Dennis Dixon Gives a Rare Look Into Oregon's Elusive Nike Collaborations

We talked to Dennis Dixon about his years playing for the University of Oregon, history with sneakers, Tinker Hatfield, & more.

Dennis Dixon 7
Complex Original

Image via Dennis Dixon

Dennis Dixon 7

Dennis Dixon’s name rings bells at the University of Oregon, where he graduated from in 2007, before moving onto the NFL. Most notable was his senior season in 2007, where he led the Ducks to an 8-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking before being sidelined with a devastating knee injury. Many had him favored to win the Heisman that year. Dixon went on to play in the NFL from 2008 to 2014, having his longest tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was able to start a handful of games. Dixon then went on to work at Jordan Brand, where he served as a marketing specialist for football and baseball. He now helps train high school athletes connected to Jordan Brand in Los Angeles. It was his time in Eugene, however, that gave him a lifelong supply of footwear connections.

Not only has Dixon been lucky enough to secure rare shoes such as “Red October” Air Yeezys and “ParaNorman” Foamposites, but also the coveted Nikes and Air Jordans that are tied to the University of Oregon. The Jordan 3s, DuckMan 4s, 5s, 6s, the list goes on. He’s made friendships with Nike co-founder Phil Knight and Nike’s most storied designer, Tinker Hatfield, and received a pair of one-of-one Air Jordan 11s from the latter. He was even privy to a rift the Oregon Jordan 4s caused between Hatfield and Michael Jordan over the manipulation of the Jumpman logo. 

Dixon, who’s from Oakland, didn’t grow up as a sneakerhead, as that lifestyle wasn’t available to him. But his hard work paid off, he went to Oregon, he played in the NFL, and he gained an invaluable sneaker plug along the way. Here he talks about it all.

I wanted to talk to you about your history with sneakers and being connected to Oregon. I feel like that's afforded you sneakers superstar status to a certain extent. 
I mean, to be honest, I was never into sneakers. I really couldn't afford them when I was young, raised in Oakland, California, that was not really given to me. But you know, through my hard work, I got a scholarship at the University of Oregon. That's when I really, really got exposed to just shoes, obviously the perks. We get things well in advance. So we’re somewhat spoiled. To be honest, at first I really kind of took it for granted. I didn't really think anything of it. Then once I started understanding what the sneaker culture was all about, and the need and the want for what we had that no one else had, that's when things really got really kind of exciting for myself. That's when I really got into just shoes in general, for sure.

Dennis Dixon 1

I saw you have all of the Jordan 3s and 4s that are, like, some of the most coveted PE sneakers. Do you remember getting those at first?
I remember when we first got our Duckmans, the Duckman 4s. Those are very coveted, very one of the ones, for sure. I remember when we first got it. The team was kind of excited, because we had the Duckman as the Jumpman logo, which was awesome, dope, fire, everything. Everybody wanted them, and I had to have those. Those are the main ones that I really wanted. When I first got them, I was told I was supposed to give them back, because they were discontinued because Michael Jordan was kind of unhappy with Tinker Hatfield at the time because of the logo. But I kept my pair, and I'm quite sure a couple of other players did, too. I know by me saying this right now, it may be bad. But when I got that shoe, and I knew that I could keep it, that was the most exciting thing ever at that point, and that's obviously when the PEs really started getting really, really interesting, especially from an Oregon PE.

You had those and then like, I feel like that's when the shoes started to roll. I think the first Air Jordan was like that Jordan 9 for the 2011 National Championship team. Do you remember that shoe at all? 
It was very subtle. It was a basic black, charcoal 9, but at the end of it, we had the logo on the back of the 9, which was very subtle, but it was definitely noticeable, and I remember the Oregon State, the Oregon State Beavers had a shoe, too, relatively around the same time. I think it was the same model as well, but ours just really kind of really stuck out very subtle for sure, like I said, and we were excited about that shoe as well. I think from a 9 perspective, a lot of people really don't talk about a 9, but I think at that point, too, that's where the 9s really started coming about because they started coming out with signature colorways, the all reds. They started coming out with a lot of cool names for the nines at that point.

Dennis Dixon 5

After that, a lot of these shoes started to get coveted on the market. Were people hitting you up for them? I know there’s a weird boundary of athletes not being able to sell their stuff, but you were no longer at the school.
Of course, of course, yeah. There are a lot of people that ask, "Can we get our hands on those?” All that, and obviously we can't because we got to take care of ourselves before we start pleasing others, and for a PE shoe like that, that's very hard to come by. That is maybe one of maybe 200. It's kind of hard to please friends and family. It's very frustrating, but, I mean, you have to be there. You have to be part of the university, of the alumni, and so forth in order to be part of just that coveted shoe or a part family within the family. If you know someone, you know someone, but as far as profiting off of shoes, that was a big no-no for us. We were told to never sell our shoes while we were playing. Outside of the University of Oregon now, I think you can do what you please with your shoes, and then your jerseys or what not, but while you were still schooling at the University of Oregon, that was definitely a no for sure.

