Abromowitz, a member of the Football Writers Association of America, is referring to the game of Nixon's life, earlier this season against Idaho State. He's one of many skeptical football experts who think Nixon is too this and not enough that to play with the big and/or fast boys of the NFL. For example, a search for Nixon's name in the ESPN.com Scouts Inc.'s mock draft comes up empty.

Says Abromowitz, "What hurts Nixon is linebackers start to slow down by their early 30s, so unless a team believes he can make an impact right away, they would rather not invest a pick on him and [instead] take someone maybe with less talent but more potential."

Nixon would be 27 by the time the first preseason cuts are made. According to a February 2009 ESPN The Magazine survey, the average age of retirement for NFL players is 30. Take away the kickers and punters, who tend to stick around longer, and the age is younger.

Coach Dallas Hickman
Jamie Peachey
Coach Dallas Hickman
Parents Debbie and Jim Nixon
Jamie Peachey
Parents Debbie and Jim Nixon

That is, professional football is a young man's game. Just ask Chicago Bears fans. In the first game of the 2009 season, the team's seemingly invincible 31-year-old linebacker Brian Urlacher went down with a season-ending wrist injury. After winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Urlacher had suffered a toe injury and was dealing with a chronically arthritic back before dislocating his wrist. And Urlacher is a prototypical linebacker — unlike Nixon — at 6-foot-4, 258 pounds.

To become draft-worthy, Abromowitz thinks, Nixon should switch from linebacker to safety, a position Nixon played in high school. Even if he doesn't get drafted, he could still make the league as an undrafted free agent or a practice-squad member. (The latter pays, at minimum, $5,200 per week for 17 weeks.)

"I could see Mike possibly playing strong safety," Abromowitz says, "like another former linebacker at Arizona State."

Of course, he's talking about Sun Devil, Arizona Cardinal, and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. Though his controversial death has been well publicized, some people may not remember that he, too, was a relative long shot to make an NFL roster.

As a 5-foot-11 linebacker in college, Tillman was drafted near the end of the final round in 1998 by Arizona, and then moved to the safety position. During his four years as a pro, Tillman played his way into a $3.6 million contract offer by the Cardinals, which he turned down to enlist in the military.

Tillman's influence remains strong in the ASU football community, as current Sun Devils run through Tillman Tunnel entering Frank Kush Field. Nixon has a personal story about Tillman.

In December 2001, when Nixon was a senior at Sunnyslope, Tillman spoke to the team during its football banquet. The Arizona Cardinal had just returned from playing the New York Giants, and the trip included a visit to Ground Zero. Tillman's "very profound speech," according to Coach Dallas Hickman, included his experiences at the former site of the World Trade Center towers. Tillman also addressed Sunnyslope players personally, accidentally referring to Mike as older brother Matt.

When Tillman received word of the error, he handwrote Mike Nixon a letter in blue ink, which is framed at Nixon's home. It reads: "Mike, Sorry for the 'Matt' slip up, I'm somewhat of an idiot at times. Best of luck to you at UCLA, Stanford, wherever. From the brief film I saw, you're quite an athlete. Take care of yourself. Pat."

Nixon hasn't investigated whether he could get picked in the 2010 NFL Draft, scheduled for April 22-24 at New York City's Radio City Music Hall. (That would require signing with an agent, which NCAA athletes are forbidden to do.)

Nixon says, "If I were to get an opportunity to play in the NFL, I would be a 27-year-old rookie, which usually doesn't happen. I don't know if that's something scouts will be, like, 'Hey, he's a little more mature' or 'Hey, he's already this old, and we should pass on him.' I obviously would like to get a feel for my chances after the season. If there's a [strong] chance I could get drafted and make a team, I would obviously pursue that. If it's one in a thousand or one in a million, I'm content to do other things with my life."

If the NFL doesn't happen for him, he may apply to law school at New York University, Columbia, UCLA, USC, or Tulane with the goal of getting into front-office sports management. Another plan is to travel to South America to learn Spanish or pursue a career as a sports broadcaster.

Quarterback Brock Osweiler's Hail Mary into the desert night is intercepted by USC in the Sun Devil Stadium end zone, and college football's program of the decade escapes ASU's defense-led upset bid 14-9 on November 7.

Coupled with the Cal game, it's the second consecutive heartbreaking loss for Coach Dennis Erickson's team. Yet again, the turgid offense couldn't punch it into the end zone to win a close one. But this one especially hurts; it's obvious from the look on Nixon's face as he walks away after shaking the hand of a Trojan player.

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looks like he made it!

Ken Brickley
Ken Brickley

Who's got the film rights? I am sure someone like Kevin Costner would love to read this Guy's story. It is also good to say the name of Nixon appearing as a good guy instead of tricky Dicky. Well done Steve, it gives a honest impression of sport in the USA from the overpaid to the underdog. It is hard out there, I just wonder what sort of career all these guys will have when their bodies are worn out. I am sure there would be a good article in looking at the fortunes of the players after they retired.


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