The Heisman was gone. So was the national title. Dixon would not play another down for Oregon; the Ducks lost to Arizona and then dropped their final two regular-season games. Dennis's father rushed from the stands to the field, and when he got there, his son's first words were, "I don't regret a thing." As Terrell helped Dixon off the field, he asked her, "Did you see my touchdown?" Then: "When do we start rehab?"
IT STARTED that night. Dixon's mother, Jueretta, had died of breast cancer the summer after his senior year at San Leandro (Calif.) High, and Dennis's father didn't know if his son would be able to get on a plane for Eugene. Sitting in an otherwise silent visitors' locker room at Arizona, he reminded Dennis, "This can't be worse than losing your mom." With that, Dixon walked back onto the field and put on a headset, Oregon's new assistant quarterbacks coach.
Because he wanted to travel with the team, Dixon didn't have surgery until Dec. 15. Two days later he was walking without crutches. After five days he was riding a bike. In two weeks he was throwing, and a month after that, he was running. Day after day, as Dixon lay on a massage table in the training center, Terrell tested the knee's range of motion and Dixon watched the myriad televisions tuned to ESPN. The draftniks didn't mention him as they talked about other quarterbacks—Matt Ryan, Brian Brohm, Chad Henne—whom he had outplayed for 2 1/2 months.
Agent pitches to potential draftees are often superficial, all about dropping names and promises. Jeff Sperbeck of Octagon went to Dixon in early January with a concrete proposal. He wanted to turn Dixon's dormant Heisman website into a platform to broadcast his rehab. The site would rebuild Dixon's image as trainers rebuilt his knee. He wouldn't be ready to work out in February at the NFL combine or in March on Oregon's pro day, but the Internet could help persuade skeptical NFL general managers that Dixon was still worth drafting.
The plan appealed to Dixon's taste for transparency. "Besides," he says, "I don't mind the spotlight." Oregon, with its sophisticated approach to marketing and technology, offered the perfect backdrop. Terrell would explain Dixon's regimen. Offensive coordinator Chip Kelly would put him through drills and film study. Fisher would record his progress and edit, with Sperbeck's help. Kyle Wiest, an assistant in the football office, would update the site. Says Fisher, "Nobody had done anything like it."
Dixon, who graduated last June with a sociology degree and a 3.27 GPA, has full access to the training center. When he arrives daily at 9 a.m., Harris has a creatine shake waiting for him. When he leaves, as late as 5 p.m., Harris has another shake ready—chocolate milk with glutamine and whey protein. "We would do this for any of our former players," says director of football operations Jeff Hawkins. "But Dennis is special. We owe it to him."
Before the website's launch in mid-February, Sperbeck e-mailed the link to more than 100 NFL general managers, personnel directors and coaches. Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp shot back a reply: "I wish everyone had this." Nevertheless, when Dixon attended the combine later that month to participate in interviews, some G.M.'s were surprised that he wasn't on crutches and weren't aware he had begun throwing. "Look at my site," Dixon pleaded. "Just look at it."
When Fisher started filming workouts in mid-February, Dixon could barely drop back. By mid-March he was shuffling from side to side in the pocket, lofting 60-yard fly patterns to former Ducks teammates Jordan Kent (now with the Seahawks) and Cameron Colvin and firing 15-yard slants to roommate Leon Murry. After one of Dixon's passes hit Murry in the ribs, the receiver collapsed in a heap, gasping, "My lungs!"
Dixon played outfield in the Atlanta Braves system last summer and was a finalist last fall for the Draddy Trophy, given to the top scholar in college football. In other words, he has options outside of football. But no QB in this draft has longer arms (36.25 inches) or bigger hands (9.75-inch span) or a faster 40 time (4.49 seconds last year at Oregon). When Dixon was a junior, Bellotti told him he was a better prospect than Vince Young. And that was before Dixon completed 67.7% of his passes in 2007, with 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's draft expert, believes Dixon is a better passer than Young but not as explosive a runner. He projects Dixon as a fourth-round pick. Asked where Dixon would have been drafted if he hadn't been injured, Mayock said, "Who knows?"
LAST THURSDAY, when Dixon walked to the 50-yard line at Oregon's indoor practice facility, 10 NFL scouts stood in a line, beneath a banner that read blitz this. They had come to witness the rebirth of Dennis Dixon.