'Miracle Baby' Dyson growing into Jets' most reliable cornerback

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By DENNIS WASZAK Jr. AP Sports Writer

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- Andre Dyson refuses to think of himself as a special person. He knows deep down, though, that he's lucky to be alive.

The New York Jets cornerback weighed 1 pound, 9 ounces when he was born and spent his first four months in the world in an incubator. There were times when doctors weren't certain he would ever leave the hospital, prompting mom Susan to nickname him "Miracle Baby."

"I've been pronounced dead a few times," he said Thursday, shaking his head.

Dyson underwent a few operations as a newborn and gradually gained weight before heading home for the first time. He grew into a healthy child and played football, basketball and soccer just like other kids -- and then became a second-round NFL draft pick out of Utah in 2001.

Special, indeed.

"I don't want people to get the wrong impression of the 'Miracle Baby' thing -- like I was just so much of a big deal and overdo it," he said, appearing slightly embarrassed. "It was a great thing and I'm happy to be here, but I don't think it's like ... well, I guess it is cool."

Now 27, the only time the 5-foot-10, 183-pound Dyson thinks about his critical first few months is when someone else mentions it.

"No one even brought it up until I got to the NFL," Dyson said. "It slipped out. I was doing a story, and they were asking me about my weight when I was born and how I was so small, and I just kind of told them how I was labeled.

"It's like two sides to the story. One, my mom says I'm her little miracle. Two, back in the late '70s, they didn't have the technology they do now, so they pretty much labeled anyone that was premature or that small as a `miracle baby."'

Dyson, who signed with the Jets as a free agent in March, spent his first four seasons with Tennessee, where he played with his older brother, Kevin, a standout wide receiver.

He helped Seattle get to the Super Bowl last season. He also became a well-known figure in the community visiting hospitals and meeting mothers and fathers of premature babies.

"That was the biggest thing, going there and talking to the parents and giving them a little bit of hope," said Dyson, who sports a "Don't Quit" tattoo on his left arm.

"I don't like hearing anything about me being a miracle baby, but anytime I can talk to somebody and tell them, `Yeah, I was 1 pound, 9 ounces and I made it, so there's still hope,' that's always good."

Dyson has several items he's received from grateful parents, tiny reminders of his own past and of the impact he's having on others.

"They gave me little socks, the little binkies -- all that stuff is so small -- I have it all in my house," he said with a big smile. "They tell me, That's the type of stuff you would've had,' and it's like,Wow, that is so little.' That's the biggest thing I've gotten out of the whole story, not anything that has to do with me, just what I've been able to do for other people."

And that's no small task for someone who has overcome such huge obstacles.

"I've always just kind of been the smaller guy and never wanted anyone to think I was the smaller guy, so I fought my way to not ever be known as the small guy," Dyson said. "Obviously, when you go to the hospital and see that, you can reflect and say, `Dang, I was small."'

Dyson has given the Jets a big lift, starting all 12 games at left cornerback while coach Eric Mangini has used four starters on the right side. He has 53 tackles, 11 off his career high, and is tied for the team lead with four interceptions.

"Andre is deceptively fast," Mangini said. "Sometimes it looks like he's coasting, but he's flying. That smoothness he has, you may look out there and think like you have a play vertically, but he's got good speed, good make-up speed. He's put himself in position to make plays."

And he does it with little fanfare, exactly the way Dyson likes it.

"That's just how it's always been for me," he said. "I've always kind of been, I guess, that steady player that doesn't make a lot of mistakes. I guess I don't make all the big, huge plays that get on TV."

Dyson is enjoying his time in New York, where he's helped the Jets into the playoff hunt.

"It was one of those things where coming into the year, a lot of people didn't have a lot of faith in us," Dyson said. "A lot of people were counting us out early. We weren't even counted for anything -- we were just a team.

"This is really an ultimate `team' team, more than any other I've been on. It feels good to be a part of something like this."

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-12-07-06 1541MST

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