The Suburbanite
  • Around the NFL: Browns' Dawson knows about opening misery

  • In keeping with a theme — there’s nothing like opening day — Phil Dawson absolutely hopes this one is nothing like the others. Well, almost absolutely ...

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  • In keeping with a theme — there’s nothing like opening day — Phil Dawson absolutely hopes this one is nothing like the others. Well, almost absolutely ...
    Dawson has kicked in all 11 Browns season openers since the team came back in 1999. Nothing says “expansion team” like the sad fact they have lost 10 of them.
    Browns kickoff memories are located with the warmth of running through back taxes. Opening day, expansion style? What is there a Browns fan wishes he could relive?
    • The 1999 opener, when Drew Carey threw out the first football for a game against Pittsburgh that was a joke?
    • The 2000 and 2003 lid-lifters when the only Browns’ points came on Dawson field goals?
    • A 2006 loss to a Saints team coming off a 3-13 year?
    • The culmination of the 2007 quarterback derby, maybe, when Charlie Frye won the job, started in a 34-7 loss to the Steelers, and began packing for Seattle two days later?
    Good sport that he is, Dawson entertained a question about the first memories that come back when he thinks of opening day.
    “Probably the Kansas City game,” he said Friday. “We played great, scored a lot of points.
    “We were aware that we had struggled in openers. We placed a lot of emphasis on getting off to a good start and winning for the fans, getting that home win, the whole deal.
    “We went ahead with a field goal with 30-some odd seconds left, and then ...”
    The defense made a stop on the final play of a 39-37 victory, except, it became not the final play when linebacker Dwayne Rudd tore off his helmet and heaved it into the woe-is-me vortex. His victory party drew a yellow flag that extended the game by one play, a Chiefs field goal that produced a 40-39 loss.
    Dawson thought a bit more.
    “I also remember when Seattle came here and beat us on a long field goal,” he said — Rian Lindell’s game-ending 51-yarder gave Mike Holmgren’s Seahawks a 9-6 win in 2001.
    Out of the helmet toss came a playoff season. After Lindell’s kick in the gut, the Browns won four of their next five games.
    In so many other losses in openers, as Browns fans know too well, no good seed has been planted in the manure.
    Give Dawson credit for being the one man who has fought through all of the Browns’ expansion-era openers. He was there on Aug. 9, 1999, when the Browns reappeared in little old Canton, Ohio, in the Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys.
    Remember what they were saying that night?
    “I have a hard time thinking that the Cleveland Browns are new,” said Dallas’ head coach, Chan Gailey.
    Page 2 of 3 - “Somebody is going to have to pinch me,” Browns President Carmen Policy said.
    By now, the losing has gotten old.
    Who knew they would pinch with a pair of electric-shock pliers? The Browns beat the Cowboys in the practice game. The first real game came Sept. 12, 11 years to the day from Sunday’s opener down here in Tampa.
    The final: Pittsburgh 43, Cleveland 0.
    Eleven openers and 177 games (one in the playoffs, wahoo!), it’s opening day all over again.
    To last so long on this team is quite a feat for Dawson. There’s no one else left from the 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 or 2004 teams. Ryan Pontbriand is the Brown with the next-most longevity, and his first opener wasn’t until Sept. 12, 2004, the only opening-day win.
    “So,” Dawson said, “there aren’t a lot of good game memories, but still, there’s nothing like the opener.
    “The emotion ... the excitement ... you’re out playing football again ... planes flying over ... big American flag ... the whole deal.”
    It has been a rotten deal that all of those season openers have been at home. For the first time in 12 openers, this one is accompanied by a little traveling music.
    “One thing I don’t like about the opener,” Dawson said, “is that there are a lot of things competing for your focus. This being a road game, it may help.
    “On the road, it’s an us-against-the-world mentality. Having that may help us just zero in and get the job done.”
    Opening-day should be a day for everyone to dream big. It should connect to some marvelous memory or some grand vision.
    One small step in September, one giant step in February. Dawson kicks a 50-yard field goal to win the game. He’s beaming in the background, taking a confetti shower as Holmgren starts passing around the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
    Certainly, the Browns dream of such things. They were kids once.
    But now they are Browns, and they know better than to talk about such things in public.
    The day before flying out, Dawson looked around the locker room in Berea. A thought crossed his mind.
    “You know what?” he said. “Most of these guys in here are new. They have no clue how we played in openers in the past.”
    Every man with an orange helmet has this in common. He never played in this opener. Nothing like opening day.
    Young blood
    Tampa Bay Head Coach Raheem Morris was 32 when he was hired to replace Jon Gruden as head coach of the Buccaneers last year.
    The youngest head coaches in NFL history, based on their age the day they were hired:
    Page 3 of 3 - 1, Lane Kiffin, 2007 Raiders, 31 years, 8 months
    2, Harland Svare, 1962 Rams, 31 years, 11 months
    3, Johnny Michelosen, 1948 Steelers, 32 years, 2 months
    4, Morris, 2009 Buccaneers, 32 years, 4 months
    5, David Shula, 1992 Bengals, 32 years, 7 months
    6, Josh McDaniels, 2009 Broncos, 32 years, 8 months
    7, John Madden, 1969 Raiders, 32 years, 10 months
    8, Don Shula, 1963 Colts, 33 years, 1 month
    9, Al Davis, 1963 Raiders, 33 years, 6 months
    10, Joe Collier, 1966 Bills, 33 years, 7 months
    Opening dismay
    The Browns have lost five straight openers dating to their last opening-day win behind quarterback Jeff Garcia. The games and the starting quarterbacks:
    2009. Lost 34-20 to Minnesota. Brady Quinn. The Vikings were defending NFC North champs.
    2008. Lost 28-10 to Dallas. Derek Anderson. The Cowboys were coming off a 13-3 year.
    2007. Lost 34-7 to Pittsburgh. Charlie Frye. The Steelers were coming off an 8-8 year.
    2006. Lost 19-14 to New Orleans. Charlie Frye. The Saints were coming off a 3-13 year.
    2005. Lost 27-13 to Cincinnati. Trent Dilfer. The Bengals were coming off an 8-8 year.
    2004. Beat Baltimore 20-3. Jeff Garcia. The Ravens were defending AFC North champs.

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