Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dawson makes an extra point of saying bye to fans, Browns

By Mary Kay Cabot, The Plain Dealer

March 21, 2013

Former Browns kicker Phil Dawson is 'heading west with a suitcase full of positive memories despite the club opting not to bring him back for a 15th season.

"I appreciate the interest in (a possible Browns offer), but my focus is on 100 percent moving forward and that's just how I'm going to roll with this," Dawson said on a conference call with Cleveland media. "That's probably a better question for somebody else."

The Browns -- looking to sign players in their mid-20s -- did have a discussion with Dawson's agent, Neil Cornrich, about a new contract. But ultimately the club decided to move on without making a formal offer, and Dawson seized the opportunity to sign a one-year deal with the 49ers, who are coming off their Super Bowl loss to the Ravens last month.

The deal is worth $2.25 million, with a $1 million signing bonus, according to reports -- more than a million less than the average of about $3.5 million Dawson made in each of the past two years as the Browns franchise player.

But the chance to be reunited with his former Browns special teams coach Brad Seeley and finally have a shot to win a Super Bowl outweighed the terms of the new deal.

"My focus was on the future and my agent did a tremendous job," said Dawson, 38. "I told him, 'When things start getting serious, call me, let's talk about it.' When that started taking place, it was all about the 49ers. I'm on cloud 9 right now."

Would he have stuck around if the Browns had made him the same offer as the 49ers?

"In terms of the hypothetical, I'll quote one of my favorite coaches of all time, Darrell Royal," said Dawson. "He said, 'If worms had guns, birds wouldn't eat em.' The whole 'what-if,' I'm not going to go there."

If Dawson had returned, he would have had a legitimate shot to break Hall of Famer Lou Groza's all-time scoring record of 1,349 points. Dawson, who set that as a goal his first year here in 1999, needed 79 points to accomplish the feat, and his yearly average was 90.

"Well, as I've always said, I have the utmost respect for Mr. Groza," said Dawson. "He is Mr. Cleveland Brown, so it only seems right that he's going to be the all-time leading scorer there. And I have no regrets. I have nothing but positive feelings about the whole experience. And someday when I'm done playing I'll be able to reflect and remember and reminisce and kind of evaluate everything. I'm not at that point yet. But for Mr. Groza to remain the all-time leading scorer, that just seems right to me."

If Dawson had to go, he couldn't have conjured up a better landing spot.

"What is there not to like about this place?" he said. "One of the storied franchises in NFL history. Great front office, it's first-class. Dynamic head coach who guys love to play for. Special teams coach that I have a working relationship with. Great group of players, talented group of players, a team that's right on the verge of winning it all. Great part of the country to live in. I guess the better question is: why not here? You'd have a really hard time, in my mind, giving a good reason for that."

Dawson explained that he didn't really know he wouldn't be back when he scrawled inside the shoe closet next to his locker after the season, "Phil was here 1999-2012."
"It was kind of tongue-in-cheek, (just) having some fun with the equipment guys who I'm really close with," he said.

While Dawson was on the conference call -- something he initiated so he could address the fans and media here one last time -- the Browns were already trying to fill his enormous shoes. They brought in "Kickalicious," a Norwegian trick-shot artist named Havard Rugland, who's seeking an NFL contract. But it was just a look-see, and it's highly doubtful they'll sign him.

"I think the Browns will do a good job of not only selecting whoever it's going to be, but working with him and being patient with him," said Dawson. "I'm going to be pulling for him. I'd just encourage everyone to be patient and embrace the new guy and support him the way they have done me."

Likewise, he's got nothing but good wishes for the place he raised his three children and made lifelong friends.

"I have so much respect for the Browns' organization, the fans, the city," he said. "I'll be rooting for them. They were some of the greatest years of my life. It's been an absolute privilege to wear that orange helmet and represent the fans each and every week. So there is nothing but positive feelings in my mind. I look forward to seeing how the organization grows and develops and experiences success. That's how I truly feel. I'm so excited with what's going to happen with me and my family moving forward. So it seems like a win-win."

He's also excited to join a Super Bowl contender and learn more from special teams mastermind Seeley.

"I'm probably going to be involved with football even after my playing days are over," he said. "The opportunity to sit under a guy once again and learn more football from him. ... I think that'll help with the transition. I'm really looking forward to working with him again."

