Friday he returned home one last time to officially retire from the National Football League. It was very emotional inside the team headquarters in Berea. The memories of number four will last forever. Here is Dawson’s entire retire speech and good bye press conference.
Phil Dawson retirement press conference https://t.co/HYmLn9oOMY
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 2, 2019
“Somebody say something funny – it is a little quiet in here. Forgive me if I do not look down at my notes a fair amount today, given the significance of this. I want to try to get through it in a reasonable way.
“It is good to be home. There had not been many days over the last six years since I left that I did not think about coming back to Cleveland. To have the opportunity to do it today is not only special for me but for my entire family as well. I am humbled that the Browns organization would take time to make this happen. They have been first class, extremely accommodating to every requests and have gone above and beyond anything we could have imagined. Kind of a buy time of year, right? For them to take time out to make this happen is very humbling.
“The connection that I had and still have to the City of Cleveland is my most cherished accomplishment of my career. I thought I had an understanding of what that was about when I left here. But having the opportunity to play for two other organizations – which I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play in San Francisco and Arizona – but those experiences only confirmed in my mind what a special place this is and how special is was that I had the connection with the fans the way I did. I am sure
“I am going to get asked many questions but I am going to go ahead and answer one right now. The question is going to be ‘What is the highlight of your career?’ My answer to that would be today – this right here, having the opportunity to come back home and celebrate our time together with the fans of Cleveland and the Browns organization. There is no greater sports town in American than Cleveland. There are no greater fans in football anywhere. Like I said when I was here and I now still believe it to be true, there will be no greater place on the planet to be (than Cleveland) when the Lombardi Trophy goes down Euclid Avenue. You can bet your last dollar that I will be there to celebrate with everyone.
“My family is here with me today. We have a motto that we talk about in our family, and we call it three F’s. It is faith, family and football. The goal is to try them in that order. I have not always been able to do that, but I have always at least tried to do so. You may ask yourself what in the world does faith have to do with all this with me sitting up here right now.”
“Let me give a few examples. You expect to be drafted but are not. When you expect to win a job in your first training camp in Oakland but do not. When you finally win a job like I did here in 1999 and the reception you get is ‘We are going to start out with you.’ When you find yourself looking at the weather forecast over 20 times a day all week in preparation for a game down at the stadium, all the while knowing everyone expects you to make ever kick.
“I have to tell you a little side note on that real quick, my first training camp here I was summoned over to the tent, and Mr. (Pro Football Hall of Famer Lou) Groza wanted to speak with me. I could not believe I was getting a chance to speak with Mr. Groza. He said some very nice things, and I finally had the nerve to ask a question and I said, ‘What do I do in the stadium?”
“He goes, ‘You know those flags on the uprights?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He goes, ‘They tell you which way the wind is blowing.’ This is going to make headlines: Mr. Groza was wrong because I can’t tell you how many times I looked at those uprights and one flag was pointing that way and one flag was pointing that way. Not every day you get to correct a Hall of Famer.
“Back to my list, when you take the field at Heinz field for a game winner and you come up short and feel like you let the entire city down. When the very next week you go to Baltimore to try another long game-winner, you see the ball bounce all over creation and you see the referee signal no good only then to reverse their call later.”
“You trout out onto the field in a blizzard for a 49-yard field goal attempt. When you put together a Pro Bowl season in your contract year only then to leave the only team you have ever known. When you have to start completely over at 38 and 42 years of age in this league. Stuff like this happens, you need faith. Faith and a trustworthy God who is in control. Faith that brings perspective, instead fastness so that you can continue to fight the good fight, even in the face of extreme adversity.
“The second F is my family. Do not have words. The public saw me on gameday when I was physically primed for a game. Everything I had done all week was to be ready to go on gameday. The public was able to see me in interviews or hear things I said in the paper. Those were very calculated and thoughtful answers. What my family saw was not always the same thing. They saw the struggle trying to get ready for gameday. They heard around the dinner table some of the frustrations and disappointments that I would not dare share with the public, and yet, they remain by my side through it all.
“It all starts with my beautiful wife, Shannon. Rain, sun, hot, cold, sleet or snow, she was there. Good game, bad game win or loss, made kicks or miss kicks, she was there. After 20 years of marriage where the attention has mostly been on my skillset rather than hers, she is still here. We would pull up to the stadium and she always had a random bag with her. I did not know what she was doing.”
