BEREA, Ohio (AP) – Carrying his 6-year-old son, Phil Dawson stepped inside Cleveland’s locker room following an emotional overtime win Sunday in Baltimore expecting to see teammates showered, dressed and heading for the bus.

Instead, the Browns were waiting for someone special – him.

“Next to having my son there,” Dawson said Wednesday, “that was probably the highlight of my career.”

Dawson, the fourth-most accurate kicker in NFL history, had been delayed in joining the Browns, and with good reason.

After kicking the winning field goal in Cleveland’s 33-30 win, and bouncing a controversial, never-to-be-forgotten 51-yarder through to end regulation, Dawson spent extra time on the field doing TV interviews.

He was soon joined by his oldest son, Dru, who had never seen daddy play in person and picked the road game against the Ravens as his first. Turns out, the youngster couldn’t have chosen a better one.

So when Dawson got to the locker room he figured the Browns had already completed their team prayer, coach Romeo Crennel had given his postgame speech and handed out game balls to the day’s stars.

“But everyone was standing there waiting,” Dawson said. “We’ve been talking all year that we’re a team, and I think that’s another obvious example of how we’re all together in this thing. That means a great deal.”

For much of the past nine years, Dawson stood alone for the Browns.

The likable Dawson, who was born in Florida but whose Texas drawl is heard loudest when he drops the occasional “y’all” into conversation, is the lone player left from Cleveland’s 1999 expansion team. That laughingly overmatched squad of no-names went 2-14 and ranks among the worst in league history.

Since then, Dawson has seen over 100 players come and go. He’s endured coaching changes and front office overhauls. And, he’s witnessed bizarre games – Cleveland’s bottle-throwing riot and linebacker Dwayne Rudd’s infamous helmet toss among them – that more often than not ended with the Browns on the wrong end of the final score.

As the losses and negativity mounted, Dawson often wondered if things would ever improve for the Browns.

“I had my moments,” he said. “But you can’t do that. We all have doubts in life, but you keep plugging away.”

And that’s why Sunday’s thriller was so special.

It’s also why the Browns made sure Dawson was among them before they huddled and celebrated as one.

“Last year or the year before we probably wouldn’t have done that,” said punter Dave Zastudil, who doubles as Dawson’s holder. “We have good chemistry and we respect Phil. He’s the longest-tenured player here and I think that win probably meant more to him than anybody in here. He’s been through a lot of coaches, a lot of players and a lot of years.”

This season is shaping up as special for Dawson and Cleveland, which has a reasonable chance of getting back to the playoffs for just the second time since ’99 because of a favorable schedule.

But more than a winning record, the Browns (6-4), who were written off before the season even kicked off, have confidence.

“No one really expected us to do anything this year,” said Dawson, who needs six points to pass Hall of Famer Jim Brown for third on the Browns’ career scoring list. “The main difference I see in this team is a lot of the things that we’re doing. The players are taking it upon themselves. There’s a sense of ownership. It’s exciting to be a part of.”

Since Sunday’s win, Dawson has been inundated with interview requests. By now, almost everyone has seen his incredible kick, which deflected off the left upright and caromed off the goal post’s support neck before bouncing back toward the field.

After a lengthy delay, Dawson’s attempt, initially waved off by an official standing in the end zone, was ruled good.

Even now Dawson, who has attempted thousands of kicks, can’t account for how a football could do what it did.

“It’s never come back on me,” the 32-year-old said. “I’ve clanked a couple off the uprights before and they’ve done some weird things, but to have one bounce back into the field of play was pretty crazy.”

Maybe it’s the Browns’ turn to be lucky. Maybe all the bad things that could possibly go wrong these last few seasons have been used up. Maybe, just maybe, this is their season to get the breaks.

Dawson, though, believes the Browns’ success is due to something else.

“It’s more a product of what we’re doing right rather than any luck,” he said. “You make your own luck in this league. We’ve been trying to do the little things right and it’s just starting to translate into wins.

“When it’s all said and done, we’ll look back and see if it was a pivotal moment or not.”

The big moments have been multiplying for Dawson. Cleveland’s past three games have all been decided by field goals, with the only loss at Pittsburgh when he just missed a 52-yarder with 10 seconds left.

“It’s been a crazy three weeks,” he said. “Every season has its own personality and for whatever reason a lot of our games are coming down to the end. You try to prepare yourself so if it happens again you are ready to go.”


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