Dawson leaves behind dozens of great friends, including former Browns left tackle Doug Dieken.

"He was probably one of my all-time favorites just because of the quality of the person," said Dieken. "How many stadiums do you go to where you see fans walking around in kickers' jerseys? It's a tribute to Phil. He's just a first-class guy and I always enjoyed his company."

Dieken admired that Dawson was more than just a kicker.

"He was a football player that kicked," said Dieken. "He spoke up and he backed it up. Lou Groza would've loved him."

When Dawson passed Dieken's games-played total of 203 games in 2012, he bought Dieken a football with pictures of both of them on it. "Mine said 'has been' and his said 'never was,' " Dieken said.

Dieken returned the favor by presenting Dawson with a caricature of the five Browns that have played in 200 games or more, including Groza, Clay Matthews, and Gene Hickerson. "I put everybody's picture in a rocking chair and I put him in the center on a pink kicking tee," Dieken said. "I told him welcome to the 200 club. He was a special person, and he'll be missed."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Good luck to Phil Dawson, the Browns' best player since 1999: Comment of the Day

One reader says Phil Dawson is the best Browns' player since 1999. (Joshua Gunter/ The Plain Dealer)

By Glenn Moore,

March 20, 2013

In response to the story Phil Dawson signs with San Francisco 49ers, ending his 14-year run with the Cleveland Browns, readerbluebengal says good luck to Phil Dawson.

"GREAT for Dawson. He deserves to have an opportunity to play for a contender at the end of his career. He goes down (this is SAD) right now as the best player the new Browns procured since 1999 as far as longevity and consistency. How sad is that! Joe Thomas will replace Phil if he plays another 4 years at his current level."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rams Celebrate Dr. Seuss by Reading to Students

March 6, 2013

By Evan Glantz

There was one Ram; there were two Rams. There were old fans; there were new fans. And all helped celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss by participating in the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day.

On Friday, quarterback Austin Davis and tight end Lance Kendricks visited Lyon Academy at Blow and Twillman Elementary School respectively to read Dr. Seuss books to students. The nation-wide program not only honors the great children’s author, but is also the largest reading celebration in the country. Its goal is to help highlight the importance of developing a love for reading at an early age. But it is not a one-sided experience.

“It’s enjoyable for me. I get a lot out of it,” Davis said. “I get to see (the students’) joy and their innocence and all those things that as you get older, you kind of forget about.”

Sporting a red-and-white-striped top hat, Davis channeled his inner Cat in the Hat as he took center stage at a school assembly. There he shared with them,Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, a book whose message of continuous learning and exploration through life was particularly applicable to the students of Lyon Academy at Blow.

“I’m happy the students were able to look up to him as a role model,” Dr. Ingrid Iskali, Lyon Academy at Blow principal, said. “It was important they understand that, yes, Austin is a quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, but he still studies and learns every day like our students here. It was a great experience for the kids to learn that you always have to work hard if you want to achieve your dreams.”

The Dr. Seuss Birthday Celebration was an extension of the GO! St. Louis Read, Right & Run Marathon program, an initiative with which Lyon Academy at Blow got involved last year. The Read, Right & Run program is designed to develop reading-proficient, community-minded and physically fit children. As part of the initiative, kids “read” 26 books, “right” the community with 26 good deeds and “run” 26.2 miles over a six-month period. Iskali said that every teacher at Lyon Academy at Blow has embraced the initiative and has made it a regular part of the school day.

“It has been very successful for our children because they understand the importance of training their bodies as well as their minds,” Iskali said.

By participating in the Read, Right, & Run program, Iskali said the school has seen an increase in reading among the students because of their desire to take part in the exercise activities. For each of the 26 books students read, they must write a summary and meet with their teacher to discuss what lessons or themes are offered. In order to encourage the reading effort and participation, Lyon Academy at Blow has incorporated a 20 minute silent reading period during the school day.

“(The silent reading period) has become a part of our teachers’ lesson plans and part of the daily routine as well,” Iskali said. “Every classroom has theirs scheduled at a different time. It gives the teacher time to interact with the students and it is embedded in their schedules.”

Even with the progress that has been made during their year-long participation in the program, Iskali and her faculty know there is still work to be done. The Read, Right, & Run initiative is a project with the goal of keeping kids’ minds and bodies active long-term.

