On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that marks the end of a tumultuous 2010 season.
Caught in the drama of a potential coaching change following the season, Browns fans appear distracted and unaware that one of the most under appreciated players in team history may be wearing an orange helmet for the final time.
The contract of kicker Phil Dawson expires at the end of the season, and there has been no indication the Browns are planning to bring him back for his 13th season as a Cleveland Brown.
I first picked up on this story while watching All Bets Are Off, with Bruce Drennan on Sports Time Ohio. Surprised at the news that the Browns were apparently letting Dawson walk, I emailed the Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto, who confirmed he believed that to be the case.
In the game of football, the kicker is often the last guy on the roster who ever comes to mind. Never a press conference. Not many interviews. An overlooked cog in the fabric of the team, most kickers are nothing more than a footnote in the box score.
But not Phil Dawson.
Since the Browns came back into the league as an expansion team in 1999, it seems their biggest investment was a large revolving door at the front of their headquarters in Berea. With coaches and players coming and going, through turmoil and turnover,there has been one constant—No. 4.
Phil Dawson is the last remaining player from our opening day roster on that magical, yet tragic, September night in 1999, when football was officially back in Cleveland. Fittingly, his long chapter may close on Sunday against the same team that it started against. The Pittsburgh Steelers.
At age 36, I can't say for certain what the best course of action is for the Browns. The sentimental side of me would like to see him brought back again. One last contract, one last chance to kick for a team he has been with since day one, through thick and thin.
If Sunday is in fact Dawson's last game as a Cleveland Brown, I must say I'm sad to see him go. He is the only person on the roster who can possibly understand what we have gone through as fans over the past 12 seasons. Through the losses, the rebuilding, the regime changes, the heartache. Like us, he has endured.
With all of the draft picks, all of the players, who would have thought that 12 seasons after expansion, the only relevant jersey would be No. 4?
I will always remember that 1999 season. The suspense, the hype and the disappointment that followed after losing 43-0 in the season opener to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Who would have thought that just weeks later we would beat that same Pittsburgh team, on their field?
Phil Dawson hit a 39 yard field goal as time expired in a 15 mph wind at Three Rivers Stadium, as the Browns beat the Steelers 16-15. It was a moment I'll never forget. That victory was a feeling I had not experienced in years and for a brief time following the move in 1995, thought I never would again. A feeling of joy owed to a kicker from Texas who I never heard of, but 12 seasons later will never forget.
If Sunday is your last game in Cleveland, thank you for everything Phil.
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