Bills RB gifts tickets to wrongfully convicted man

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – While the Buffalo Bills spent the past 25 years without hosting a playoff game, Valentino Dixon spent most of it imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

He missed most of the team’s Super Bowl runs in the 1990s and its last home playoff game in 1996. Bills running back Taiwan Jones is making sure Dixon won’t miss the next one.

After it was announced that Bills Stadium would open for the first time all season, Jones gifted Dixon tickets to the Bills’ wild-card game Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts. It’s the latest in a series of highlights in Dixon’s life since he was exonerated and released from prison in 2018 after serving 27 years at Attica Correctional Facility.

Raised in eastside Buffalo, Dixon, 51, was arrested and convicted of murder in 1991 despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime. While imprisoned, Dixon turned to art, drawing thousands of pictures of golf courses despite never playing the game, even having his story and his artwork published by Golf Digest.

A group of undergraduate students at Georgetown University made a documentary on Dixon’s wrongful conviction and imprisonment, which eventually led to his exoneration.

Jones first became aware of Dixon’s story at the beginning of the 2020 season but with New York state’s and Erie County’s COVID-19 protocols limiting what businesses were open throughout most of the year, it was difficult for him to figure out exactly how.

“I was already kind of emotional just with everything going on in the world,” Jones said. “I was reaching out to different organizations within Buffalo to see what I could do to make a difference. When I first read his story, man. It was touching and heartbreaking. I definitely wanted to do something for him.”

The Bills special team stalwart got in contact with Dixon and said he was blown away by the attitude of a man who had every reason to be angry at the world.

“When he called, it was like talking to an old friend. Our conversation was real genuine,” Jones said. “I think what stood out the most was that he didn’t have any grudge in him. He sounded like he was just real happy with where is life is today. I was just so amazed at where he’s at emotionally and mentally.

“He definitely showed a lot of character of who he is, because he’s just a happy dude. He didn’t know me or what I was going to do for him and he just had so much enthusiasm. I was happy to be able to do something to make him happy.”

Jones, 32, shared the contents of their conversation with his teammates, including 27-year-old wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who, like Jones, struggled to comprehend spending so much time behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.

Dixon told ESPN he “refused” to be broken by his time in prison.

“I had to stay that way — I mean, I was born that way,” Dixon told ESPN. “Prison was designed to break my spirit, and I refused to allow that to happen. I was the one who encouraged everyone else to keep hanging in there.”

While in prison, Dixon’s love for the Bills never wavered, nor did his passion for football. He said he played wide receiver in Attica’s football league for 20 years, winning five championships.

He said those ties to the game made it “a dream come true” to hear from Jones.

“In prison, there’s just a few of us that are really good, so I had my way,” Dixon told ESPN. “I’d just tell them to throw it up, I’ll run up under it and get it. I’d usually leave guys 5 to 10 yards back – at 41 [years old], I was still the fastest one on that team. I was the Jerry Rice of that league.”

Saturday’s game will mark Dixon’s second-ever Bills game, the first being a preseason game when he was 11. As a kid from the inner city, Dixon called the experience “something you never forget” and one he has held on to for the past 40 years.

This game will be unique, as the Bills are only allowing 6,772 fans in the nearly 71,000-seat stadium. It won’t be the full game-day experience, but as Dixon put it, “anything is better than a 6-by-8 cell.”

“This team right here, I know they can beat anybody,” he said. “They could’ve beaten anybody last year but they just weren’t ready – now is the time. And I don’t have any doubt that a Super Bowl is coming to Buffalo, if not this year, then the next three years.

“If we come to play hard, there’s not a team on this planet that can beat Buffalo.”

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