Twin brothers Brian and Brandon Dixon have always been super-competitive with each other, from who’s faster to who’s better at “Madden 15.”
But last Saturday, Brian wasn’t rubbing it in that he’d bested his older (by seven minutes) brother at something they’d both dreamed of since Pop Warner ball in Coconut Creek, Florida — making it to the NFL. Especially since Brian had beaten out a future Hall of Famer do so.
Brian, a undrafted free agent cornerback from Division II Northwest Missouri State, had beaten the odds to make the Saints 53-man roster while Brandon, also a cornerback out of the same school, and the sixth-round draft pick of the New York Jets had been cut, although he would by signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad the next day.
“He called me, and as good as I felt, I hated it for my twin,” Brian Dixon said Wednesday as the Saints began game week preparations for Atlanta. “I told him that when one door closed, another one opened, and it did at Tampa Bay.”
While Brandon was drafted and Brian wasn’t, a likely a high ankle sprain that kept Brian out of the combine contributed to that.
Still, Saints secondary coach Wes McGriff saw enough of Brian on his pro day to recommend signing him soon after the draft ended.
“When you think you’re going to be drafted and you’re not, you’re disappointed,” Brian said. “But I’ve got to be happy with the way it’s worked out.”
And regardless of how it does ultimately turn out for the Dixon brothers, just getting to the NFL was an accomplishment considering they didn’t play anywhere the year after they graduated from high school, started out together at Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College, spent two years at Joliet (Illinois) Junior College, and made unsuccessful efforts transfer — Brandon to West Virginia, Brian to Kansas State — only to come up short academically before winding up at Northwest Missouri, a D-II powerhouse that went 15-0 last year in wining its fourth national title in the past eight years.
“We spent that first year out of high school cutting grass with our dad, and I knew I didn’t want to do that,” Brian said. “After all the places we’ve been since then, it still feels unreal.”
The Saints have a history of giving UDAs a fighting chance in the Sean Payton era. The team’s current roster includes 20 players who weren’t drafted — including linebacker Junior Galette, whose locker is only a few feet away from Dixon’s. On Wednesday, Galette was celebrating signing a four-year, $41.5 million contact extension.
But this season, only two made the cut — linebacker Kasim Edebali and Dixon.
“That’s great for Junior,” Dixon said. “I’m looking forward to my first paycheck.”
Dixon ostensibly by edged out 12-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey for the final spot in the secondary. At least that was the opinion of some of those who jammed Dixon’s Twitter account with some unkind opinions of his worthiness to be on the team while Bailey is unemployed.
“I hated it for Champ,” Dixon said. “He was there to help me and the other guys out with our technique and a lot of other little things.
“He’s a great family guy and very humble, even thought he’s one of the greatest DBs ever to play the game. That’s why I didn’t respond back to anybody because people are going to say what they’re going to say.”
What Dixon could have said — but didn’t — was that, apart from salary cap considerations, Dixon made the team because of his contributions on special teams.
“He’s blessed with really good speed, and he went 100 miles an hour all the time,” safety Jairus Byrd said. “As a gunner or just going downfield, the ball could be kicked this way and he could fall, reverse field and go 100 miles an hour back the other way.
“He was just running all the time.”
Echoed Saints coach Sean Payton: “He (Dixon) stood out to us in the kicking game.
“He was just one of those guys that each week you kind of paid attention to. He has a lot of work to do, coming from the level of competition he played at, but we saw him do things in the kicking game and at corner which were encouraging.”
Concentrating on special teams was the advice the Dixon brothers got from Northwest Missouri defensive backs coach Ken Gordon.
“I’ve seen guys go to camps and think it’s all about what they do on defense,” Gordon said. “But when you’re a free agent, your best chance is to show what you can do on special teams. Brian understood that. That’s a credit to him.”
Things did not go as smoothly for Brandon. He was burned a couple of times in the Jets’ third exhibition game against the New York Giants and when he was cut turned down an opportunity to stay on the practice squad there for one closer to home at Tampa Bay.
“He’s really likes it a lot better there,” Brian said. “By the time we play them (Oct. 5), he’ll be on the main team because he’s that good.”
And if he’s not?
“Brandon never said anything to me about him being drafted and me not,” Brian said. “I’d never do that to him about this. He’s my twin.”