By Tony Grossi
Phil Dawson started his Browns career in 1999 fearing his next kick would be his last. He possibly is ending it, 14 years later, with his first Pro Bowl selection.
Dawson, whose future with the team is uncertain because his contract is up after Sunday’s season finale in Pittsburgh, was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team Wednesday for the first time.
“I really don’t know what to feel,” Dawson said on a conference call. “It’s been such a special season in a lot of ways. To have it culminate in this is pretty over the top. It’s going to take me some time to let it all sink in.”
Left tackle Joe Thomas also was named for the sixth consecutive season. Thomas joined Jim Brown as the only player in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first six NFL seasons.
Three other Browns were named first alternates at their positions – Josh Cribbs on special teams, D’Qwell Jackson at middle linebacker and Alex Mack at center. They could gain the trip to Honolulu if players selected ahead of them are injured or reach the Super Bowl.
Dawson, 37, is the first Browns player to be selected to the Pro Bowl as a kicker, which verifies his place as the franchise’s all-time greatest kicker.
The only meaningful record eluding Dawson is scoring. His 1,267 points rank second to the 1,349 scored in the NFL by Lou Groza.
Groza made nine Pro Bowl selections as an offensive tackle and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at that position. He doubled as a kicker through 1959, and then kicked exclusively from 1961 to ’67.
This year Dawson has missed only one of 29 field goal attempts, and that came in Oakland on a partially blocked kick. He is 6 of 6 on field goals from 50 yards or longer and also set a career-high with 29 touchbacks this season.
Dawson’s .842 career field-goal percentage is the highest in history among the 25 kickers with 300 or more field goals.
He is the only player still with the Browns from the original expansion season of 1999. Dawson often retells the story of coach Chris Palmer telling him after he made the final roster cut, “Well, we’re starting with you.”
“I’ll go even further back,” Dawson said. “I couldn’t help but remember my draft party in 1998 when I was waiting to be drafted and the phone never rang. It seems like that dark cloud’s kind of hung over my head, being undrafted. In a way I’m grateful for it because it’s pushed me to work harder. To have my name finally called 15 years later is hard to wrap my mind around. This is certainly a welcome change.”
Thomas said the feeling of being recognized as one of the best at his position never gets old. His six selections match guard Gene Hickerson, left tackle Dick Schafrath and running back Leroy Kelly in Browns’ annals. Only Brown and Groza have more with nine.
“I think it’s a nice reward after a season of good work,” Thomas said. “It’s definitely good to be recognized, even if you’re on a team that doesn’t make the playoffs.”
Thomas said it was a challenge for him to make the Pro Bowl the last two seasons after playing his first four next to one left guard, Eric Steinbach. Steinbach was replaced in 2011 by Jason Pinkston. Pinkston started the 2012 season, but had to be replaced by John Greco after he developed a blood clot in a leg.
“Certainly having different guys has been a unique challenge but it’s also been good because it’s helped me grow,” Thomas said.
|s the Tom Heckert-Shurmur era will suffer a similar ending.Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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