The longest tenured Brown, the man we call Captain Clutch and the guy who taught the world of modern-day NFL fans what the “stanchion” was may be playing his final game in Orange and Brown this Sunday.
While the media brigade prefers to cast a storm of rhetoric and hypotheticals on Eric Mangini and his band of perceived underachievers, Browns fans may be watching their four-star team captain take his final kick in Cleveland Browns Stadium as one of their own.
Now 35 years of age, Dawson has seen it all. He came aboard during the expansion season of 1999, endured the laundry list of men who considered themselves to be professional quarterbacks – though better suited to merely be holders on field goals and extra points – and saw the constant upheaval and three-ring circus that was Berea, Ohio. He has made many game-winners and has had a few fall just shy, but he continues to be the one player who fans could count on as a timeless and perpetual fixture each and every season.
But after two years of holding out of non-mandatory activities with hopes of a new contract with the only team he knows, Dawson will enter this offseason as a free agent.
Dawson has suited up in 183 games for the Cleveland Browns, scoring the first points for the “new” Browns back in 1999. Eleven years later, he passed Hall-of-Fame kicker Lou Groza for most field goals in the history of the franchise and is now sitting at 251 (thanks, Romeo!) with a conversion rate of 83.1 percent, a mark that has him among the top-10 most accurate in the history of the game. Coupling this with the actual grass of Cleveland Browns Stadium and lakefront weather that provides nightmarish conditions in which to kick, Dawson’s feat (or foot, for that matter) becomes that much more commendable.
Kickers of his caliber are bringing in an average of almost $3 million per season, three times what Dawson will make in the final year of his current contract. For a little extra income, Dawson started his own website and has made himself available to advise amateur programs of how to improve not only kicking, but special teams in general. Recall, Dawson had been recognized many times for his ability to know where many different position players should be on the field at any time, not merely kickoffs and field goal attempts.
Dawson recently told the Associated Press that while he is not emotional about the upcoming contest, he is undoubtedly sentimental and that he will be soaking all of Sunday in.
“I have a job to do,” he said, doing all he could to downplay his apparent finale. “I signed my name on the dotted line and until that’s no longer the case I’m going to continue doing my job. The challenge this week is to embrace the rivalry, what that entails, and block out whatever distractions there may be – and in this case, possibly being my last game.”
It is safe to say that fans of the Browns will be flush both emotion and setiment come Sunday afternoon, as it is difficult to envision anyone aside from No. 4 kicking a potential go-ahead field goal.
Dawson’s first of 14 game-winning kicks came against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team which travels to Cleveland this week to take on the Browns. Naturally, a storybook ending could come at the hands of Cleveland’s most bitter rival. And while his teammates have embraced this last week with Dawson, the veteran and long-time member of the city’s most beloved team is embracing nostalgia.
“There’s been a lot of good players come and go out of this place, I’m certainly not the only one, but it means a great deal to have played in this league as long as I have and especially in one place,” said Dawson. ”To be able to develop the bond with the fans and the organization and teammates and friends and see my kids grow up here, it’s all been good.”
That it has, Phil. That it has.
(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)