Meet Phil Dawson

by George Mason

Pressure! Excitement, adrenaline, and pressure. Pressure so strong even fans listening by radio felt the intensity of that moment. In the return of NFL football to Cleveland, if there were a more pressure packed situation than when Cleveland Browns kicker, Phil Dawson took the field against the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers, it was forgotten.

Right now, everything, the entire game, and in some fans? minds, the entire season, came down to one play-one kick. An ace would give the Browns a much-needed boost and their second victory of the season. Miss and the Browns would notch their ninth loss, and the seventh in a row in the long-running Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry.

Here, squared off against a dwindling clock, a pumped-up Steeler defense, and a hostile home field crowd, first year kicker, number 4, Phil Dawson, measured his approach, awaited the snap, and timed his kick. As the last seconds ticked off the clock, Dawson?s perfect kick split the uprights giving the Browns their second, come-from-behind, last play-of-the-game victory and it...was...sweet!

Summing up his feelings after that kick, Dawson told Connection Magazine, "Ohhh! That was greaaat! Those are the moments you dream of. Here I am, a new guy to Cleveland, hearing all the stories of the rivalry between the teams and the cities: that was the fist hint of what the rivalry was all about. Then, to have the game come down to a kick in the final seconds, and then to win it?it was greaaat! It really helped the team. We needed that win."

Phil Dawson is no stranger to winning both on and off the field. On the field, he finished his Texas College athletic career with 13 school records including most points, (339), most field goals made, (59), field goal accuracy, (74.7%), and most consecutive field goals made, (15). Off the field, (and on for that matter), Phil Dawson is a committed, born again Christian.

"I grew up in a Christian family but just like standing in a garage doesn?t make you a car, being in church doesn?t make you a Christian. As I grew I was instilled with biblical principles and I gave my life to Jesus at age twelve. I like to say that He was my Savior but not yet my Lord. That didn?t happen until I went to college and started making decisions on my own. Straight away I did some stuff and learned the hard way. After my first year I had a better idea of what everything was about and why I needed Christ in my life and why I had to make Him number one over everything. Ever since then my walk has been a growing process. Have I done everything right? No. I make mistakes, but putting Christ first is the best thing I?ve ever done. That is the only way I can survive in this business. You?ve got to have that solid foundation and have your principles grounded in truth. Now that I am married my wife feels the same way I do and we attempt to live our lives according to biblical principles. When we were dating we went to the Song of Solomon to learn what the Bible said about courtship and marriage. It has truly been a blessing. Our marriage is based on the Bible and that has been exciting. Rather than having the attitude of having to go to church, we now go because we want to. We?ve got that "hunger", that desire to learn and grow and find out what it is all about. God is not trying to keep us from having fun, He is trying to protect us so that we can really enjoy life.

"Some people see Christianity as a bunch of rules. They don?t understand. Once you really understand that Christianity is about a living relationship with Jesus?that is exciting. That is where I am right now. My life is exciting. I am excited to play football, it is a dream come true but most importantly, I just want to be where the Lord wants me to be and if that is in football, that?s great."

Commenting on the status of the Christian athlete Dawson said, "As long as I am here, I feel it is my duty as a Christian athlete to give everything I have to be the best football player I can be. I want to take the gifts and talents He has given me and to use them to glorify Him. You see, there is a stereotype out there that as a Christian athlete you?re not really competitive and that losing doesn?t matter. I think that if you read the Bible you have all the more reason to work even harder and be even more intense to be the best you can be. So, as long as I?m going to strap it up and play on Sunday, I?m gonna give it everything I have. That?s where I am right now and once my playing days are over I?m excited to see where the Lord is going to lead me and my family. I have learned that the only peace where I will be fulfilled is in His plan."

Part of the Lord?s plan as found in Matthew 28, is that we are to go and make disciples. Witnessing and sharing our faith with coworkers is not easy in any profession. In pro football, however, it may be even more of a challenge. When asked about sharing his faith with teammates, Dawson had this to say.

"The most effective way on this team and in life period is to be obedient and take care of my own business. I am not as effective if I go out there and say, "Do this and do that." I just handle my business and be obedient with what God wants me to do with my life. God will do the rest. He will say, "Plant a seed in that guy?s mind." That guy may wonder how can I handle the successes and failures, how can I seem to have a peace about me? When they come to me, and this does happen, then I am prepared with answers to their questions. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have and do so with gentleness and respect." When I handle my business, as I should then guys will come to me and when they do, I?ll share with them where my peace comes from. I do not try to cram it down their throats. I just say that Jesus is the reason for my peace."

He is not the only Cleveland Brown to feel this way because according to Dawson, "We have a very solid nucleus here and it is a real blessing. Tom Petersburg of Athletes in Action along with his wife Joanne has really done a great job with us. We have a women?s and men?s Bible study and on Thursday evenings about eight or so couples get together and we learn from God?s word. The guys that come regularly support each other because life is tough. Whether it is professional football or any other career, the world can be wild, crazy; regular fellowship helps us be strong."

Being strong in the face of adversity is what the 1999 Cleveland Browns are all about. One of the major reasons for this strength is the foundation on which the team is building. Again, Dawson emphasized, "I really want people to understand that there is such a stereotype out there that to be a Christian is to be a wimp and that is so untrue. That is just a simple statement people make when they don?t understand what the Bible has to say. Just because we can handle defeat doesn?t mean it doesn?t hurt. After a loss or if I miss a big kick I am really down and frustrated but I don?t hit rock bottom. I know there are other things that are really important too. I am using the talents He has given me to glorify Him and when the day comes that I don?t play anymore, I am fine with that because I know that He has something else for me. I believe Him when He said, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." This hope the Lord speaks of is all the more reason why Christian athletes and Christians in general have such an incentive to work hard and be the best we can be. We have more reason to be dedicated. It goes back to Colossians 3:23 which says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord."

While Cleveland Browns football is over for now, our 1999 season gave us much to be thankful for and based upon the biblical work ethic of a core group of Christian athletes, we have a great deal to look forward to in the years to come. GO BROWNS! GO JESUS!! C