Pro Bowl a proper honor for a player who has handled turmoil with humor and class.
By ZAC JACKSONFS Ohio
Phil Dawson is to know class, consistency and professionalism.
To know Phil Dawson is finally going to the Pro Bowl?
It's an overdue reward, an acknowledgement of another sterling individual season amidst some, um, turmoil. There are and have been lots of good kickers in the AFC, and Dawson's been one going back a decade or so. He should have been named to the Pro Bowl team before, but you'll never hear him say that.
You'll never hear him say anything that could come off even a little bit negative or self-centric. He'll say he simply has a job to do, and he does that job very well.
If this Pro Bowl selection is an end point for his career in Cleveland, it's a proper one. The Browns haven't been to the playoffs in a decade and haven't been close in five years, so that's out the window. He's missed one kick all year (it was blocked), gone 6-of-6 on kicks over 50 yards and is as reliable as any kicker on any team while playing on the franchise tag for the second straight year.
We're not supposed to root in this business — for people or for teams or for outcomes — but when it comes to Dawson, the rules can wait until tomorrow. I know him well because I worked for the Browns for almost a decade, and in three different columns since leaving in March of 2010, I've advocated the Browns signing him to a long-term deal.
If the Browns let him walk — or even if he wants to walk — come March, there should be no hard feelings. Just a bunch of thank yous.
For a solid decade, every discussion/list of the best players and best people in the Browns locker room has included Dawson not far from the top. In the macho NFL culture, more often than not the kicker is very much the kicker. With the Browns — and especially since 2006 or so — he's been Phil Dawson, a popular and talented player who happens to be the kicker.
Players love the guy. They love that he's finally going to Hawaii. I'd be willing to guess that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker voted for Dawson for the Pro Bowl, and that says a lot.
In the last 12 hours, Browns past and present have taken to social media to congratulate Dawson. That list includes Derek Anderson, Jason Pinkston and Joshua Cribbs, just to name a few. The magic of 2007 would have never happened without Dawson, who provided signature moments at Baltimore and at home in the blizzard vs. Buffalo, a game that truly was played in a foot of snow.
Dawson kicked the ball that day like he was hitting a 9-iron in the summer sun. He's a proud Texan who just happened to be made for Cleveland.
When Dawson took a visit to Buffalo during his restricted free agent year of 2002 — one that was not only well-earned but very much a part of the negotiating process for all involved parties — he said he felt like he was cheating on his girlfriend. He has great stories about 1999, when he'd see the team bringing in other kickers "by the van load" for workouts, trying to take Dawson's job. No one ever did. The closest he gets to bragging is smiling about that.
Even back during that Buffalo flirtation, he was loyal to a messy Browns organization. He did not know, presumably, that such messiness would become more than just a trend, but all he's ever said about it publicly is that change has been the one constant of his time and that good times are ahead.
He's been absent from much of the last two offseason programs while waiting for some kind of verdict on his contract situation, but he's always come back and refused to discuss it. He's never trashed the team, its methods or its negotiators. He's always just come back and delivered, and his leg has been stronger and better over the last four seasons than it's ever been.
He turns 38 next month and might still have several good years left.
Dawson and I go back to high school, and by that I mean I was a high school kid with family ties to Austin, Texas who lived for the five or six times a year Texas games would be shown on television in Cleveland. Still very much a wide-eyed kid when I started interning with the Browns in 2000, I took the very first opportunity to corner Dawson and tell him that kick he made to beat Virginia ranked ahead in my high-school memory bank of almost every girl I kissed and even a few cameos I made in basketball games that had long been decided.
He deals with yahoos like me and their (our) staggering, slobbering stories of adulation and/or Texas football all the time, and he handles them with a smile and humility.
During the offseason when I worked for the Browns, we'd bring various players in for 15-minute, wide-ranging interviews that would be used across various platforms — website, TV, scoreboard — during the following season. Dawson would stay for 45 minutes, and in that time he'd talk about only wanting to win, to make significant kicks in significant games and how much he'd come to love Cleveland and the city's love for football.
I'd ask him about that kick to beat Virginia, and he'd say it was his best until that first one that beat the Steelers. It's just a shame he never got more of those chances.
I went to the Browns-Redskins game two weeks ago as a fan, amongst a group celebrating my good friend's birthday. We loaded up a bus with coolers and immature 30-somethings dressed in jerseys representing Browns from Bernie Kosar to Colt McCoy, and I searched boxes in my parents' basement until I found my old Texas No. 4 jersey, something I've had since Dawson was kicking for Texas and an XL-sized jersey was actually too big for me instead of too small.
Upon arriving in the stadium parking lots and wandering towards the line for the restroom, I encountered an all too typical group of over-served morons looking for a fight against anyone not wearing Browns colors. One particular meathead went 30 yards out of his way to tell me that Texas fans weren't welcome in Cleveland. I told him it was a Phil Dawson jersey, it was probably older than he was and that he should cool it.
Suprisingly, we were in total agreement.
"Everybody should have a Phil Dawson jersey," meathead said to me. "That dude is just the best."