The big news from the first day of OTAs on Tuesday was Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee suffering a knee injury, believed to be a torn ACL, which will likely cost him his season. OTAs are non-contact, so Cowboy fans and football pundits took to Twitter to voice their shock about Lee's luck.
Later Tuesday evening another player suffered a similar fate and quietly released a statement.
I tore my ACL today for the 3rd time today! I'm disappointed that I won't be playing for a bears team that has the players and coaches to WIN the Super Bowl. I thank God for letting me live my dream of playing in the NFL for 8 years plus. It has truly been FUN! #blessed #lovethisgame
That player was Domenik Hixon, someone who could make Lee's injury history look almost nonexistent. Hixon, unimaginably, tore his ACL for the third time in five years, and although he didn't officially declare his retirement, his ominous words above lead you to believe this is something he won't be coming back from.
As a New York Giants fan it was easy to root for Hixon. He was a special teamer who worked hard, but it always felt like he had the talent to do so much more. He went to Akron, a MAC school, and made Charlie Frye look like a serviceable quarterback, catching 141 passes for 14 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards in his final two seasons with the Zips.
The Denver Broncos thought enough of Hixon to spend a fourth-round pick on him in 2006, but his time in the Mile High City was short. He didn't appear in game for them that season, but when he debuted in 2007, he found out just how scary football can be in regards to injuries, although this time Hixon was on the other end of things.
While returning a kickoff against Buffalo in the opening game, he was tackled by Bills tight end Kevin Everett, who suffered a spinal cord injury that nearly left him paralyzed and ultimately cost him his career. Hixon was distraught over the role he played in the incident and suited up only three more times for the Broncos before being cut.
The Giants wasted little time scooping him up and he began to regain his confidence on the field. He caught only a single pass in '07, but had a key play in the NFC title game against the Green Bay Packers, which propelled New York to the Super Bowl. On a Giants punt return late in the fourth quarter, R.W. McQuarters fumbled the football, but Hixon recovered, preventing the Packers from setting up in good field position to drive down for the winning score. New York would go on to win in overtime.
Hixon became a regular contributor for the Giants over the next two campaigns, and then his fortunes turned. He suffered a torn ACL in June 2010, costing him the entire season. As he fought back from injury it looked like Hixon was going to get a real shot in 2011 as the Giants' slot receiver. Two games into the season things were going well, until Hixon again tore his ACL, on of all things, a remarkable touchdown catch.
His season was over again, and some guy named Victor Cruz took his spot in the slot and helped the Giants to another Super Bowl, as Hixon looked on helplessly. Cruz took advantage of his opportunity, while Hixon once again tumbled down the depth chart after clawing his way near the top.
Hixon fought back again and made 39 catches for the Giants in 2012 before heading to the Carolina Panthers in free agency. In December 2013 he caught the game-winning touchdown against the Saints, clinching the NFC South title and giving the Panthers their first playoff berth in five years.
Now with the Chicago Bears, Hixon ponders an uncertain future with his third ACL tear on another seemingly innocent play in the spring. A big part of me wants him to overcome and return to the field, but another part, probably the rational one, feels like maybe he should call it quits in order to ensure no more devastating disappointments.
It's fun to watch guys like John Elway, Jerome Bettis, and Michael Strahan ride off into the sunset with a Lombardi Trophy, but the harsh reality is those storybook endings are few and far between. For many players the end of their playing days means riding off on a cart instead.
Football isn't always fair, but it's been downright cruel to Domenik Hixon.
Feature photo courtesy of US Presswire/Andrew Weber