Dane Jackson “never was big”. At 6ft 2in and 210lbs the Dallas Cowboys cornerback is bigger than most NFL defensive backs, and in their eye, he’s missed. Yet there was a time, not long ago, that he was a very large kid. His father was “a very small guy” and his mother was a size 4, he’d tell people. “I was, like, 12-and-a-half and I could jump over the f*****g ground,” he says. “I would stop and jump out of my truck when we were driving down the freeway, or stop and I’d be going 60.”
He also had a rare condition that left him “constantly tired”. When he was 15, Jackson was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition that tightens the heart’s left ventricle and often causes shortness of breath and fainting. With no other sufferers his doctors were forced to find out if there was a genetic link. A few weeks later, on 13 May 2017, he collapsed on the field.
“They did an echocardiogram and the results came back really bad,” he says. “It was an acute heart failure, and I was told I needed to have surgery and maybe end my career. Then five weeks later I had another Echocardiogram and the results came back all good.”
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Jackson went into surgery to fix the problem on 22 June 2017, after being named to the Cowboys team that would play in Super Bowl LI. He was ready for the Cowboys to be blown out against the Atlanta Falcons in Houston that Sunday. He wasn’t so ready for his own body to reject the medication.
That night he began having bizarre symptoms: blurry vision, nausea, dizziness, chest pains. By morning, he was in hospital, on a ventilator, with doctors telling him he had to be sedated or he would have a stroke or a heart attack. After six days, he was on his feet and able to go back home.
“In the end, I got a little better than they expected,” he says. “After my valve went out, the doctors thought it might take up to a year before I could walk again.”
In November 2017, he began to have the same symptoms a second time, and ended up in a private unit of a hospital. He tried to walk, but didn’t make it and had to be put in a wheelchair. But he got through it and returned to the hospital the following week, to be put on a gurney and sent back home. He didn’t think of ending his football career.
“Every time they would call my dad, who I didn’t really talk to a lot when I was 12, and say, ‘You’ve got to be there, you’ve got to come pick him up,’ he would go and pick me up. And I thought, ‘That’s great, I got my dad back!’ Then he’d tell me, ‘See that dude over there? That’s your best friend. He has a couple of surgeries over there and it might be a few months and he’s going to be down there. If he’s going to be down there, you’re not going to be home. So why are you playing football if you’re not going to be home?’”
It was a tough decision, but he didn’t feel he’d make it without football. And after the game-winning pick-six in Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots, he stuck with it.
“I didn’t get to go home, so I stayed here,” he says. “And, I guess, I was a little too resilient at that point.”
It has been a long, strange, and ultimately improbable journey for Jackson, whose passion was to play football. But he has been able to channel that drive in unusual ways, including through a charity foundation he set up with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to help children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
“In my little heart