“On the way in, whether it was a restroom attendant or someone that worked in the concession stand by her section, whoever, a valet attendant, she always had a gift or a kind word. I can remember our last game or what we thought might be my last game as a Brown, and we were leaving the stadium. I think more people stopped Shannon on the way out to hug her neck than they did mine. No woman I know is as beautiful, capable, selfless and deserving of recognition as my wife.”
“Three kids, they kind of look different than they did six years ago, don’t they? I am going to start with Sophiann, my beautiful little daughter. I think you all know where she got it – not me. She seems like an angel, just like her momma. She is a great athlete in her own right, but it is an absolute joy to be her dad. Then my two knuckleheads over there, Dru and Beau. You all seen him grow up around here. To see them now and the fine young men they are making good choices.”
“By the way, heck of football players. Their team went 12-1 last year and their only loss was the state championship. One of the highlights of my life was watching my boys play this past year. I could not say enough about them, I love both of them. No dad has ever been more proud of his kids than I have. I hope I made you proud. It is now your turn to write your story and to chase your dreams.
“My parents, Robert and Judy Dawson sacrificed a lot back in the day. They were there for me literally from my first kick. My brother Peter Dawson was my first ball shagger. Younger brother had to go out there and shag all day long. Some of my greatest memories were with the whole family going out with a bag of balls after practice was over because back then I was a real player and couldn’t kick during practice.”
“I had to stay afterwards and my family would come up and make that possible. My other brother, Matt Austin, my brother from another mother, my best friend growing up; he was my first holder and the bond that we had not only remains true to this day but only gets better. My wife’s’ parents, Ken and Billy Sheppard, their council and love and support through all these years off the field has been absolutely vital.
“Finally, the third F, football. As long as I can remember, I wanted to play this game. I was thinking about it walking over here, this will be the first year since 1986 that I have not played football. Kicking chose me as I got down the road in football. I never really wanted to do it, but once it became obvious that was my future, I chose to approach the game with the same intensity and passion as any other position player.”
“I can remember being in San Francisco after a year or two. Pat Willis, the All-Pro linebacker, probably going to be a Hall of Famer, had a quote one day that really made me realize that I have done that. He said, ‘This new kicker that we have is the hardest working guy I have ever seen.’ That meant a great deal to me, coming from Pat Willis.
“The game has given me so much. Countless lessons learned about life, such as never giving up, little things do matter and any success that you ever have you never do it alone. The good habits formed of hard work, self-discipline and preparing daily have been a benefit of this great game. The treasured relationships – players like (P) Chris Gardocki, (P) Dave Zastudil, (LS) Ryan Pontbriand, (P) Reggie Hodges, (WR) Josh Cribbs, (T) Joe Thomas, (S) Bubba Ventrone, (DE) Simon Fraser, (QB) Kelly Holcomb, (QB) Trent Dilfer, (DE) Courtney Brown, (Arizona Cardinals tight ends coach) Steve Heiden, (Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach) Doug Pederson, (Patriots TE) Ben Watson, and (LB) D’Qwell Jackson and there is many, many more.”
“Coaches like my first ones at Lake Collins High School in Dallas, Texas. Jim Ledford and Mike Sufudoe. Still the best coaches I ever had to this day. The guy that recruited me to the greatest university in America, the University of Texas, Randy Rodgers. My second special teams coach here who became more like a dad, Jerry Rosburg. Best special teams coach in the league. Butch Davis, Romeo Crenel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Chris Tabor, Brad Sealy, Tracy Smith and then my post-Browns days, Jim Harbaugh, Chip Kelly and a guy you all may remember, Buddy Morris. Incredible strength coach.
“My trusted agent and friend, Neil Cornrich, whose council has been absolutely spot on from the day I met him. My guys in the equipment room in the back, Brad (Melland), Jeff (Inderhees), Jimmy (McLaughlin) and Ms. Becky. I spent more time back there than I did in meeting rooms as you guys it does not come as any surprise. I love those guys.”
“The grounds crew, Chris Powell. I used to wear his phone out a night before a game. Tell me how the field is. What height did you mow the grass? Are we tarping it tonight? What is your weather forecast showing? He was an asset I needed.
“Team Chaplin’s have always played a huge role in my experience. My first one being Randy Lambert, University of Texas. His council simply changed my life. Tom Petersburg here in Cleveland was a man of faith that I relied upon heavily and I love him dearly. My years in San Francisco, Pastor Earl was incredible to not only me but my children, as well.
