Competing in his second USFL season, Dillon led the league with 1,109 all-purpose yards and in kick returns (minimum 10) with a 32.8-yard average. But it was one specific USFL special teams play by Dillon that will forever keep him in the football record books.
During Week 6 action on May 20, Pittsburgh Maulers kicker Chris Blewitt attempted a 59-yard field goal just before halftime. Blewitt’s kick was wide to the right and short. Playing deep, Dillon caught the ball and masterfully tip-toed along the back of the end zone, somehow managing to stay in bounds. He then broke away from three would-be tacklers, and with elite speed, returned it 109 yards for a "kick-6," the rarest play in football. The Showboats' touchdown set a USFL mark and tied the American professional football record for the longest return in the history of the sport.
One of the USFL’s "Final Four" top plays of the year currently being voted on by the fans, Dillon’s historic performance propelled the Showboats to 22-0 victory over the Maulers.
A former LSU star, Dillon’s record play joined elite company — the NFL’s Antonio Cromartie, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jamal Agnew are the only other players in American professional football history with the unbreakable record of a 109-yard return. (Note: Gene Gaines holds the overall record with a 128-yard kickoff return in 1964 as a member of the Ottawa Rough Riders — the Canadian Football League plays on a larger field).
"Derrick Dillon was one of the most dynamic playmakers in the USFL this season, and we’re proud to honor him as the 2023 Special Teams Player of the Year," said Daryl Johnston, President of Football Operations. "His 109-yard and 35-inch ‘Kick-6’ return is one of the greatest plays in professional football history."
Dillon was named Week 6 Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts, but he was hardly done. In Week 10 on June 17, Dillon once again grabbed the league’s spotlight by returning the opening kickoff from the Birmingham Stallions 90 yards for a touchdown. Despite Dillon’s heroics, the Showboats lost the game 27-20 and were eliminated from playoff contention in the process.
During its inaugural season last year, the USFL brought back the excitement of traditional kickoff returns while also creating player positioning rules to minimize high-speed collisions. Kicking off from the 25-yard line in 2022, the USFL had an 81% return rate. In this 2023 season, the USFL moved the kickoff spot back five yards to the 20-yard line. The result increased returns to 90% and provided fans with more exciting plays while still maintaining player safety.
"Our emphasis on the return game portion of special teams provides an opportunity for these explosive players to showcase their talents on the USFL stage," explained Johnston. "We’re proud to give electric playmakers this opportunity like last year’s USFL MVP KaVontae Turpin who is now with the Dallas Cowboys, and All-USFL returner Maurice Alexander Jr., who is now with the Detroit Lions. Whether it's Derrick Dillon, Eli Stove from the New Orleans Breakers, Terry Wright from the Philadelphia Stars, Cam Echols-Luper from the New Jersey Generals, Anthony Ratliff-Williams from the Houston Gamblers, Marcus Simms with the Michigan Panthers, or the Pittsburgh Maulers’ Josh Simmons and Birmingham Stallions’ Deon Cain in the upcoming Championship Game on July 1, the USFL will always provide these exciting players the best chance to shine in front of football fans."
Simmons and Cain are expected to return kickoffs in the USFL Championship Game on Saturday, which begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.