don't need to."
Dixon gently shrugged him off. Answered the questions. And then walked gingerly away.
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|Title Annotation:||Sports Columnist|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 16, 2007|
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