Barry Switzer’s voice cracked with emotion when telling the story.
When visiting former Oklahoma great Rickey Dixon a few weeks ago in DeSoto, Texas, Switzer held a big secret. Dixon was going to be a 2019 College Football Hall of Fame inductee.
“I felt like Santa Claus. But I couldn’t tell him,” Switzer said while pausing for tears Monday morning. “I was so happy when I was there. When I left, I grabbed him and hugged him and said good things will happen this year.”
One day later, a special delivery was made to Dixon’s house — a box from the National Football Foundation.
“Someone sent a football here. It said ‘College Football Hall of Fame’ on it. We were like, ‘What?’” said Lorraine Dixon, Rickey’s wife, on Monday. “He had a big smile on his face. Rickey is always very humble. He had a big smile on his face. I don’t think he really realized it, though, until today.”
The news was made public Monday. Dixon is among 13 players who will be enshrined during the 62nd NFF Awards Dinner Dec. 10 in New York City.
Dixon was diagnosed with ALS in 2013. The tragic disease may have deteriorated his body but not his spirit.
“He’s doing great. He’s in great spirits. He keeps smiling every day. He truly is a super hero in our book,” Lorraine Dixon said.
As news spread across the Oklahoma football fraternity, there was joy everywhere.
Keith Jackson, who played with Dixon at OU and is a 2001 Hall of Fame inductee, was excited for his teammate.
“You look at where Rickey is in his life and you start saying to yourself you have to have something to look forward to,” Jackson said. “When you are sitting there every day and your body is just giving up on you, you have to have special moments. When you talk about college athletics, this is one of the No. 1 special moments that you can have after you retire.
“I feel better for the fact that he knows that he is going to be listed among the greats in college football and played his life as an example to other kids that you can come out of a small high school and be an undersized player and still be a Hall of Famer.”
Rickey Dixon can’t speak and has to use a trach and feeding tube. But was he able to communicate to his wife how much this honor means?
“He did. He had tears in his eyes. He just loves the University of Oklahoma,” Lorraine Dixon said. “I don’t believe he will get to go to New York in December because of his condition. But maybe we can get his teammates to meet in Dallas and we can do a day trip to OU or something.
“But yeah, I think it’s very meaningful. Not only for him, I think, but my children. For those kids this is really big because they never knew the football side of my husband. We have the trophies and memorabilia, but we never really spoke about how good a player he was.”
Dixon is the fifth member of the 1985 national championship program to be a Hall of Fame member. The former defensive back joins Switzer (2001 induction), Jackson (2001), Tony Casillas (2004) and Brian Bosworth (2015).
“With everything he’s gone through in his life the last five or six years, he hasn’t changed,” Casillas said. “He may not be able to speak and tell you how he feels, but the last time I saw him he had that big smile on his face. It’s almost like a deviant smile that says “I got you back, big fella.’
“I couldn’t be happier or (more) touched by this selection. It’s emotional to think about everything he’s gone through. He still finds a way to get excited. You talk OU football and his face lights up.”
Dixon played at OU between 1984-87. He was a 1987 consensus All-American and is OU’s first full-time defensive back in the Hall of Fame. His 17 career interceptions are one shy of the school record. He owns the single-season mark with nine during that 1987 campaign.
“I don’t think Rickey thinks (the Hall of Fame induction validates his career),” Lorraine Dixon said. “For Rickey, just the opportunity to play beyond high school was big. No one recruited him except OU. Coach Switzer took the risk of bringing him in.
“For Rickey I think he just loved playing the game. I don’t think he had a goal of being the best player in the game or anything like that. I think he saw it as an opportunity to advance himself and he just loved the game. The fact that he got this recognition is very humbling. It’s icing on the cake.”
Added Switzer: “No one offered him, not a school in the Southwest Conference other than Houston that recruited him. Gary Gibbs looked at film and Gary knew immediately that this guy is a player, but he’s not big.”
Switzer said Dixon gained size and earned a starting spot for the Sooners as a freshman.
The former OU coached laughed while telling a story about a Dixon interception.
The Sooners played at Pittsburgh in 1984 and secondary coach Bobby Proctor told Switzer he was going to put Dixon in the game during a third-and-long situation. The true freshman picked off quarterback John Congemi and returned the pass 41 yards for a touchdown.
“Rickey holds the ball back to the quarterback and was high-stepping it down the sideline,” Switzer said with a chuckle before throwing in a reference to Dixon’s Wilmer-Hutchins High School.
“Well, I’m running down the sideline with him. Not as fast as he was, but when he got to the end zone, I got ahold of him and grabbed him. He thought I was going to hug him. I ate his Wilmer-Hutchins ass out. He was shocked.”
Jackson and Dixon were roommates during their senior season and prepared for the 1988 NFL Draft, where both were first-round picks.
“You’ll hear great stories about the football field, but the true fact is that Rickey had to work hard academically just to stay eligible,” Jackson said. “He was a kid who struggled, but he worked harder than most people would know behind the scenes. He would meet with tutors to make sure he was ready for tests.
“I told him one time how proud I was of him. He just said he wanted to move his mother out of a situation that she’s in and into a better situation. That was his motivation ... the off-the-field stuff is more spectacular to me.”
Dixon would go on to become the Sooners’ first winner of the Jim Thorpe award, presented to the nation’s top defensive back.
Dixon was a first-round NFL pick and played for six seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Raiders.
Dixon’s last visit to Norman was on Oct. 3, 2015 when the 1985 national championship team was recognized during halftime of an OU-West Virginia game.