For the Packers, it is the “Lambeau Leap”, for the Steelers, it is the “Terrible Towel”, and for the Raiders, it is the “Black Hole”.
Certain terms are forever associated with NFL franchises and their fan bases.
For the Cleveland Browns, such term is the “Dawg Pound”.
The person who created the concept of the “Dawg Pound” for the Browns was cornerback Hanford Dixon.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) October 18, 2020
While Dixon will always be associated with the creation of the “Dawg Pound”, he also received multiple Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors and helped the Browns advance to three AFC championship games over his nine-year NFL career.
We take a look at the life of Hanford Dixon – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Hanford Lee Dixon was born on December 25, 1958 in Mobile, Alabama.
As Dixon was born on Christmas Day, his father, Hanzle, said:
“I can’t believe I’ve got my own sweet baby Jesus!”
Dixon grew up in a three-bedroom home, with his parents and sister, Debra (who is six years older), in Theodore, Alabama.
Theodore is a suburb of Mobile.
When Dixon was growing up, his favorite team was the Dallas Cowboys.
He would watch football on television with his father.
Dixon attended Theodore High School.
At Theodore High School, Dixon lettered for three years in football and basketball and for one year in track.
In football, Dixon played defensive back, split end, and running back and returned kicks.
He was a two-time conference MVP defensive player in high school.
While in high school, Dixon believed that he would ultimately play in the NFL.
“God gave me physical ability, but confidence is an important factor for a cornerback. I played on the varsity team when I was in the ninth grade, and I knew I would turn pro. My friends laughed, but I knew. I told my parents over and over that someday I would play for the Dallas Cowboys. They laughed, too. But I truly believed it.”
Dixon was recruited by Alabama, Auburn, and other Southeastern Conference schools.
He was also aggressively recruited by University of Southern Mississippi.
Because of Southern Mississippi’s strong interest in him and because he felt he could start sooner at Southern Mississippi, Dixon decided to head to Hattiesburg, Mississippi and attend Southern Mississippi.
As a freshman, in 1977, Dixon became a starter at cornerback for Southern Mississippi and was on the field for more snaps than any other defensive player.
In his first game, on September 3, 1977, Dixon had his first interception in college, as Southern Mississippi defeated Troy 42-19.
On October 15, 1977, Dixon blocked a 27-yard field goal to preserve a 28-26 Southern Mississippi victory over Hawaii.
In 1977, Dixon intercepted two passes, which he returned for 26 yards.
He also had 44 tackles.
Southern Mississippi had a 6-6 record in 1977, but its season was highlighted by three wins over Southeastern Conference schools – 24-13 over Auburn on September 17, 1977, 27-19 over Ole Miss on September 24, 1977, and 14-7 over Mississippi State on October 22, 1977.
Dixon intercepted four passes, which he returned for two yards, and had 41 tackles, in 1978.
Southern Mississippi posted a 7-4 record in 1978, including another win (22-17 on October 7, 1978) over Mississippi State.
Dixon intercepted one pass in 1979, which he returned for 53 yards.
He also had 56 tackles.
Southern Mississippi had a 6-4-1 record in 1979, including its third consecutive win over Mississippi State (21-7 on October 27, 1979) and its second win in three games against Ole Miss (38-8 on September 29, 1979).
Dixon was part of a Southern Mississippi defense (nicknamed “The Nasty Bunch”) that in 1979 allowed opponents an average of 13.3 points per game, which ranked 22nd in the nation, out of 140 college teams.
Where Dixon played at Southern Miss, I used to attend a lot of practices. You could always tell where Dixon was, by his play and his loud dog bark. I believe the Browns fans formed what they called the dog pound from it…
— Mike Smith (@JohnMichaelSm15) December 15, 2020
Southern Mississippi’s defense held seven teams to 10 points or less in 1979.
In 1980, Dixon intercepted two passes, which he returned for 37 yards, and had 47 tackles.
In explaining his total of nine interceptions over his four-year college career, Dixon stated:
“Coaches and scouts from other teams took notice of my speed and cover ability, and many of them figured the best way to beat me was to throw in someone else’s direction. (This was a precursor of what was to come in the NFL.) Thus, in my four years, I picked off only nine passes.”
Including its fourth consecutive win over Mississippi State (42-14 on October 11, 1980) and third win in four games against Ole Miss (28-22 on October 4, 1980), Southern Mississippi compiled an 8-3 regular-season record in 1980.
Southern Mississippi then advanced to play on December 13, 1980 in the Independence Bowl, where it defeated McNeese State 16-14 for Southern Mississippi’s first bowl victory.
