Monday, December 13, 2021

Phil Dawson: ‘Every kick could be your last’ (Vintage Browns excerpt No. 4) – Terry Pluto


Updated: Dec. 06, 2021, 6:42 a.m. | Published: Dec. 06, 2021, 6:42 a.m.

Browns place kicker Phil Dawson acknowledges the fans as he leaves the field after the final game of the season against the Steelers, January 02, 2011, in Cleveland. It was the last game he played as a Browns as the Steelers dumped the Browns, 41-9. Joshua Gunter,

By Terry Pluto,


Excerpted from the book Vintage Browns, © 2021 by Terry Pluto. Reprinted with permission of Gray & Company, Publishers. Available at Northeast Ohio bookstores and from


CLEVELAND, Ohio – The weather makes Cleveland one of the hardest places to kick in the NFL, as Phil Dawson discovered when he came to the Browns in 1999.


“I had to figure out how to kick in Cleveland with the wind and the cold,” Dawson said. “Back then, there were only 30 jobs — not just in the NFL, but 30 kicking jobs like this in the world. You couldn’t be picky. Don’t complain about it.”


He used to go to FirstEnergy Stadium during the week to practice kicking. “But I stopped after a few years. The weather on Wednesday was not the same as Sunday. It was always changing.”


Dawson was like legendary Cleveland weatherman Dick Goddard in an orange helmet.


“I studied weather patterns,” he said. “I was almost psycho about that. I used because it was better with temperature and precipitation. But was better for wind velocity. I studied both.”


Dawson said for every 10-degree drop in temperature, a kicker will often lose a yard or two in distance and a half-second in hang time.


“To be a kicker in Cleveland and survive, you have to be a good one,” he said. “There’s no just hanging around, being mediocre. The elements will quickly expose you. It’s not like being in a dome or some warm-weather cities where you can just go out and kick — fewer variables to worry about.”


So he figured out how to kick in Cleveland?


“No way,” he said. “You have to figure it out one kick at a time. There is the footing issue; bad weather can be a problem there. The winds change. There are so many calculations going into each kick.”


Dawson makes the case for kicker being the loneliest, least-understood position in the NFL.

“If I’m a quarterback and having problems with my accuracy, there’s going to be someone in the building (on the coaching staff) to help me with technique,” said Dawson. “The same with all the other positions. But when you’re a kicker and you’re struggling, there’s no one in-house to help you. Special teams coaches generally know zero about kicking. You have to fix yourself.”

Dawson said a few teams are starting to add kicking coaches, but it’s not a general practice across the NFL.

“About 95% of the time, it was me taking tapes home from practice and watching it myself,” he said. “I had to figure it out. Just as I wouldn’t complain about kicking in a hard environment, I couldn’t complain about not having anyone on the coaching staff to help me.”

Dawson said he can remember only two possible game-winning kicks that he missed while in Cleveland.

“No one feels worse about it than the kicker when he misses, especially that kind of important kick,” said Dawson. “But to me, every kick was a big kick. I mean that. Because every kick could be your last kick.”

Dawson had a special approach.

“Some people thought kickers just show up in practice, kick a few balls and go home,” said Dawson. “I was the opposite. I was in the weight room with the guys. I went to meeting rooms with other position groups. I was watching tape like they do, grinding away. I stayed after practice.”

That’s true. Former Browns coach Pat Shurmur often said that of Dawson. Shurmur made Dawson a team captain. He would privately talk to Dawson about some issues on the team. Rarely is a kicker considered a team leader, but after a few years in Cleveland that was Dawson with the Browns.

“Because I worked so hard and was connected to the other players, that helped me when I had a rough patch,” said Dawson. “I knew I had their support. Sometimes, they showed more confidence in me than I had in myself. So did the fans. I felt it. It allowed me to do things I didn’t even think I could do.”


Dawson never wanted to play anywhere but Cleveland.

“Devastating,” he said. “That’s how I felt at the end of 2012 when I became a free agent and I wasn’t given an opportunity to remain a Brown. Why would I ever want to leave? I’d invested 14 years in Cleveland. I grew to love not only the team but the city, the fans — everything.”

New Browns CEO Joe Banner put the team into rebuild mode. Banner didn’t think a kicker was worth $4 million — Dawson’s previous salary. It’s a rather modest sum in the overall payroll of an NFL team. Instead, he went with the cheaper Shayne Graham. When Graham didn’t work out, Banner turned to Billy Cundiff.

Dawson signed with San Francisco for $2.2 million.

“The stereotype for pro kickers is you can find one on any street corner,” said Dawson. “If that were true, why is there so much turnover in kickers when you only need 32 of them? And they can’t even find 32 (to consistently do the job well).”

After Dawson, the Browns used nine kickers from 2013 to 2020. Cody Parkey had two tours of duty.

“I still don’t understand what the Browns did,” said Dawson. “I established myself as a dependable guy and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. I was kicking longer field goals as my career went on.”

In 2012, at 37, Dawson had perhaps the best season of his pro career. He was 29-of-31 on field goals, including perfect on seven attempts from 50 or more yards. In 2020, Parkey didn’t even attempt a field goal from 50 or more yards.

Dawson kicked for six more seasons — four in San Francisco, two in Arizona. He signed a one-day contract with the Browns in 2019 so he could retire as an official member of the team. Of course, he never should have been told to leave.

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