Monday, December 17, 2007

Dawson finds success on ‘most difficult day’

December 17, 2007

Bud Shaw

No kid on the sandlot imagines being the kicker, especially when the sandlot is filling up with snow and the wind is turning playground litter into soaring kites.

The running back slipping and sliding for a TD, sure. The quarterback? Always. Just not Phil Dawson on a day like Sunday.

"I would have to say in my nine years here that was by far the most difficult day to kick a football," Dawson said. "Had there been no snow at all, it would've been in the top five just because of the way the wind was blowing."

The rule Dawson and specialists live by is never give the goal posts away. Keep the kick inside the uprights.

Sounds easy. But that approach wasn't going to work on a day when the gusts reached 40-plus miles an hour.

Try aiming the ball to miss. That's what Dawson had to do. It requires a big foot and bigger nerve.

Twice, Dawson was the golfer starting a shot over water and praying he calculated the wind correctly. One 35-yard draw and a 49-yard fade later, he'd accounted for six of the Browns' points in an 8-0 win they desperately needed.

The usual game-day routine that put him on the field to survey the conditions mid-morning had severe limitations. Sunday morning was beach weather compared to the afternoon.

"The one thing I learned being here so long is that going out there at 9:30 on Sunday morning prepares you for 9:30 on Sunday morning," Dawson said.

He can't remember ever aiming as far left as he did on the second field goal. He picks targets, he said. A letter on the scoreboard. A pink hat in the stands. This one, he had to start out in the no-man's land between the left upright and the sideline.

His kick not only hit dead center but bounced off the crossbar support at approximately the same place his second carom in Baltimore landed. It turned a tough day into a real slog for Buffalo's offense.

"He has that kick down," punter Dave Zastudil kidded.

It's unclear if Dawson is now calling his bank shots in the huddle or when the ball is in the air. But he's now 24-for-27 this season, his team is 9-5 and tied for the division lead.

"When I'm a grandpa back in Texas and I'm telling my grandkids, that will be my story - that I called it," he said.

No one deserves this turnaround season more than Dawson, especially after last year when he staggered to the finish, but in particular because of his longevity.

Having been here in '99 for the restart and for everything else that ran the gamut from mostly bad to awful, his role in making improbable kicks this year has become symbolic of the season.

It makes it easy to put Sunday's game in perspective, even held up to bad weather days such as San Diego in 2004 and Tennessee in 2000. In short, they don't rate much of a mention because context is everything.

"The main difference is that this game mattered," said Dawson. "This is the first game in this stadium that - when this organization started out nine years ago - [it] kind of envisioned this is what Cleveland Browns football is all about.

"A game late in the year. At home. A chance to go to the playoffs. With horrible weather. The Browns coming out on top."

Yep. Just like they drew it up.

On two field goals and a safety - a kicker's dream if no one else's.

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