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Monday, December 24, 2007

Witness this: Phil Dawson is Cleveland's MVP



December 23, 2007

John Campanelli

Arguments about Cleveland sports are endless: Would we have won the NBA title if Carlos Boozer were still here? Should Chief Wahoo be retired? Is it best to give a Steelers fan an uppercut or a groin shot?

But one question -- who is Cleveland's sports MVP? -- seems to be settled. It's LeBron James, of course.

Or is it?

The most common definition of "value" is the fair price or worth of something. Thinking that way, James, who is probably responsible for about $200 million of the $455 million the Cavaliers franchise is estimated to be worth, is by far the most valuable player in town, if not North America.

But "value" also has a more subtle meaning, something intangible, like the value of a pair of gloves during a blizzard, the value of your mom's advice.

And the value of a certain placekicker for the Browns.

That's right: Phil Dawson, MVP.

Before you dismiss this as lunacy, read on.

No other athlete in town has been as reliable, loyal, durable and affordable than the 5-foot-10 guy from Texas. This year, he's added another adjective: legendary.

This season, the Browns -- by far Cleveland's most popular sports team -- have returned to glory and are on the brink of where they belong: the playoffs. It's no coincidence that this also has been the season in which Dawson's foot has become golden.

Still don't think he's Cleveland's MVP? Consider what he offers -- and then offer a holiday toast to No. 4.

Reliability

This season, Dawson has made an impressive 88.9 percent of his field-goal attempts. In his eight-plus seasons with the Browns, Dawson has made 82.9 percent of his tries. That's fourth best in NFL history. Perhaps most astounding, Dawson makes an incredible 77.8 percent of kicks from 50 yards and beyond.

Durability

The Browns have played 142 games since returning in 1999. Dawson has been the kicker in 139 of them. His only missed period came in 2003, when he broke his arm against the Rams.

Affordability

This season, James will make more than $13 million (not counting endorsements). Tribe slugger Travis Hafner pocketed more than $4 million during 2007. And Dawson? He'll make about $1.7 million.

Productivity

In leading the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, James scored 27 percent of his team's points last season. In helping the Tribe to a division title, Hafner knocked in 13 percent of the Tribe's runs. So far this season, Dawson has scored 30 percent of the Browns' points. Yes, it's apples and oranges, but who cares?

Loyalty

Dawson, who turns 33 next month, is the lone player remaining from the original -- and awful -- reborn Browns team of 1999. More than 350 players have been on the roster since then. In the eight seasons before 2007, the Browns averaged a dreadful 11 losses a year.

Lore

Even before this season, Dawson already had secured a spot in Browns lore. The best field-goal percentage in team history, the first points scored in the new era (a field goal against the Titans in September 1999) rushing touchdown (on a fake field goal against the Bengals in October 1999) of the new era. But this season, he's been magical. He's twice won games with overtime kicks, against Seattle and Baltimore. The Browns got to OT against Baltimore when Dawson's last-second, 51-yard kick bounced off an upright, through the goal and then off the curved bar between the base and crossbar. It's been called the "immaculate deflection."

And then last Sunday, in perhaps the most amazing performance of his career, Dawson kicked two field goals in conditions that were ridiculous (blizzard snow, 46 mph winds). His second was a line-drive 49-yarder than would probably be missed 98 times out of 100. On that one, he again hit that curved bar on the goal post, the one that's now being called "the Dawson bar."

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