“We’re hoping the children become lifelong readers and that they keep in mind the exercise routines,” Iskali said. “As we get older, we forget about exercising. But it’s very important for them to establish the good habits now while they’re young and continue as they grow.”

Davis recognized the opportunity he had to contribute to the effort.

“As a professional athlete, we’ve been blessed with a huge platform and the ability to influence others,” Davis said. “I think it’s very important how you use that influence. No matter what you’re doing, people are watching and kids are looking up to you, whether you want them to or not. So it’s important to do your best to steer these kids in the right direction.”

At Twillman Elementary School, Kendricks had his opportunity to positively influence students. He visited two classrooms, where he read The Sneetchesto third graders and The Lorax to fifth grade students. Following each story, Kendricks took time to discuss the theme with the kids, making sure they understood the lessons offered by the book.

Kendricks’ visit was arranged by Amanda Ehll, a library media specialist at Twillman. She sent in a request to the Rams in September as she began planning for Read Across America. Throughout the entire day, various professionals visited the school to read Dr. Seuss book to the kids.

“The program is done to encourage a love of reading,” Ehll said. “I want the students to see positive role models here and know that they can achieve by reading.”
Kendricks, who lists Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as his favorite book, was happy to enhance the program.

“I didn’t expect the kids to be so rowdy and ready for me to read them a book,” Kendricks said. “But I had a lot of fun doing it and the kids were great. They asked some good questions and understood the actual meaning behind the books, which was most important.”

In addition to sharing his love of reading with the kids, Kendricks was able to answer many of their questions, which ranged from his success in the classroom to his success on the gridiron.

“I hope they look at this as an opportunity to be more mindful of paying attention in class and taking school seriously because it will take them along further in life.”

Monday, March 11, 2013

An act of selflessness from Todd Graham

March 8, 2013

By Kevin Gemmell |

A tip of the cap to Arizona State head coach Todd Graham for continuing to be a class act and a strong ambassador for the school, the state and the coaching profession.

The following letter appeared in yesterday's Arizona Republic -- from an Arizona fan. But as you'll read (navigate to the bottom middle of page C2 in the sports section to see the original), school allegiances don't really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

Coach Graham a hero off the field
I am an alumnus and fan of the University of Arizona, and bleed Wildcat red and blue. I watched ASU coach Todd Graham lead the Sun Devils to a very good season, and by all appearances he has restored some class and discipline to the football program.

But I write about something more important that happened before last football season, when coaches were recruiting players who had been released from their commitment to Penn State. A dear friend of my sister-in-law is a nurse in Phoenix, and his closest friend, also in his early 20s, was dying of cancer in a hospice facility. The nurse left a message for Graham describing the situation with the cancer patient, a big ASU fan. When Graham called, he explained he was about to board a plane to go to Pennsylvania to recruit, and asked if he could visit when he returned. Two days later, when his plane landed at Sky Harbor, Graham did not go to his office or home to see his family. He went immediately to the hospice to see the dying young man. He spent 90 minutes with him -- talking football, encouraging him and praying with him. The young man was in and out of consciousness, but the coach stayed and prayed, even when the patient was not awake. The young man died six hours later.

What Graham did that day meant a lot to the young man and his family. The coach will not blow his own horn but I thought this story should be known. As a U of A fan I will still root against ASU, but I will always root for Graham, a quality coach and more importantly, a quality man.

— J. Gregory Osborne, Tempe

This isn't the first time we've seen this from Graham. We posted a similar letter back in August. Same scenario, different people. And I'm willing to bet this happens a lot more than is actually written about. So once again, kudos to Graham.

Ted Ginn Jr., former Ohio State wide receiver now return specialist for 49ers helps Africa children

March 10, 2013

By Tina Kaufmann

CLEVELAND - Ted Ginn Jr., former Ohio State University wide receiver now San Francisco 49ers punt returner, is on a mission trip with Pros For Africa, helping hundreds of children in Uganda.

The trip this year consisted of Ginn and teammate NaVorro Bowman joining a group of other professionals, who include recently retired wide receiver Johnny Knox from the Chicago Bears.

The Pros For Africa team left March 2 for Uganda where they've been partnering with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to provide hearing aids to those in need throughout the African country.