“The Cleveland media, you have not aged a bit. You were fair and you did a tremendous job. I have missed you dearly in my days since I left.
“I had a group of people that helped me stay on top of things, Dr. Heather Gornick, from the Cleveland Clinic. About 10 years ago, I found out that I get blood clots too easily. The first doctor I saw said, ‘You need to be done playing.’ Dr. Gornick thought outside the box and came up with a protocol that would allow me to still play that would require two injections every day. For her to do that, she literally saved my career.
“Chris Poling was my masseuse here in Cleveland and he actually came to San Fran and Arizona to continue to put me together so I could continue to go out there Sunday after Sunday and do my job. Chiropractor Greg Kemp here with the Browns was not only a great chiropractor but a great friend of mine.
“The last treasured relationship I want to bring up is a guy who I looked up to most to my time here in Cleveland. I call him ‘The President of the Has Been Group’ – Mr. Doug Dieken – right there in the back [of the media room] where he belongs (laughter). You are a great friend, Doug.
“The game has given me memories to cherish, like beating Pittsburgh in 1999 at Three Rivers Stadium. I still swear they opened the centerfield wall to make the wind blow stronger in our face. That was my first professional game-winner, and it didn’t matter. We beat the Steelers, and that is all that did matter. Making the playoffs after the 2002 season and seeing the city come alive for the first time as a Browns. The Blizzard Bowl. The Baltimore game that I mentioned earlier. Passing Lou Groza on the all-time field goal list. Mr. Groza is the Cleveland Browns, and to be anywhere on a list with his name on it is the biggest honor you could have as a Brown.
“The entire 2012 season, my last one as a Brown, is a perfect example of the power of the Cleveland fan base. You guys who were here remember. The fans came behind me, supported me, made the Pro Bowl push, but even beyond that, every time I took the field, I could feel the confidence they had in me – probably more than I had in myself – and I was determined that I would not let them down, and it was the best season I ever had. That is a perfect example of the power of the Cleveland fans.
“The 2013 playoff run with San Francisco was truly special. We made the NFC Championship Game. I’m able to experience that. I was able to make some kicks in that playoff run that helped our team move forward, and I am very grateful for that.
“I was fortunate enough to be named the MVP of two teams, and for a kicker, I consider that truly an honor. Being a team captain for three different organizations over the past 15 years, once again, being that kid who just wanted to play football and not kick, that means a great deal.
“In conclusion, now is the time to walk away. I do so contently and full of gratitude. I have simply given all I know to give to this great game that I have always wanted to play. While there are some things that I wished had gone differently, I have no regrets. I am back home here today in Cleveland, Ohio to announce that I am retiring from the National Football League. I am proudly doing so as a member of my beloved Cleveland Browns. Thank you.”
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On what position he wanted to play as a kid:
“Anything but kicker. My dad was a college quarterback so that’s what I was. That was the dream. I just loved everything about the game. What other sport do you have with such a wide variety of skill sets that have to come together to get the job done? It really did not matter to me what it was, and it took me a while to embrace the skillset I had been given, but I made the decision because that was my skillset that I was going to approach the game as a player, and I hope I have proven that.”
On if he has one or two kicks left for December or January:
“People have asked me that (laughter). I think I am the Toby Keith song – ‘I am not as good as I once was, but I am good once as I ever was.’ I think I could probably put a game or two or maybe even more together and solid performances. Where I struggle is knowing if I could put 16 together. This game requires your all in all. I got to the point where I questioned whether I had that anymore so I would rather walk away while people want me than walk away while people want me out the door. That is why I am doing it.”
On if part of the timing of his retirement was to help put rumors to rest about a potential return:
“When I left last season in Arizona on injured-reserve, I had a good feeling I was done. I wanted to give it some time to see if anything changed. In the seven or eight months since then, nothing has really changed my mind that I am done. With regards to the timing, I wanted this done before the football season got going, and I also needed to just close the book for me so I could start moving forward because I have wrestled with it all offseason.”
On if he spoke to former Browns T Joe Thomas on retirement:
“I did not talk to Joe specifically. But I did go back and watch his retirement press conference. I wanted to get a feel for what it was like. I have talked to a lot of people who have gone through this and they all said to take a year, do not commit to anything big in that first year, transition to normal civilian life as I call it and then move from there. Having this day will allow me to move forward and really start thinking about what is next.”
