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OBITUARY

Marine veteran, former South Carolina football star King Dixon dies at 83

By BEN BREINER | The State (Columbia, S.C.) | Published: July 7, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Tribune News Service) – King Dixon, a longtime fixture of University of South Carolina athletics who served 22 years in the Marine Corps, died Monday night from complications caused by pancreatic cancer.

Carolina Gamecocks broadcaster Tommy Moody confirmed the news to The State late Monday night. Dixon was 83.

"I heard from former Letterman's president, Mike Ragin, hours ago that they had ... rushed King to the hospital," Moody said. "He passed away about six o'clock tonight."

The former All-ACC football player, athletic director and Board of Trustees member had been connected to the University of South Carolina since the mid-1950s when he joined the team coached by Rex Enright.

Most of Dixon's playing career came under Warren Giese. Dixon paired with Alex Hawkins in the backfield as part of a group that led the University of South Carolina Gamecocks to a pair of seven-win seasons.

Dixon graduated from Carolina cum laude with a political science degree in 1959.

After football, he served in the Marines for 22 years, a career that included numerous commendations that, according to his school Hall of Fame biography, included the Bronze Star, the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V for Heroic Services and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.

Dixon came back to the University of South Carolina in 1988 as athletic director at age 51, taking over during the steroid scandal at the end of the Joe Morrison era. He remained in the role for four years.

Dixon hired Sparky Woods to replace Morrison, and Woods still holds a great deal of admiration for his former boss.

"King Dixon is a great, great man," Woods told The State in 2019. "I think he's the best South Carolina graduate. Phi Beta Kappa, war hero, great player when he was there."

During Dixon's time as athletic director, he oversaw the school's move into the Southeastern Conference after more than 20 years as a football independent (the basketball program spent most of that time as an independent, with eight years in the Metro Conference). He also fired men's basketball coach George Felton and hired his replacement, Steve Newton.

Moody said Dixon had called him about three weeks ago, telling him with emotion in his voice about the diagnosis. The plan was not to treat him but just to keep him as comfortable as possible.

"That's the way King was," Moody said. "He lived life to the fullest, no question about."

Dixon is survived by his wife, Augusta. The pair were listed as "outstanding seniors" on the same page of their senior yearbook.

Moody called them "one of the great stories. One of the great love stories. ... When he called me three weeks ago, he said, 'You know what Tommy?' He said, 'I've been in love with that woman since third grade.'"

After Dixon's time as athletic director, which ended with a new school president and the football program struggling under Woods, he moved back to his hometown of Laurens and worked as a banker. Moody remembered Augusta coming down to First Presbyterian Church on Wednesdays, and when he asked about King, she'd talk about how much he loved his tractor and loved his farm.

On the field, King Dixon posted 1,250 rushing yards, scored 11 touchdowns, caught 20 passes and completed 15. One of his most memorable moments came in October 1957, when South Carolina headed to Texas to take on Darrell Royal's first Longhorns team.

Dixon took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and along with Hawkins helped key a fourth-quarter rally from down 21-7 to take the 27-21 win.

"We got a second burst of wind out there because of a couple of bad punts," Dixon wrote in the book "Game of My Life," a collection of Gamecocks players’ memories.

"We scored three touchdowns in that fourth quarter out there, where the 'Eyes of Texas are upon you,' and we beat Texas."

He also helped the Gamecocks upset No. 10 Clemson his senior season, handing the Tigers their first loss.

There was a bit of a Clemson connection for Dixon, Moody said, as Dixon's father knew legendary Tigers coach Frank Howard from their time in the Navy. The younger Dixon and Howard would go hunting together, Moody added.

"Frank Howard just assumed that King was signed, sealed and delivered to be a Clemson Tiger," Moody said. "And I think at the last minute, King said no, he wanted be a Gamecock and go play for coach Rex Enright."

According to the book "Game of My Life," Howard sent Dixon a telegram late in his recruiting process that said "King, you have been an outstanding Tiger for four years. Don't fowl it up today. Your coach, Frank Howard."

At the start of this year, Dixon joined the school's board of trustees in an interim role, replacing A.C. "Bubba" Fennell.

"He was just a great guy, just a great person who, like I said, wore emotions on his sleeve," Moody said. "He was very passionate about life very really passionate about his family, very passionate about the Gamecocks. And I cannot think of anybody I could say more good things about than King Dixon. He was just, just one in a million."

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