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."

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