Orange Bowl Oklahoma Washington

Oklahoma's Tony Rayburn (35) leaps over fallen teammate Ricky Dixon (29) in pursuit of Washington's Danny Green (80) in the first quarter of the Orange Bowl in Miami, Jan 1, 1985. 

NORMAN — Rickey Dixon, the first Oklahoma defensive back to win the Jim Thorpe Award and 2019 National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame inductee, died Saturday.

He was 53 and had battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, since his July 2013 diagnosis.

"I’m sorry to announce [at 3 p.m.] this afternoon [the] passing of Ricky Dixon," his former coach Barry Switzer tweeted on Saturday. "He died in his home in DeSoto, Texas, with his family around him ... He was one of the greatest players ever [that played for] the Sooners!"

Indeed, Dixon was one of OU's best and arguably the greatest to ever play cornerback at the program.

Dixon was raised in Dallas and starred at Wilmer-Hutchins High School. He signed with OU and played for the Sooners from 1984-87 before a six-year NFL career.

He helped OU capture the program's sixth national championship in 1985 and earned consensus All-America honors in 1987. The Cincinnati Bengals then drafted Dixon with the fifth overall pick in the '88 NFL Draft.

Dixon recorded a then-conference record 17 career interceptions at OU, as well as 170 tackles and 303 interception return yards over his four-year career. OU went 42-5-1 during Dixon's four seasons in Norman.

He still owns the program's single-season record for interceptions with nine in 1987.

Dixon was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, joining Switzer and his teammates Brian Bosworth, Tony Casillas and Keith Jackson. He was honored at halftime of OU's 2019 season opener against Houston for his achievement. He watched the presentation from Switzer's Norman home.

"Ever since he left OU, Rickey has been regarded as one of the finest football players in school history," said OU athletics director Joe Castiglione in a release, "and his enshrinement last year into the College Football Hall of Fame is certainly validation of that."

One of Dixon's finest OU moments, among many, came when No. 2 OU visited No. 1 Nebraska for the "Game of the Century II" in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Dixon recorded a pair of interceptions to help the Sooners beat the Cornhuskers 17-7 and earn an Orange Bowl berth.

Dixon turned to motivational speaking after his football career ended. He primarily spoke with at-risk youth.

Dixon also enjoyed a high school football coaching stint with Red Oak High School in Texas.

"As much as any of his accomplishments on the field, however, he should be remembered for his extreme courage and spirit of perseverance," Castiglione said. "Overcoming the daily physical struggles he faced the last several years is a testament to his determination, to his resolve and to his fighter's mentality, as well as to those closest to him who provided so much loving support. 

"When we think of Rickey we will reminisce about everything he achieved during and after his playing career, and we extend our sincerest condolences to his wife Lorraine, their children and the entire Dixon family."

Joe Buettner is the Norman Transcript's sports editor. You can contact him at 405-366-3580 or Follow him on Twitter, @ByJoeBuettner.

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