Commentary

Giants' Hixon recovers from fateful collision

Updated: January 30, 2008, 3:03 PM ET
By Elizabeth Merrill | ESPN.com

Domenik HixonAP Photo/David DupreyDomenik Hixon developed into a key contributor during the Giants' run to the NFC Championship.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In the dream, Domenik Hixon is the one on the ground. He wants to get up, but he can't move. He doesn't know who hit him. He has no idea what the dream means.

It is nearly 1 p.m. on Tuesday, and the Pro Bowlers, bald-headed veterans and very serious coaches have all waxed philosophical on the five-month journey that has led them to the Super Bowl. Hixon is standing off to the side, wearing his Giants uniform and a cap pushed backward. His trip has been so much longer.

It started with an NFL debut in Week 1, and froze for 15 minutes when he was on the other end of a collision that put Buffalo's Kevin Everett in the back of an ambulance. Hixon met his family outside by the bus after the game. The first words out of his mouth were, "Hey, Dad, I think he's paralyzed."

Hixon fumbled through the next month, so badly that he was cut by the Broncos, then landed with the Giants a day and a half later.

Now Hixon, an unwitting footnote to the 2007 season, is going to Super Bowl XLII with a New York team that is possibly the ultimate footnote. And he believes they were all brought together for a reason, the 23-year-old castoff from the MAC, Everett and the Giants.

"Best way I can describe it," he says, "is a roller coaster. Up, then down. … But that's the NFL.

"I don't think I'm 100 percent. I just want him to be 100 percent."

"Too good to be true"
Birgit Hixon wouldn't let her son play football until he was about 8 years old. She was afraid he'd get hurt. If it weren't for Domenik's talent, and the fact crowds marveled when he did anything -- football, basketball, baseball or soccer -- the family might've stayed in Germany, where Marvin Hixon, a U.S. serviceman, was stationed.

[+] EnlargeKevin Everett
AP Photo/Don HeupelKevin Everett's injury shook many in the NFL community -- but none more than Domenik Hixon.
"I told my wife a long time ago that he would play professional something," Marvin says. "She didn't believe it."

Domenik Hixon learned English and German at the same time, which often confused him. But football always seemed to make sense. He'd always have to watch the Super Bowl, even though it didn't start until about 2 a.m. in Germany. He always had his mom tape it, then begged his buddies not to tell him who won.

When Hixon reached the eighth grade, the family left for the States in pursuit of a college scholarship. Marvin wanted to be stationed in the South; the Army sent him to Columbus, Ohio. In a football-rich state, Domenik was right where he needed to be.

He went to Akron and caught footballs from future NFL quarterback Charlie Frye. He was supposed to play free safety. Coach J.D. Brookhart didn't have a choice, not with a world-class quarterback who had no targets.

In 2005, the Zips were playing for their first conference title, and Hixon was out with cramps and dehydration. He checked himself back into the game with 16 seconds left, with Akron down by six, and caught a 36-yard touchdown pass.

"He's the ultimate team guy," Brookhart says. "If I had a daughter and was looking for a son-in-law, he's the type of man I'd love to have her bring home.

"He's too good to be true."

Like a bad dream
To Hixon, Sept. 9, 2007, was supposed to be a fresh start. He'd lost his entire rookie season because of a foot injury. He lost two friends in Denver that offseason when Darrent Williams was gunned down and Damien Nash died of a heart ailment. Hixon still wears rubber bracelets with his late teammate's names and numbers.

[+] EnlargeDomenik Hixon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesStill struggling with the impact of Everett's injury, Hixon was released by the Broncos just four games into the 2007 season.
Entering the Broncos' regular-season opener, Hixon was essentially a rookie, a starting receiver who ran a 4.4 40 and possessed unlimited upside. He took the second-half kickoff. He saw Everett coming in for what appeared to be a routine tackle.

They were jolted by the impact. Everett's helmet struck Hixon's shoulder pad, and Everett collapsed to the turf and lay motionless.

The stadium was silent for 15 minutes, but it seemed much longer for Hixon. He begged for Everett to get up, and kneeled and prayed for a man he'd never met.

In the following hours, Everett's injury was called "catastrophic" and "potentially fatal." Buffalo team doctors said Everett was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

"He was devastated," Marvin Hixon says. "Even though it's not your fault, you're still connected."

Hixon played the next few weeks in a fog of guilt and self-doubt. He fumbled in a Week 3 loss to Jacksonville. He fumbled and had a 15-yard penalty the next week in a loss to the Colts. There were whispers that he'd lost his instincts, and Hixon found himself backing off just a little on collisions. But when Denver cut him, Hixon never saw it coming.

He was on the phone with his father just after that, telling him he might be going to Tampa Bay. Thirty seconds later, Hixon found out he had been claimed off waivers by New York. He knew absolutely nothing about the Giants. He knew even less of where his career was headed.

Two weeks after he arrived in New York, he had a dream that he was in Everett's place, lying motionless on the grass.

"It was just me lying there for a second," he says. "Then I woke up. I don't really interpret dreams or anything, but it was really weird."

Road to recovery
Everybody wanted to help Hixon. Opposing players. Old teammates. If there was a turning point in his season, it probably came Dec. 23, when Hixon met Everett in a stadium suite after the Giants played Buffalo.

[+] EnlargeDomenik Hixon
AP Photo/David DupreyHixon's outlook changed immensely after he met with Everett in December.
Seeing Everett, who was walking 14 weeks after a severe spinal cord injury, put Hixon at peace. He didn't want to call him before that. He didn't really know what to say. Now Everett and Hixon have become friends.

They talk and text message about Everett's recovery and the warm weather in Everett's hometown of Houston. Everett laughs about Hixon slogging his way through the cold in New York and tells him he needs to visit. On Thursday, Everett will be on "Oprah." Hixon wants to watch, but he probably won't have time.

He is standing in the middle of the media day circus as a man wearing a swami costume struts by. A guy from a German TV station asks him to do a teaser in his semi-native tongue. Hixon laughs and says he might need 10 takes.

In some ways, he's living the week Everett will probably never get to experience. He talks about the accident almost as if he's talking to a therapist.

"Sometimes, it's mentally draining," he says. "I think time has changed it. But you know, [I] just prayed about it, and God works miracles."

Hixon's recovery has helped put the Giants in the Super Bowl. It was Hixon who pounced on a fumble to help preserve New York's NFC Championship Game upset of the Packers. A few weeks earlier, he returned a kickoff 74 yards against the Patriots for a touchdown.

Now, he does not hesitate. Hixon is himself.

"One of the first things Domenik told me [after the accident] was that he hoped [Everett] had true friends that would stick by him," Marvin says. "That right there changed their lives forever."

Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at merrill2323@hotmail.com.