Kickers aren’t known for bombastic personalities, Bill Gramatica’s injury-inducing celebrations aside. About an hour after the Browns’ 20-10 loss to Atlanta on Oct. 9, Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson exuded a low-key demeanor as he ambled outside the entrance to the Browns locker room. Dawson was one of many Browns players mingling with family and friends following the game. A team celebration Dawson’s accomplishment was marred by the Browns’ fourth loss in five games.
In the third quarter against the Falcons, Dawson kicked a 19-yard field goal to tie Lou “The Toe” Groza for most field goals made in team history with 234. Dawson broke the record a week later in Pittsburgh after he kicked a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter.
“I enjoyed (Oct. 9) evening with my family,” said Dawson, after last Sunday’s 28-10 loss to Pittsburgh. “That was pretty special to me.”
It is only fitting the record-setting field goal was the same length as his first career game-winner in orange and brown. The venue was different, but the city and opponent were the same. On Nov. 14, 1999, Dawson kicked a 39-yard field goal as time expired to give the Browns a 16-15 win over the Steelers. Since then, Dawson kicked 11 more game winners, some of which have punctuated some of the team’s most exciting victories since their return.
Unfortunately, victories have not been a common occurance, and Dawson has had a front-row seat to witness stinging loss after stinging loss.
Entering this season, Dawson ranked as the franchise leader in field goal percentage (83.3 percent), third in team’s history with 966 career points behind Groza (1,349) and Don Cockroft (1,808), held the franchise single-season record with 30 field goals made in 2008 and was eighth all-time in NFL history in accuracy.
Dawson has produced a remarkable career in Cleveland, where he makes his home year-round in Westlake with his wife, Shannon, and their sons Dru and Beau. Dawson says the right things and he’s embraced northeast Ohio by establishing his family here. That’s refreshing considering what the region experienced with another local professional athlete last July.
Yet how often have you seen a No. 4 jersey on game day? I guess such is life as a kicker. Dawson has made big kicks and he’s done so in the same uniform for more than a decade. Former New England kicker Adam Vinatieri now kicks with Indianapolis. Vinatieri is the first player in NFL history to be the deciding factor in two Super Bowl wins and was a key factor during the Patriots three championship seasons.
Meanwhile, Dawson continues to kick — and kick well — for Cleveland. It just feels as if Browns fans may have taken him for granted.
The kicker is the loneliest player on the team, even when he’s winning that team games.
For Dawson, it is fitting neither the tying of the Groza record nor the breaking of the record took precedence. Instead, it was the fall out from yet another Browns loss.
“As I said (Oct. 9), I would’ve gladly traded it for a win,” Dawson said. “And that was against an opponent that’s not a division rival. I’ve been around here long enough to understand what hits rivalry is about. As I sand here right now, that’s all that really matters to me — we just got beat by the Steelers. That’s as tough as it gets.”
“I don’t want to do the record a disservice, it was something that I set out a long time ago to do, but we just lost to the Steelers and it’s not the best night to throw a party.”
Being gracious in defeated is not a trait possessed by all professional athletes. Dawson may not want to celebrate in the wake of another loss, but that doesn’t prevent more Browns fans to proclaim their appreciation. Perhaps a few more No. 4 jerseys will be in attendance Nov. 7 against New England?