GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In the spring of 1987, I was a general assignment reporter at The Tampa Tribune when my boss called me into his office to give me a story.
Go to Daytona this weekend, he said, and do a feature story on some crazy indoor football league that is starting up this year with a six-game jamboree at the Ocean Center.
The Arena Football League was born. In the years to come, it definitely found its niche audience, and this year is celebrating its 25th birthday. As part of the season-long Silver Anniversary party, the AFL is counting down the “25 Greatest Players in AFL History” and the most recent to be honored is former Gators wide receiver Dwayne Dixon, who checked in at No. 15.
Worth noting: No. 16 was quarterback from the Iowa Barnstormers name Kurt Warner.
Dixon, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference wideout at Florida in 1983 and UF Hall of Fame inductee in 1987, only played five AFL seasons – and caught just 188 passes – but for that short time in the league Dixon was a dominant force on both sides of the ball, helping lead the Detroit Drive to three championships.
Worth noting, Part 2: His last two seasons came while doubling as UF’s wide receivers coach under Steve Spurrier.
As a rookie in 1987, Dixon caught 20 passes in a 64-60 loss to the Chicago Bruisers, a single-game record that still stands a quarter-century later. He led the league with 79 receptions for 1,007 and 20 touchdowns in ’88. In the Arena Bowl title game that year, Dixon caught five balls for 63 yards, recovered a fumble, defended a pass and made two tackles to earn “Ironman of the Game” honors, as the Drive beat Chicago 24-13.
Dixon was a member of UF’s coaching staff during all 12 of Spurrier’s seasons, coaching a handful of All-Americans, including Jack Jackson, Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green, to name a few, and route to winning six SEC championships in that time. Dixon went to coach wideouts for two seasons at North Carolina State, and currently is receivers coach at Ohio University.