The group will also be going to the northern Ugandan town of Gulu to visit Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a 2007 CNN hero award winner who runs St. Monica’s Tailoring Center. She gives women who have survived capture by the Lords Resistance Army throughout the region a new chance at a healthy and happy life for themselves and their children.

A trip to Hope North in northern Uganda, which is a boys school supported by actor Forrest Whitaker, is also scheduled on the trip.

The nonprofit, co-founded by NFL players Adrian Peterson, Tommie Harris and Roy Williams, and Mark Clayton, has taken more than 30 NFL players with them on this life-changing journey.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Ted Ginn Jr. on "Pros for Africa" mission in Uganda

Two Time Super Bowl Champ Inspires Chiefs At Annual Football Banquet

Two-time Super Bowl champion Anthony Pleasant spoke words of inspiration to the state champion Northview Chiefs Monday night during their annual football banquet.

March 5, 2013

Champions are special, Pleasant told the young men, and champions should work to fulfill the role. “You guys are champs,” he told the Chiefs, “You have won the state championship, conduct yourselves as champions.”

Acting like a champion means respecting authority, the Century native said, “because you can’t get there if you do not respect authority.”

Pleasant said relationships are key in life, and bridges should never be burned. A team, the Super Bowl champ said, is a group of unselfish players that do not look out only for their own interests, but for those of their teammates.”

Pleasant encouraged the Chiefs players to pursue their dreams, whether or not those dreams include football.

“Not everyone will be a professional ball player, but whatever your passion – follow it, pursue your passion.”

Pleasant is a former pro football player selected in the third round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. During his 14 year NFL career, Pleasant played for the Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, the Atlanta Falcons, the New York Jets, the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots. He played a total of 202 NFL games and racked up 58 sacks and two interceptions. The 1986 Century High School graduate earned two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots.

Pleasant is currently the defensive line coach for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Williams had NFL mentor in Vrabel

February 28, 2013

By Matt Florjancic, Staff Writer

When former Ohio State University defensive end Nathan Williams sat out the 2011 season with a knee injury that limited him to just one game, he believed there were benefits from remaining around the program while working his way back to the field.

Although he had surgery on the knee and missed the season, the 6-foot-3, 249-pound Williams was still active with the team and enjoyed learning the game from Ohio State assistant, Mike Vrabel. The former Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker mentored Ohio State’s defensive linemen in 2012.

“I got to sit back and hear him without being able to play,” Williams said of Vrabel. “Playing at such a high level and not being able to play and having to take coaching and learn from what he was telling other guys throughout the whole offseason and spring ball were a tremendous asset that I had the opportunity to have.

“With such a highly touted and decorated career that Mike Vrabel had, all the great things he did -- winning the Super Bowl; he played on some great teams and started on some great teams -- and having such a great career, I learned a lot as far as his mentality to the game and just the overall toughness, attitude he brought. Coach Vrabel had his own, unique way of coaching and I think it’s very effective and I think he’s going to have a tremendous group this offseason. I’m looking forward to watching them.”

After helping teach him the game from a mental standpoint, Vrabel guided Williams on his comeback season in 2012. Williams registered 40 total tackles and 19 solo stops. He also forced and recovered a fumble for the Buckeyes, who finished with an undefeated mark of 12-0 in 2012.

“It’s hard to be where you were with no offseason and missing the whole previous season before that,” Williams said. “I was very self-motivated, and very motivated to get back for Coach (Urban) Meyer and all the coaches. I know they believed in me. They wanted me to be a part of the defense, and so did I. That’s why I did what I did and made it back by the first game.”

A native of Washington Court House, Ohio, and graduate of Miami Trace High School, Williams said playing at Ohio State “prepared me in a lot of ways” for life at the NFL level.

“Having the best coaches prepare you for the next level is a tremendous asset,” Williams said. “It depends on what you do with it, and how consistent you are with the coaching. If you don’t take the coaching, you’re going to fall behind, but if you take the coaching and you adapt and learn from what they’re teaching you and how moves are effective, that just makes you a better player.

“I think I’m very versatile. I can play inside, outside, off the line of scrimmage, wherever they need me. I’m looking forward to being coached and I crave coaching. I just want to get better as a player and I know that I have a very high ceiling. I’m looking forward to doing it where it counts, and that’s in the NFL.”

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