For his play in 1980, Dixon was named to the college football All-American team by The Sporting News.
Dixon played in the 1980 Blue-Gray all-star game and in the 1981 Senior Bowl before heading to professional football.
The Pro Football Years
Dixon was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 1981 NFL draft (with the 22nd overall pick).
As a rookie, in 1981, Dixon played in all 16 games and started 14, regular-season games at right cornerback.
Cleveland had a 5-11 record in 1981.
In 1982, because of a players’ strike, the NFL regular season was only nine games; Dixon started all nine regular-season games.
On December 19, 1982, Dixon had his first, second, and third NFL regular-season interceptions, intercepting future Pro Football Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Dixon also had a sack in the game, which Cleveland won 10-9 over Pittsburgh.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) October 13, 2020
Dixon recalled his performance in the game:
“We were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game we really needed to win and I picked off the first one and I was kind of excited about it, and then I picked off another one, and then I picked off a third one and I was like, ‘wow, you’ve really arrived in the NFL, you’ve picked off Terry Bradshaw three times.’ But most importantly, we got the win.”
🚨Throwback Thursday 🏈
Hanford Dixon intercepted Terry Bradshaw 3 times in a game!
— USMVoice (@USMVoice) October 16, 2020
The following week, on December 26, 1982, Dixon intercepted his fourth pass of the 1982 regular season and returned it for 22 yards, as the Browns defeated the Houston Oilers 20-14.
Dixon was part of a Browns defense that forced six Houston turnovers in the game.
The Browns had a 4-5 record in 1982.
Dixon helped Cleveland in 1982 rank (among 28 teams) in the NFL second in forcing regular season turnovers (28), tied for fourth in intercepting regular-season passes (17), and tied for seventh in recovering regular season fumbles (11).
Based on an expanded 16-team playoff system used in the 1982 season, Cleveland’s 4-5 record was sufficient for the Browns to make the playoffs as a wild card team.
On January 8, 1983, the Browns played the Los Angeles Raiders in a wild card playoff game.
Dixon started the game at right cornerback and intercepted Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett, but Cleveland lost to the Raiders 27-10.
In 1983, Dixon played in 16 games and started 15 regular-season games at right cornerback.
On September 11, 1983, in a 31-26 Cleveland victory over the Detroit Lions, Dixon had an interception, which he returned for three yards.
The Browns, with Dixon’s help, forced five Lions turnovers in the game.
In a 30-0 Browns shutout of the New England Patriots on November 20, 1983 (Cleveland’s second consecutive shutout, after defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-0 on November 13, 1983), Dixon intercepted two passes, which he returned for 38 yards.
Dixon helped the Browns defense hold the Patriots to only 76 “net pass yards” and force five New England turnovers in the game.
With his three interceptions, Dixon also had a sack in 1983.
Cleveland posted a 9-7 record in 1983.
Dixon started all 16 regular-season games in 1984 at right cornerback.
In a 27-10 Browns win over the Houston Oilers on November 25, 1984, Dixon intercepted future Pro Football Hall of Fame Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon and returned the interception for nine yards.
Dixon was part of a Browns defense that held Houston to only 38 “net pass yards” in the game.
Dixon had his third multiple interception game in his first four NFL seasons (and second against the Steelers), when he intercepted Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mark Malone twice in a 23-20 Cleveland loss to Pittsburgh on December 9, 1984.
The interceptions were returned for 18 yards by Dixon.
For the 1984 regular season, Dixon had five interceptions, which he returned for 31 yards, and recovered one fumble.
The Browns had a 5-11 record in 1984.
However, Dixon helped Cleveland’s defense have a very good season in 1984, ranking in the NFL sixth in fewest regular-season points allowed (297), second in fewest regular-season total passing and rushing yards allowed (4,641), and third in fewest regular-season passing yards allowed (2,696).
It was in training camp in 1985 that Dixon created the concept of the “Dawg Pound”.
“The whole dog thing came about, we were back in training camp, that was during the time we had training camp at Lakeland Community College. Being from down South, you know the whole dog chasing a cat, I told the defensive linemen, ‘hey, we’re gonna bark, you guys are the dogs and think of that quarterback as the cat and you guys just get it go and go get it. And what happened was, at Lakeland Community College, the fans were so close to the field. And we started barking, and the fans started barking . . . it was just crazy, and it’s still here today.”