You hold a big alumni status at the school with the run that you had. You could have won a Heisman if you didn't get injured. Given your status at the university and that run that you had, do you think that’s made you favorable with your connection to Nike and getting sneakers and everything?
I just think just being a quarterback in general. I mean, you're going to take the shine, whether you like it or not. I took it upon myself to just have broad shoulders to be able to carry a lot of weight. I would sit down with Phil Knight. The perks come with it, especially when you're doing good at that time. Like you said, in '07. Things where we're rolling, not only on the field, but off the field as well, too. So when talking about marketing and everything, like the quarterback is always going to be the focal, regardless if you like it or not. I took it upon myself to definitely be that leader. It definitely gave me access to all of the PEs and heat, regardless if it's from the football team, the track and field, basketball team. I was definitely one of those people that was really targeting every sport that we had at our university when it came to PEs for sure.

Dennis Dixon Phil Knight

You mentioned Phil Knight. I’ve seen that you guys are friends. What's it like being friends with Phil Knight? Do you have any memorable conversations with him?
He's very….I would say approachable. He's always wanting to talk about sports. He knows his players in and out regardless of what sport they played at the University of Oregon. It's just kind of being a sponge and just soaking everything up that he says to you, even off the field; just kind of presenting yourself and just being proactive. I think that's one of the things that he always told me, to think two steps ahead, as opposed to in your current position, and I took that to heart. I played in the NFL for seven years.  In the off-season, I came back to the University of Oregon to train, and at some point I knew that football wasn't going to last forever, and I needed a job and I always loved shoes and I love sports. Working at Nike was pretty much my goal, life after football. I came back and did internships at Nike and everything. That's a corporate job. So I definitely took that and ran with it for sure, and it gave me an opportunity for life after football, and to be a team to be able to work at Nike for three years and get experience.

You have a relationship with Tinker. I saw he gave you those 11s that he autographed and put your initials on them. What's your relationship with him, and how did you get those shoes?
I have to say Tinker is very involved with the University of Oregon as well. With Tinker and Phil Knight, that's like peanut butter and jelly. They both go together and getting that relationship with Phil kind of gave me exposure to Tinker as well. I'd say we got more of a closer relationship than Phil. Because Phil is extremely busy. I think as far as having access to someone, I think it's easier to get to Tinker than it is Phil. Tinker is always on campus. If you need someone to give you guidance [he’s the one to talk to]. I took it upon myself to be in his office whenever I was able to. He gave me strong advice, seeing that he's really connected with the Jordan Brand, and at that time I was a marketing specialist for football and baseball training and wanted to get his input on things and insights on players and what their needs were. 

Dennis Dixon Tinker and Tobie Hatfield

As that relationship grew, he knew when my birthday was, and by me being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his family is Steelers fans. He wanted to do something for me for my birthday and being drafted as well, and just showing his gratitude as to what I've done for the University of Oregon, he ended up giving me custom 11s. He put my name and my number from college and then my rookie number, the number two for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I would say by far that is my number-one shoe of all time right now, because it's one of one. No one else has it, and it's by one of the best shoe designers of them all, so it doesn't get any better than that.

I know you mentioned it briefly, but I know there's been a scandal where North Carolina took away the shoes from all the players because one player sold them. What's your thoughts on the NCAA stepping in on that stuff?
I see where they're coming with that for sure. I mean, kids are just... We're just trying to, obviously, benefit off of our name or whatever, and the things that we do have a lot of, the masses don't have. Being a college student, and not with a lot of money, I can see the need and the want to kind of just do better for yourself. But at the same time you got to do it right. I try not to get in the middle of none of that. I get the need and the want to be or to do better for yourself and for your family based on your name and where you represent as far as school.

Dennis Dixon Sabrina Ionescu

I saw you with the Oregon 6s with Sabrina Ionescu, right?

What was that? I know she signed them for you. Was that like a special moment?
Oh, super special moment. I think over the years I've gained a relationship with her. We have a couple of mutual friends and all that, too. I'm really into basketball, and I just knew that she had an amazing run. I knew she was going to be an amazing player before, and she was definitely out there worldwide on a national stage. It's just good to kind of really see when she first got there to where she is now. It's amazing. I called in a favor, obviously, for those 6s. I got the white ones and the black ones. I would say by far the white ones are probably the best ones, but I just had to get her signature on those shoes, and got those in a box now, or I'm getting a box made to kind of really put those in a box and put it in my jersey room. That was a special moment for sure.

Is it funny for you to see people like Quavo spend a ton of money on those PEs?
Oh, man.

You're like, "I know I have them."
It really is. It really is. I mean, that just goes to show the power obviously first off for shoes, and PEs and especially, at the University of Oregon, years ago, people probably couldn't even tell you where Eugene was. You know?