Friday, December 28, 2012

Dawson’s leg launches him to first Pro Bowl

By Mary Kay Cabot, The Plain Dealer

December 26, 2012

BEREA, Ohio -- Browns left tackle Joe Thomas took one more giant step toward the Hall of Fame with his sixth straight Pro Bowl selection, and kicker Phil Dawson will set foot in the Pro Bowl for the first time in his 14-year career.

Josh Cribbs was selected as a first alternate as both a kick-return specialist and special-teamer, D’Qwell Jackson was named a first alternate at inside linebacker and Alex Mack was selected as a first alternate at center.

“It’s a nice reward after a season of good work,” Thomas said. “It definitely always feels good to be recognized for the hard work that you did during the season, even if you’re not a team that’s making the playoffs.”

Thomas joins Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown (1958-66) as the only Browns selected to the Pro Bowl in each of their first six seasons in the league.

Of the 15 players who have made the Pro Bowl in each of their first six seasons, 13 are in the Hall of Fame, which was one of Thomas’ goals when he was drafted by the Browns with the third overall pick in 2007.

Hall of Famers who made Pro Bowls in each of their first six seasons include Brown, Dick Butkus, Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Barry Sanders, Merlin Olsen, Emmitt Smith and Lawrence Taylor.

“It’s pretty humbling just to be mentioned in the same group with some of those other names,” Thomas said. “It’s guys from all different generations, and they’ve had such phenomenal careers. To be part of that group is pretty special, and it’s pretty humbling just to think about it and just sit back and look at some of those names.”

Thomas hasn’t missed an snap since joining the Browns, starting all 15 games at left tackle this season. The most recent Browns player to be named to six consecutive Pro Bowls was Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly (1967-72). Thomas is one of six Browns to earn Pro Bowl honors six or more times, and joins Richmond Webb (Miami Dolphins, 1991-97) as the only NFL offensive linemen since 1970 to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of their first six seasons.

“I feel I’m getting better every year and my best is still yet to come,” Thomas said. “I still feel like I’ve got more in the tank, and hopefully, next year will be better than this year and I’ll keep growing that pattern.”

Dawson, the first Brown to be voted in as a kicker (Lou Groza was selected as a tackle), was grateful to punter Reggie Hodges for starting a Twitter campaign and writing a letter to The Plain Dealer to help get him in.

“To have a friend that’s a teammate like Reggie — to go out of his way to kind of mobilize the fan base and just show that he cared about me and he knew this was a goal of mine — that means a tremendous amount, especially when you consider how rare it is to even have a friend in this business,” Dawson said. “I’m always going to remember Reggie’s role in this and be really appreciative of it.”

Dawson’s 96.6 field-goal percentage (28-of-29) this season leads the AFC, and he’s 6-of-6 on field goals from 50 yards or longer, which is tied for the most in the AFC. He also set a career high with 29 touchbacks this season, surpassing his previous best of 12 in 2008. He beat out Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski and Baltimore’s Justin Tucker.

“I deliberately tried not to know,” Dawson said. “We wanted to watch the [Pro Bowl selection] show with my kids. I had a really good idea what was going on, but it was a pretty priceless moment when we saw the name flash up on the screen. My kids went nuts ’cause my wife went nuts. That makes these 15 years of waiting worth it.”

Dawson is savoring the moment and trying not to think of Sunday’s finale in Pittsburgh as his last in a Browns uniform.

“Obviously, there’s a combination of those [emotions] kind of mixing together, but I’m going to enjoy this tonight,” he said. “Fortunately for me this week, it’s Steelers week, and that’s a big week around here. I’ve come to understand what that game is all about to our fans and our city. So it’s not going to be difficult at all, even with this news, it’s not going to be very difficult to get back to work tomorrow and study those guys and go over to Heinz Field and see if we can get a win.”

Dawson said this moment is in stark contrast to 1998, when he held a draft party coming out of Texas and the phone never rang.

“In a lot of ways, I’m grateful for it because it’s been what’s driven me and pushed me to just keep my head down and just keep plugging away and try to keep getting better, year after year,” he said. “I’m just very grateful that, at least one time in my career, I get to experience this.”

The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 27 in Honolulu and be televised on WKYC Channel 3 at 7:00 p.m.

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