Countdown to 2020: Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 29
The best No. 29 for the Cleveland Browns also berthed the Dawg Pound
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 29 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 29: Hanford Dixon.
Hanford Dixon was selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick in the 1981 NFL draft out of the University of Southern Mississippi. Dixon was a standout defensive back for the Golden Eagles on some of the school’s best defensive squads in school history. He was also inducted into the Southern Mississippi Legends Club in 2010.
Dixon won the starting right cornerback job, a position he would not relinquish until his retirement, during training camp, and asserted himself as a voice on the defense. When Dixon arrived in Cleveland, he was an injection of youth to a veteran-laden defensive unit. Ron Bolton, the cornerback starting opposite of Dixon was nine years his elder.
By his second year on the team, Dixon had become the voice of the back end of the defense. It was not common for such a young player to take a leadership role, but there was not anything common about how Dixon carried himself. He displayed an aura of confidence and backed it up with his play on the field. In 1982, Dixon racked up four interceptions in only nine games due to the strike-shortened season.
The 1984 season marked the beginning of a new era for the Browns defense, up until then Dixon had played with a different starting cornerback in each of his three seasons. That dynamic changed when Frank Minnifield signed with the Browns. Now Dixon had a running mate and the two fed off each other and gave the defense, and the crowd, a different kind of energy. They kept that same energy for the next six seasons together.
Dixon and Minnifield became the premier cornerback tandem in the NFL. But the duo brought more to the table than just outstanding play on the field. They changed the culture of the fanbase. What started off as the two cornerbacks barking at each other before and after successful plays, turned into the crowd barking in reciprocation. Then before a preseason game, the cornerbacks made a sign and placed it in front of the bleacher section of Municipal Stadium and the Dawg Pound was born.
By the 1986 season, the entire Browns team had embraced this new energy and the fed off of it. The defense, led by Dixon and Minnifield, had become an embodiment of the city of Cleveland. They were a stingy, gritty defensive unit that complimented the offense perfectly. The Browns won the AFC Central and made it all the way to the conference championship game. Both Minnifield and Dixon were voted to the Pro Bowl and Dixon was named a first-team All-Pro selection.
The 1987 season was practically a carbon copy of the 1986 season. The Browns once again won the AFC Central and made it all the way to the conference championship. Unfortunately, the team repeated the outcome of the conference game by losing in dramatic fashion to the exact same team (that will not be named). Once more, Dixon and Minnifield made another trip to Honolulu, and Dixon was again named a first-team All-Pro.
The Browns underwent one of the weirdest playoff seasons in team history in 1988. A litany of injuries put the Browns in a hole, that the team miraculously kept digging themselves out of. Despite the odds, the team never gave up and at the heart of it all was Dixon. He kept that same energy that he did during the previous seasons. The Browns made the playoffs by beating the Houston Oilers in the final week of the season, and then promptly lost to the Oilers to exit the playoffs in the very next game. 1988 would mark the last trip to the Pro Bowl for Dixon and Minnifield as a tandem.
Dixon would retire from football after the 1989 season. He played nine seasons for the Browns and forever left his fingerprints on the organization and their fanbase. Dixon will always be beloved in Cleveland and is still part of the fabric of the city to this day.
Dixon was inducted into the Browns Legends Program in 2003 and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. Hanford Dixon was the heart of the team in the eighties and he is the best player to ever wear number 29 for the Cleveland Browns.
Honorable mention: Eric Turner and Walt Sumner.