By Jeff Gallatin
For Top Dawg and former Cleveland Browns All Pro cornerback Hanford Dixon, the NFL draft is something he likes to stick close to, just as he did to so many wide receivers during his nine years with the Browns.
“It’s something I enjoy watching,” said Dixon, a former resident of Bay Village, who currently resides in Westlake. “It’s a good way to stay close to the game and see how each team is benefiting from the players they get.”
Dixon, who also stays close to the game by being a broadcaster for different Cleveland-area football games and events, also has stayed close by writing – along with longtime Bay Village resident Randy Nyerges – a book, “Day of the Dawg,” which details Dixon’s life and career in football. The book, released in late 2012, was published by Gray & Co. Publishers, which specializes in books about the Greater Cleveland area.
With the first round of the 2013 draft set for live coverage tomorrow, Dixon recalled to West Life, and in the book, how he anticipated the 1981 draft after he came out of college at Southern Mississippi as one of the top-rated defensive backs in the draft.
“It’s changed a lot since then,” he said referring to the amount of attention given to the draft. “Now, it’s become this huge event over several days. Back then, I remember it was basically just me and a friend or two waiting in my room to see what team I would be going to.”
Even though there wasn’t as much media coverage then, Dixon knew that he would be receiving some attention from both teams and other people.
“I knew a lot of people had me ranked as one of the top defensive backs, with a lot of them having me as the top cornerback,” he said. “I knew that Ronnie Lott (future NFL Hall of Famer from the University of Southern California who spent the bulk of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers) and Kenny Easley (an All-American safety at UCLA who had a successful pro career with the Seattle Seahawks) would both go pretty quick among the defensive backs in the draft, but I figured I would be going pretty quickly after they were taken.”
Sure enough, Lott and Easley both were snapped up early in the draft. However, many other teams drafting later threw Dixon a curve.
“A lot of teams I thought would be interested in me ended up picking other guys,” he said. “It got really frustrating for me for a while.”
Dixon said one team in particular bothered him with its pick.
“The Oakland Raiders,” he said. “They had expressed a lot of interest in me and basically told me they wanted to pick me. Well, it comes to their turn in the first round and they picked a defensive back. But it wasn’t me – it was a guy named Ted Watts from Texas Tech, who ended spending just a few years with them. I was kinda upset at the time.”
Ironically, the Raiders had also helped give Dixon some of his first impressions of the team with which he would end up playing at a high level for nearly a decade – the Browns.
“I had watched the playoff game they had with the Browns (the infamous Red Right 88 game where at the end of the game played at a wind chill of -37 degrees, quarterback Brian Sipe had thrown an interception in the end zone, giving the Raiders the 14-12 win and ending the Kardiac Kids’ Super Bowl hopes), and I remember seeing how cold it was along with some of the fans who were going without shirts and doing some crazy stuff. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be in that kind of weather and those people are crazy. I do not want to play there.’ Well, of course, we know I ended up getting drafted by the Browns, and I found out that the crazy stuff I was seeing shows just how much the people care about the team and how much a part of the community it is. I love that and wouldn’t want anything else now. They’re a big reason why I live here and have chosen to stay here for all these years. Now, I get just as wound up about the team as anybody, and am looking forward to the draft like everybody else.”
One player the Browns have been looking at closely is University of Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. Dixon said if the Browns end up drafting Milliner, he thinks it could result in the team having its top pair of cornerbacks since he and fellow corner Frank Minnifield terrorized receivers in the 1980s and started the Dawg Pound following among the team and fans – which continues to this day.
“That would be great if we ended up with Milliner,” Dixon said. “I’m from Alabama originally and they’ve had great teams down there under Nick Saban (a former Browns defensive coordinator in the 1990s) which obviously have played well with all the championships they’ve won under him. Milliner can definitely play. Having him and (current Browns cornerback) Joe Haden would give us two shutdown cornerbacks at once, which is something any team would kill for.”
Dixon said that would allow the team to get closer to a playoff berth again – something he doesn’t think is that far off.
“There are already some good players on the team and we can get back there with a few more,” he said. “When you look at the division, the Ravens are the current league champs and Ozzie (former Browns Hall of Fame tight end and current Ravens executive) does a great job of always keeping them up in contention. But they’ve lost a lot of players this offseason. The Steelers are always tough to deal with, but they’ve lost some guys too and have some others who are getting kind of old. The Bengals are pretty good right now, but they have problems staying up there, so I think if the Browns make the right moves, we can get right in the mix.”
Those kinds of opinions and more are in the book, including discussion of the bounty system that has existed in the NFL and the death of Browns teammate Donnie Rogers from cocaine, as well a good look at many exciting games in the 1980s, all of which, Dixon said, was by design.
“Some football books are pretty bland and vanilla; I wanted to give people a real unvarnished look at football,” he said “Randy did a great job of working with me and helping me put it together.”
Nyerges said it was an interesting experience for him.
“I’ve followed the team for years and been a big fan like so many other people,” he said. “It was great to be able to get so much up-close information about the team and be able to help tell those stories to people.”
The book can obtained at area bookstores and other retail outlets as well as online.