Can Dennis Dixon join a list of players who found the right situation to display their talents?
ABOVE PHOTO: Dennis Dixon
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that successful athletes not only have the raw ability and the determination to work at bettering themselves in their sport, being in the right place at the right time or having the right people around you—i.e. teammates or coaches-is also a determining factor.
Covering the Eagles organized team activities for the last couple of weeks, the one player that I see that could be an interesting case of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph is Dennis Dixon, who is competing for the Eagles starting quarterback spot.
So far, he is the one quarterback in Eagles camp that seems to have a firm grasp of head coach Chip Kelly’s. After playing in both Pittsburgh and Baltimore as a backup, Dixon is hoping that he can take that experience in addition to what he learned playing for Kelly at Oregon and be the Eagles starting quarterback in 2013.
“I thought that one thing I’ve learned is leadership and you got to make sure that the other 10 guys are all ready to go,” Dixon said after practice on Monday. “At the end of the day, you got to be able to know your plays.”
Dixon is one of those interesting studies in what if /what would? What if his circumstances were different? During his senior year in 2007 with the Ducks, there was a strong possibility that Dixon would win the Heisman Trophy and be high draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
In the last 10 games of his collegiate career, Dixon had thrown 20 touchdown passes and threw for 2,136 yards before the injury to his anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee ended his season. His Heisman hopes died and his draft stock plummeted dramatically.
Pittsburgh drafted Dixon in the fifth round to be a backup to Ben Rothlisberger. Oddly enough, Dixon actually started three games during his tenure with the Steelers and had a 2-1 record.
He left Pittsburgh after the 2011 season and served as a scout team quarterback as a member of the Baltimore Ravens taxi squad.
I think Dixon’s chances are as good as anyone else’s of being the Eagles starting QB considering he knows the offense better than any of the quarterbacks competing for the job. That certainly bodes well for him.
Maybe this is the point where Dixon’s takes off. To be honest, I don’t know if he’s going to win that job or not. But if he does and he performs well, it will be another story of a guy finding the right situation to elevate his career.
The beauty of sports is when players can find the right venue to display their talents. Of course, there are plenty of instances where talented guys have found themselves in the right situation after being cast aside in another circumstance.
Perhaps the best example of this was the story of one John Constantine, or as many of us know him, Johnny Unitas.
Did you know that Johnny U was a Steeler at one time?
When Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955, he was the fourth quarterback on a team that only wanted to keep three. Despite having one of the strongest arms in the Steelers camp that year, Pittsburgh head coach Walt Kiesling thought Unitas was not smart enough to be an NFL quarterback and didn’t allow him to take a snap in a game.
When the Baltimore Colts called Unitas in for tryout in 1956, he was living in Pittsburgh and working as a construction worker while playing semi-pro football for the Bloomfield Rams at $6 a game.
Of course, you know the rest of the story, Unitas, who called his own plays, became the quarterback who elevated the two-minute drill into an art-form, re-wrote the NFL passing records and led the Colts to two NFL Championships and one Super Bowl title.
By the simple act of changing uniforms, Johnny U went from being a nobody to being one of the most celebrated quarterbacks in NFL history.
Eagles fans know the story of Randall Cunningham, who had a human highlight reel of a career with the Birds. Unfortunately, he didn’t win enough playoff games-one to be exact-and was maligned for being just a running quarterback.
During Cunningham’s time in Philadelphia, he never had a good offensive line, a running game, or a good offensive coordinator. Cunningham was ultimately let go a year into then Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes regime.
After a one-year retirement, Cunningham was back up quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings in 1997 and came off the bench to lead the Vikings to a comeback win over the New York Giants in the NFC Wildcard game.
In 1998, Cunningham became the starter of the Vikings after Brad Johnson went down with an injury. Working with offensive coordinator Brian Billick and armed with receivers like Cris Carter and Randy Moss, he threw 34 touchdowns and passed for 3,704 yards while completing 60 percent of his passes.
It was the best statistical year of his career. You have to wonder what would have happened if Cunningham had good offensive assistant coaches like Billick who could have really tutored him in perfecting his passing skills earlier in his career.
Equally as important, if Cunningham in his Eagles days would have had a running back like Robert Smith, a more mature Carter (who played with Cunningham in Philadelphia earlier in his career) and a superstar like Moss playing wide receiver, I think could have been an even better quarterback for the Birds.
For the first three years of O.J Simpson’s career in Buffalo, he was considered a bust with a propensity to fumble and could not catch a pass out of the backfield. It looked as if he was going to become another Heisman Trophy winner who couldn’t make it in the pros.
In 1972, the Bills brought in Lou Saban to coach the team. Thanks to a couple of offensive linemen, Saban built Buffalo’s offense around Simpson. He was arguably the best running back in the NFL from 1972 to 1976.
Simpson became the first running back in NFL history to gain over 2,000 yards in one season. Saban recognized Simpson’s talent as a ball carrier and transformed him from a guy who was going nowhere fast to a player who ran his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In the middle of the 1964 season, the Chicago Cubs were unhappy with rightfielder Lou Brock, who had trouble fielding his position (especially in Wrigley Field) and wasn’t the home run hitter the team had projected him to be.
So the Cubs traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio, who had 18 wins the previous season. At the time, people covering baseball felt that the Cubs got the best of the deal.
When Brock arrived in St. Louis, Cards manager Johnny Keane moved Brock to left field and told him to focus on using his speed instead of trying to knock the ball out of the park. Brock took Keane’s advice and was the catalyst to the Cardinals run to the 1964 World Series.
Needless to say, Brock finished his career as the all-time leader in stolen bases. He has also had over 3,000 hits with a career batting average of .293. Meanwhile, Broglio won just seven more games for the Cubs before retiring in 1966.
Brock has a statue and plaque highlighting his accomplishments in Cooperstown. One team’s bust becomes another team’s success story.
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