Dixon, who was nicknamed “Top Dawg”, and his fellow Browns cornerback Frank Minnifield put up a “Dawg Pound” banner in front of a bleacher section in Cleveland Stadium before the first preseason game in 1985.
— CleWest (@erjmanlasvegas) September 5, 2018
Fans in the “Dawg Pound” section would wear dog noses and masks and other dog-related costumes.
35 years later, the “Dawg Pound” has moved with the Browns from Cleveland Stadium to FirstEnergy Stadium.
In 1985, Dixon again started all 16 regular-season games at right cornerback.
On October 13, 1985, in a 21-6 Cleveland victory over the Houston Oilers, Dixon was part of a Browns defense that held the Oilers to only 67 “net pass yards”.
It was one of three games in 1985 that Dixon helped the Browns defense hold the opposing offense to less than 100 “net pass yards” (also holding the Pittsburgh Steelers to only 83 “net pass yards” in a 10-9 Browns loss to the Steelers on November 3, 1985, and the Cincinnati Bengals to only 90 “net pass yards” in a 24-6 Browns defeat of the Bengals on November 24, 1985).
For the 1985 regular season, Dixon had three interceptions, which he returned for 65 yards.
The Browns won their first division title in five years in 1985, winning the AFC Central Division title with an 8-8 record.
With Dixon’s play, Cleveland ranked seventh in the NFL in fewest regular-season points allowed (294) in 1985.
Cleveland advanced to a divisional-round playoff game against the Miami Dolphins on January 4, 1986.
With Dixon starting the game at right cornerback, the Browns held Miami’s starting star receivers, Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, to combined only one catch for 15 yards.
Cleveland had a 21-3 lead in the game in the third quarter, before the Dolphins came back to defeat the Browns 24-21.
For the third consecutive season, Dixon started all 16 regular-season games for the Browns at right cornerback in 1986.
In a 23-20 Browns win over the Houston Oilers on September 14, 1986, Dixon intercepted Warren Moon (and returned the interception for 10 yards) and recovered a fumble.
Dixon was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his play in the game.
Dixon had another excellent game against the Oilers on November 30, 1986.
He had two interceptions (the fourth multiple interception game in his NFL career), which he returned for two yards, as the Browns defeated the Oilers 13-10 in overtime.
In the 1986 regular season, Dixon intercepted five passes, which he returned for 35 yards, and recovered two fumbles.
In 1986, he was honored as first-team All-Pro by the NFL and received his first Pro Bowl invitation.
In addition, Dixon was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Pro Football Writers of America, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, Pro Football Weekly, and The Sporting News, and first-team All-Conference by Pro Football Weekly and United Press International, in 1986.
In 1986, Cleveland again won the AFC Central Division title with a 12-4 record.
Dixon helped the Browns defense rank in the NFL tied for second in recovering regular season fumbles (19) in 1986.
The Browns met the New York Jets in a divisional-round playoff game on January 3, 1987.
Dixon started the game at right cornerback and helped the Browns defense being able to sack Jets quarterbacks nine times in a 23-20 Cleveland victory in overtime.
The following week, on January 11, 1987, in a game known as “The Drive” (based on a 98-yard late fourth-quarter touchdown drive led by Broncos quarterback John Elway that sent the game into overtime), Denver defeated Cleveland 23-20 in overtime in the AFC championship game.
Dixon started the game at right cornerback.
In 1987, because of another players’ strike, Dixon played in and started only 12 regular-season games.
In the 1987 regular season, Dixon intercepted three passes, which he returned for five yards.
For the second consecutive year, in 1987, Dixon was honored as first-team All-Pro by the NFL and received a Pro Bowl invitation.
He was also again named in 1987 first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Pro Football Writers of America, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, Pro Football Weekly, and The Sporting News, and first-team All-Conference by Pro Football Weekly and United Press International.
With a 10-5 record in 1987, Cleveland won its third consecutive AFC Central Division title.
Dixon contributed to Cleveland in 1987 ranking in the NFL second in fewest regular-season points allowed (239) and third in fewest regular-season total passing and rushing yards allowed (4,264).
In a divisional-round playoff game on January 9, 1988, with Dixon starting the game at right cornerback, Cleveland defeated the Indianapolis Colts 38-21.
The following week, on January 17, 1988, the Browns met the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game for the second consecutive year.
Dixon again started the game at right cornerback, but the Broncos defeated the Browns 38-33 in a game known as “The Fumble” (based on a late fourth-quarter fumble by Browns running back Earnest Byner as he was about to score the game-tying touchdown).
In 1988, Dixon played in and started 15 regular-season games at right cornerback.
