Cleveland Browns UDFA No. 1: Phil Dawson, kicker, Class of 1999
Phil Dawson was an undrafted free agent who flunked tryouts with the Raiders and Patriots before the Browns picked him up as a free agent in 1999, the first year of their existence.
He’s an original Brown, and he lasted 14 years with them, including one Pro Bowl year, which is a farce. He should have been in the Pro Bowl most every year, but of course, the Browns didn’t score a lot of points during his career so his stats are not that great compared to a kicker who might have played for an offensive powerhouse.
Nevertheless, when he retired, he was the seventh most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Dawson, not Lou Groza, is the Browns career leader in field goals with 305 (Groza is way behind with only 234); however, Groza is still the career points leader because he had a pile of extra points, 641 to Dawson’s paltry 350. Dawson’s Browns teams had trouble finding the freaking end zone. Lou the Toe played with guys like Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Dante Lavelli, Mac Speedie, Paul Warfield, Gary Collins, and (of course) Jim Brown, who had no such problem.
All those points were truly awesome, but what the Dawg Pound really liked about Dawson was that he was not afraid to mix it up in kickoff coverage. A former offensive lineman, he always contributed a few tackles each season he played.
Dawson was famous for a quirky sidelight in NFL history which led to a new rule being adopted, the so-called “Dawson Rule.” Versus the Ravens, he kicked a field goal through the uprights but it hit the curved rear stanchion and bounced backward. Initially, the officials ruled it was a missed kick, but then they realized that since the ball had traveled through the uprights, it had to count.
The next year, the NFL made those plays reviewable; hence, the “Dawson Rule.”
Cleveland loved Dawson and he loved us, but eventually, the realities of pro sport caused a split. The Browns franchise tagged him in 2011. Dawson wanted a shot to play with a playoff team, and perhaps he was not convinced that the Brandon Weeden era was going to get him there.
He made it to the NFC Title game with San Francisco and was a perfect 3-for-3 in the playoffs in 2013. He played for the 49ers for four seasons and then played for the Arizona Cardinals for two more before finally hanging up his cleats after the 2018 season with Arizona, his 21st in the NFL.
However, he only made it to the playoffs twice in his long career, once with the Browns in 2002 and once with the 49ers. Had he played with better teams, he might arguably have had a shot at the Hall of Fame like his former teammate Adam Vinatieri. Realistically, it is not possible to go to Canton while missing the playoffs 19 times out of 21 seasons.
As it is, the Dawg Pound knows what kind of greatness he represents and 49ers fans also know him very well. Cardinals fans got to see him for 26 games at the end of his illustrious career