On expectation for what he will do after his transition year:
“Ask me in about six months and I might have an answer.”
On what kind of ‘football dad’ he is:
“Oh man, ask my wife. She could probably answer that better. She is the experienced sitting in the stands and watching football person in this marriage. I am not. I get pretty uptight, and obviously, when you have a young one like Beau, Beau played as a freshman last year. That was incredible. Dru is quarterback so that whole quarterback deal is a monster. Everyone in the stands has a comment and has an opinion that they are not afraid to say. I just have to go sit in the top row by myself and hope I do not mouth off (laughter).”
On former Browns DB Earl Little:
“Oh man, good old Earl. Earl was a great player.”
On if Little truly did drag him out for the game-winning FG against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1999:
“I guess I can now finally tell the truth. You have all seen it. We work on two-minute drills all of the time, and situational football and that was something I prided myself on. In that Pittsburgh game in 1999, we had a game-winning drive and we had a timeout. We ran a play on second down with around 25 seconds left on the clock. We get tackled inbounds short of first down territory, but the clock is still running. I was still at my net getting one last kick in because what do you do in that situation?”
“You run it down to four seconds, call timeout and go out and win the game. I am not even looking at what is going on on the field and apparently the decision was made not to call timeout but to yell field goal. Not only are we trying a game-winning field goal with center field wide open, now we are doing it in a hurry up so we could not even at least even downed it and had time to go out there and under normal timing. Earl (Little) did come running over because I was unaware of the field goal call. You can go back and watch the tape, I am sprinting onto the field, buckling my chinstrap, looking at the clock and we snap it and we won with one second left.”
On the playoff game at Pittsburgh in 2003:
“Incredible game. Classic Pittsburgh-Cleveland game. Horrible weather, bad field, in Pittsburgh the whole thing. It’s a great venue. It was awesome. It was a back-and-forth game. (Former Browns QB) Kelly (Holcomb) went off. I think he threw for 400 yards in horrible weather, which was amazing. We had a big lead. I think we got a little too comfortable with that lead. Before you know it, the lead is gone. We are driving right at the end. We throw up a ball to (former Browns WR) Andre King in field goal range, and he is trying to desperately dive out of bounds and was unable to do so and the clock ran out. I can remember standing there thinking, ‘Wow, my first playoff game and I am going to get a chance to beat Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh. I can’t wait for this.’ We came up a little short.”
On how long the FG attempt would have been at Pittsburgh in 2003 if the Browns made it out of bounds:
“It would have been over 45, but it didn’t matter, I was going to make it.”
On his message to Ks Greg Joseph and Austin Seibert about kicking in a half-foot of snow:
“I didn’t get to the snow part yet. Let’s start with the basics. Those guys are pros. It is fun to talk to fellow pros. I was just able to share a few things I have learned through the years, more some routine and some habit type things and how to approach the game. They will figure the rest out on their own. It was a nice conversation, and I am excited to see those guys.”
On if he still has his football diary:
“I do. It might be on eBay soon (laughter).”
On his favorite memories in practice and the longest FG he made in practice:
“Man, I do not know exactly the longest one, but do you know that third field out there? I think they still do it maybe in the season. They split it up into two fields that run the same direction as the two main ones. Whenever we would kick on those, the goal posts were facing the other way so it would add four yards to every field goal.”
“It used to drive me nuts when my friends here would be watching practice, I would hit a 57-yard field goal that I would make, but they would not add the extra four yards. I am like, ‘Can I get a 61 in the paper please?’ I almost wanted to scream, ‘Add four!’ The other one would be when we practice on those skinny goal posts, and there would be referees under them, and I would hit one right outside of the upright, which obviously would be good in a normal situation but those referees would call it no good and the crowd be like, ‘Ahhhh’. Those are some fun memories now that I am not living through them.”
On his message to the current Cleveland Browns team to play for Browns fans:
“They have a unique opportunity to be in the NFL first of all, but greater than that to be in Cleveland at this time with the job the organization has done putting a team like this together and with all the excitement surrounding the team, they can play a long time in this league and not experience something like they are about to like they are about to experience. I would tell them to treasure every moment and work their brains off to make sure they are ready each and every time they go out there.”