In 1988, Dixon received his third consecutive Pro Bowl invitation.
He was also named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
Cleveland had a 10-6 record in 1988 and earned a wild card spot in the playoffs.
Dixon contributed to the Browns in 1988 being ranked in the NFL sixth in all of fewest regular-season points allowed (288), fewest regular-season total passing and rushing yards allowed (4,767), and fewest regular-season passing yards allowed (2,847).
The Browns met the Houston Oilers in a wild card playoff game on December 24, 1988.
Before the game, a December 23, 1988 article in The New York Times described Dixon and his cornerback partner, Frank Minnifield, as “a pair of All-Pro cornerbacks widely regarded as the best duo in the league.”
In addition, Oilers wide receiver Ernest Givins said about Dixon and Minnifield:
“They’re the best in the league because they never second-guess themselves. Once they make a commitment to how they’re going to make a play, they make it. When you’ve got two great corners like that, everybody else in the secondary plays more loose because of the cushion they feel they have on the corners. That’s a big asset.”
In addition, before the game, Dixon stated:
“We spend a number of hours preparing, watching film and taking them with us just about everywhere we go. Receivers have a tendency like anyone to stay with what they do best, and we like to learn that and take it away or at least make it uncomfortable for them to find their rhythm.”
With Dixon starting the wild card playoff game at right cornerback, the Browns lost to the Houston Oilers 24-23.
In 1989, Dixon played in and started 15 regular-season games at right cornerback.
On November 12, 1989, Dixon had his final NFL regular season interception, intercepting Seattle Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg and returning the interception for two yards, in a 17-7 Browns victory over the Seahawks.
Cleveland had a 9-6-1 record in 1989 and won its fourth AFC Central Division title in five seasons.
Dixon contributed to Cleveland in 1989 ranking in the NFL fourth in fewest regular-season points allowed (254), seventh in fewest regular-season total passing and rushing yards allowed (4,831), tied for second in regular-season interceptions (27), and seventh in regular-season sacks (45).
The Browns won a divisional-round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills 34-30 on January 6, 1990.
The game (which Dixon started at right cornerback) turned out to be Dixon’s final victory as a member of the Browns.
The following week, on January 14, 1990, the Browns played the Denver Broncos (for the third time in four years) in the AFC championship game.
Denver again defeated Cleveland (with Dixon starting the game at right cornerback) 37-21.
After the 1989 season, Dixon signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers.
However, hindered by a leg injury, Dixon never played in a regular-season game for San Francisco and retired before the beginning of the 1990 season.
The Years After the NFL
Dixon was married to Hikia, but he is now divorced.
He has two sons, Kyle and Hanford Jr., and two daughters, Marva and Hanna.
Since his retirement, Dixon has worked as a real estate broker, as a player development executive for Horseshoe Casino, and as a broadcaster (as a football analyst for WOIO-TV 19 (CBS) in Cleveland, and as a color analyst for the high school football game of the week on FS Ohio)
He has also served as the head coach of the Cleveland Crush in the Lingerie Football League.
Southern Mississippi has honored Dixon by inducting him into the M-Club Alumni Association Sports Hall of Fame, naming him to the college’s Football Team of the Century, and making him only the seventh member of the college’s Legends Club.
In 2003, Dixon was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends Program.
He was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
In 2013, Dixon was inducted into the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame.
He was named by Pro Football Reference to its second team All-1980’s decade team at cornerback.
Dixon’s 26 regular season interceptions as a Browns player rank tied for tenth in Browns history.
— Hanford Dixon (@HanfordTopDawg) January 15, 2017
In addition to his interceptions, while more difficult to measure, it was Dixon’s skills in pass coverage as a shutdown cornerback that also make him one of the top defensive backs to ever play for Cleveland.
Dixon appreciates the opportunity to have played in front of the “Dawg Pound”, stating:
“That energy coming from them came right to us. When we came out and ran through the Dawg Pound to start high-fiving them, it was on. I mean, it was game time. And I just want to tell them, thank you. . . . It didn’t take me long to realize when I got here what type of people that Cleveland had. They have the greatest fans anywhere in the world.”
Hanford Dixon & @JoshCribbs16 talk us through the importance of the Dawg Pound! 🐶
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) October 28, 2017
For his creation of “The Dawg Pound”, nine years of stellar play at right cornerback, six playoff appearances, and three trips to the AFC championship game, it is Browns fans who should shout out a loud “thank you” for Hanford Dixon, the “Top Dawg”.