Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
Oh, give him a dome: The far-fetched idea of covering Cleveland Browns Stadium with a retractable roof perked up the ears of Phil Dawson after practice on Wednesday.
“I’ve been praying for that for 14 years,” said the Browns only full-time kicker in the expansion era.
Dawson arguably is the greatest outdoors kicker in the NFL today. Adam Vinatieri surely held that unofficial title while with the New England Patriots, but he’s been on semi-retirement kicking indoors in Indianapolis since the 2006 season.
You would think that, like Matt Bahr before him, Dawson would consider the unpredictable footing and wind conditions inside Browns Stadium to be a distinct home-field advantage for him.
“Oh, yeah, don’t get me wrong,” Dawson said. “It’s been challenging beyond what I could ever imagine dealing with the conditions here. But being the age I am now (37), to think of the thousands of kicks I could have saved through the years from going out in pre-game and figuring out what shoe to wear, where to aim, how the conditions have changed.
“I’d literally go out in pre-game and kick 15 balls and say I’m good. Now, I hit close to 50, probably.”
Dawson benefits from the necessity of having to know every inch of sod on his home field and every trick the Lake Erie winds play inside that stadium.
“But does it help our offense?” he said. “That’s an even better question. I’m going to make kicks whether we’re outside or inside.”
It’s the ground, not the weather: I asked Dawson what’s the biggest challenge of kicking in Browns Stadium in the winter months.
“Footing,” he said.
“For example, (Matt) Stover was an 81 percent kicker here (from 1991-95). “He goes to Baltimore, which is outside, but on (the artificial surface) FieldTurf, and he made 88 percent of his kicks there.
“When we plant our foot, if we miss our spot by this far – (spreading his hands just inches apart) -- chances are we’re going to miss the kick. What happens when you plant your foot on snow or mud or a hole or a divot and your foot slides? It has an effect. When you’re on FieldTurf, you’re never going to slip. It’s constant, it’s reliable, it’s consistent. It really helps.
“That plays out for the rest of the guys, too. A receiver coming out of a break, a quarterback taking his drop and planting his feet, an offensive lineman setting up.”
Dawson said the unpredictable winds are second to unpredictable footing.
“For me, if I have a (firm) plant foot, (the wind) can blow all at once because I’m confident I can kick where I’m aiming.”
Snow globe memories: But what about the memories of playing that one game a year – on average – in adverse winter conditions? Those would be erased by playing in a sterile dome.
I told Dawson that the 8-0 Browns win in a horizontal blizzard played in 2007 against Buffalo – Sunday’s opponent – was the most memorable game I’ve covered since the 1999 season.
In 40 mph winds and on a field covered by snow, Dawson converted field goals of 35 and 49 yards. So where does that game rank on his personal list?
“Top three,” Dawson said. “Because that was a big game at that part of the season. We were trying to make a playoff run. I was having the time of my life. Here we were, and this was a meaningful game.
“It was like the games you go play as a kid. You say, ‘Let’s go in the backyard and play mud football.’ That’s what we played in Texas. Up here, I’m sure kids played in the snow. To have a big role in that one was special.”
Also in Dawson’s top three were his first career game-winner with time running out in Pittsburgh in 1999; and, of course, the “Dawson Bar” game in Baltimore in 2007, in which Dawson’s controversial kick sent the game to overtime after the Ravens prematurely celebrated a win.
By the way, both of those games were played outdoors – where football was meant to be played.
|rns for the rematch with the Bengals on Oct. 14. By then, will it matter?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 email@example.com
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