On the excitement around the Browns in 2019:
“I am jealous. There were a lot of years where it was not like this year. But I am excited for the city. I am excited for the Browns organization. I’m just as excited. I am going to cheer for the Browns like crazy. The fans are due. I think it is great for them to have the opportunity to be excited, a genuine excitement not just a draft day excited. To be excited for the football season and have high expectations and hopes. I had the opportunity to speak with a few players, and I said just hold onto your hats. If you handle business, you have no idea how incredible this place is going to be. It is going to be fun to watch, and I know the Browns fans are ready.”
On when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship in 2016:
“I was in a little weird spot because I was playing with the 49ers at the time. Golden State, I found myself a couple of times about to hit tweet ‘I love you Cleveland, congrats,’ but then I would have gotten run out of my place of employment. I had to keep it quiet, but quietly I was thrilled.”
On if he can recall the ‘we are going to start with you story’:
“That one sentence I think shaped my mentality more than any other. Some coaches would say that was the point of it all. I would say that mainly it was an obstacle. To go undrafted when I expected to be, I did not get my big entrance in the league. Then I went to Oakland and got cut, went to New England, spend an entire season on the practice squad there.”
“Good learning experience but not a whole lot of fun. Finally make it here to Cleveland and had to beat out three other guys. Final cut day, I do not know if I am the guy or not. I see the other guys leaving the building. I was like, wow, here is my moment I have been waiting on since not getting drafted. Coach Palmer comes walking down the hallway and literally just says, ‘We are going to start out with you.’ Whatever he meant by that, I am not exactly sure but the way I took it was I am one kick away from losing my job. I do not know that I ever shook that my entire career of 21 years later. I would miss one kick and I would think, ‘That is it. I’m out of a job.”
On if his one-kick mindset worked:
“What I was saying is some coaches would say that is the whole reason I did. I would argue it got in the way of what I wanted to do, but when you are an undrafted kid coming into this league, it doesn’t matter what your path is like. That was something that happened. I had to deal with it, and I think I made the most of it.”
On if he ever asked Palmer about that moment:
“He was a consultant in San Francisco when I was there, and I used to mess with. Of course, now everything is hunky dory, chuckles. You weren’t this happy back then (laughter). We are all good. It is water under the bridge now.”
On Browns fans’ belief in him during 2012 taking him to greater heights and if he realized it during the season:
“I can remember specifically taking the field, jogging from the sideline to the spot of the kick, and hearing this anticipation from the crowd. How could you not rise to the occasion in that moment? I did feel it. I did appreciate it. That was one of the incredible difficult reasons I didn’t want to leave. Why would you want to leave something like that? It took me however many years to build that up, and it is tough to turn around and leave that. That is how this league works. I was fortunate that I was able to kind of do the same thing on a smaller scale in San Francisco. I took a great deal of satisfaction in knowing I was able to fool two fan bases that I was halfway decent (laughter).”
On if he ever received an explanation for being released following his Pro Bowl season:
“It really doesn’t even matter. Things were happening so fast. (Agent) Neil (Cornrich) did such a great job with all of that. He knew what I was going through personally, but he handled the business side of it. Before I knew it, I was a San Francisco 49er, a team that had just come off a Super Bowl appearance and was planning on another one. I fell into a really good situation, and I knew going to a team like that I better once again do my job and put the work in required to be a dependable player so that whenever it was time to make a kick, they had a guy that could do it.”
On if he still requires injections:
“No, not that I am done. Those injections were during the season, and I was able to take an oral medication during the offseason. Now, I will just have to do that.”
On fake field goals:
“I love the touchdown. My kids don’t believe that I was able to do that, but I told them it was pre-them so life was simple, not as much adversity and I could run (laughter). The celebration with Chris was the highlight of that year. I don’t want to get anybody in trouble, but I was fined by the NFL for that celebration — $5,000, which is a tax write off, right (laughter)? Two days later, I walk in and in my locker was an envelope with $5,000 cash in my locker. I think Mr. Lerner took care of me. He had my loyalty after that (laughter).”
On QB Baker Mayfield, who played at Texas’ rival Oklahoma:
“He is not bad (laughter). I told him today, I said (Texas QB) Sam Ehlinger says hello (laughter). It is all good. For a guy to walk on two different universities – I am going through a high school kid getting recruited; it is a tough environment – for a kid to go in at that position, beat out all the scholarship quarterbacks and not only do it once but do it twice at two different schools is super impressive. It did not surprise me a bit that he stepped right in and didn’t give a crap about the history here. He just went and made his own history, the team followed and here we are right now.”