BEREA — The negativity and frustration about the Cleveland Browns was increasing last week when a not-so-subtle message of encouragement was delivered to the team and public by one of the few players with the experience and credibility to deliver it.
“Hey Cleveland, what u r seeing is not the same old Browns,” read the message on Twitter. “Trust me. I feel it. I can hardly wait until it explodes.”
The words were eye-opening, because through four games it sure feels like the same old Browns.
But the messenger was Phil Dawson. And the messenger made the message more credible. Dawson is the ultimate professional. Too, he is not a frequent tweeter; he has posted just four times since Sep. 17.
Given his tenure and what he’s accomplished, Dawson’s words are a byproduct of the E.F. Hutton Rule — when he speaks, people listen. Or they should. Even if it comes from a kicker on a team that just dropped to 0-4.
“I said it to my teammates before I tweeted it,” Dawson said Monday when asked about the tweet. “First of all it’s my honest evaluation. I don’t think this is the same old Browns. But also it was to encourage. And having been here from the get-to, I hope I brought a little credibility with it.”
By get-go, Dawson meant since 1999. He is the only player to suffer through every miserable season and every miserable loss since the Browns returned.
But it never affected his performance or his professionalism.
This season he was elected special teams captain, and he takes the role seriously even though he also knows that being a kicker might limit his cache.
“That’s the dilemma I find myself in a lot, being a captain yet being a kicker,” he said. “There’s some subjects I won’t touch, because I’m not out there bleeding and pounding. So I’ll leave those type issues to Joe (Thomas) and D’Qwell (Jackson). But attitude, mentality, perspective … I do feel like I can contribute in those areas.”
Dawson might be one of very few kickers who can deliver that message and be heard.
“It’s kind of crazy to say he’s just a kicker,” cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “Look at what he’s accomplished. He has great respect here as a person, as a father, as a husband.”
So Dawson stood up a team meeting the day after the loss to Baltimore and gave his thoughts on being 0-4. They weren’t, to use the coach’s phrase, doom and gloom.
“We have some talent on this team, and that’s fun to see,” Dawson said. “You see guys who can make you plays. That hasn’t always been the case around here. So I’m saying that to basically encourage this locker room. When you’re 0-4 you’re going to start hearing a lot of stuff. If you’re not careful you’re going to start believing all of it.”
When can the Browns win?
“I don’t know how soon,” he said. “It’s a series of 16 single-game seasons. But I do have a feeling if we can get one it might come in bunches. Only time will tell.”
Where does he see the improvement?
“Just all over,” Dawson said. “I look around at all the different positions. OK, we got a little something in that group, in this group. In my little world, special teams, I’m excited about the guys we got there. You look around in enough places and you have a couple guys in each group that you feel good about, now all of a sudden you feel that wow, we can do something.”
A sampling of teammates said the message got through.
“He’s trying to get those guys to understand that they weren’t here for the same old, so don’t buy into it,” Brown said.
“Phil is the longest tenured guy here,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “He’s been in Cleveland. He understands what we’ve gone through as a franchise and he understands how it all works. To hear it from a guy like that is actually good.”
But Dawson isn’t pretending words can magically change anything. The best speeches in the world don’t help a guy catch a pass or make a tackle. He’s seen the same things fans and media have seen — missed chances, dropped passes and loss after loss after loss after loss. He also admitted the scene in Cleveland Browns Stadium at the end of the Buffalo was difficult to watch.
“Ultimately (the record is) what we’re judged by,” Dawson said. “I’m not confusing those two issues. But just in terms of how do we move forward, what’s our foundation, I wanted guys to know if we continue to do things right, just plug away, I can see some good things happening.”
Will it help?
“We’ll see,” Dawson said. “I feel that this team can win.”