In the long history of the Cleveland Browns, the franchise has had many memorable characters.
Going back to the team’s founding in 1944, Browns fans would have to count their notable stars using all their fingers, toes and then some.
But within those notable names there are a few that just seemed to fit Cleveland character.
Gritty, tough, hard-nosed, playing through pain, those are just some of the descriptors that define certain Browns players.
The names that immediately jump to one’s mind in this subset are: Jim Brown, Bernie Kosar, Clay Matthews, Joe Thomas, Otto Graham, Marion Motley, and Ozzie Newsome, just to name a few.
Two other names that epitomized Cleveland in the 1980s were Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield.
Might Minni, Frank Minnifield #31, and Top Dawg, Hanford Dixon #29. pic.twitter.com/uhA9pBs0g0
— Keith Laschinger (@KeithLaschinger) May 9, 2020
Their play on the field, along with their flavorful character, literally changed the dynamic of the team and, especially, Browns fans.
Here is a closer look at these two former Dawgs.
Both Minnifield and Dixon are products of the American South.
Minnifield was born on New Year’s Day, 1960 in Lexington, Kentucky.
Dixon was born on Christmas Day, 1958, in Mobile, Alabama.
Minnifield and Dixon were also standout football players at their respective high schools.
As a safety and tailback at Henry Clay High School in Lexington from 1975-1978, Minnifield led the Blue Devils to the playoffs during his senior year.
Between 1974-1976, Dixon was a three-sport stud at Theodore High School in Theodore, Alabama.
Dixon accumulated numerous varsity letters in football, basketball, and track.
On the football field, he excelled as a defensive back, split end, and kick returner.
Dixon was also a two-time All-Conference athlete.
Dixon’s success in high school translated to a stellar four-year college career at The University of Southern Mississippi.
In his freshman year of 1977, Dixon was named a starter at cornerback.
During the ‘77 season, he had 44 tackles and two picks and the team upset the likes of Ole Miss, Auburn, and Mississippi State.
His sophomore season of 1978 produced four more INTs and 41 tackles.
Dixon was also a member of the Golden Eagles “Nasty Bunch” defense that only gave up 13.3 points per game in 1979, which was good for 24th in the nation defensively.
This brings back memories! Reggie, Sammy, Too Tall, Bud Brown, Hanford Dixon, Big Dog, Marvin Harvey, Richard Byrd, The Nasty Bunch, Louis Lipps, Bruce Thomson, Steve Clark and so so many more. #SMTTT
— Robert Greene (@GreeneRbt) November 2, 2018
By the time he left the university, Dixon had been named a First-team All-American by The Sporting News in 1980.
He also played in the Blue-Gray Game in 1980 and the 1981 Senior Bowl.
Coming out of high school, Minnifield was considered too small (5’9”) and slight (140 pounds) to play the sport in college.
After adding another 40 pounds, he walked on to the University of Louisville team in 1979.
Despite his slight frame, Minnifield proved himself on the field and was given a scholarship for the last three years of his college career.
In his junior year of 1981, Minnifield caught the attention of college football fans when he was ranked number one in the country in kick return average with an astounding 30.4 yards per return.
He also led the Cardinals in punt returns that season.
Different Paths to Stardom in the NFL
Both Dixon and Minnifield shone bright on their respective college football teams, but they both took very different paths to NFL stardom.
After his outstanding college success, Dixon was selected by Cleveland with their 22nd pick of the 1st Round of the 1981 NFL draft.
Just as he did at Southern Mississippi, Dixon made an impact during his first year as a Brown, making the league’s All-Rookie team.
During the 1982 and 1983 seasons, Dixon collected a total of seven interceptions.
He was known not only for his agility, speed, and coverage skills, but also for his initial punch or “strike” when covering a receiver at the snap.
Meanwhile, Minnifield was navigating the pro game a little differently.
After graduating from Louisville, he joined the Chicago Blitz of the now defunct United States Football League (USFL) in 1983.
The Blitz had a very good team that season and some football insiders posed that the team could have competed in the NFL.
The talent level in the USFL was remarkable. It wasn’t just big names like Herschel Walker and Steve Young. It was guys like Frank Minnifield, who wasn’t a big name when he arrived in the USFL but went on to make the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s. https://t.co/stwesKK2z7
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) July 23, 2018
Then, in a bizarre transaction before the 1984 season, the owners of the Blitz and the Arizona Wranglers sold and then swapped assets.
Due to mounting financial losses, the two owners decided to get a little creative in unloading their cash-strapped teams.
The Wranglers owner, Jim Joseph, sold the team to Blitz owner Dr. Donald Diethrich.
Diethrich then sold the Blitz to another investor to keep the Blitz franchise in Chicago.
After the transactions went through, Diethrich, the Blitz coaching staff and most of the players (including Minnifield) went to Arizona and became the new Wranglers.
Most of the original Wranglers players and coaching staff went to Chicago to become the new face of the Blitz.
Once the oddity of the transaction ended and the new Wranglers got settled in, the team picked up where they left off in 1983.
In the 1984 season, the Wranglers were one of the better teams in the USFL and made it to the championship game versus the Philadelphia Stars, where they lost 23-3.
As the ‘84 USFL season continued, Minnifield wanted to take his talents to the NFL.
After the Wranglers owner initially balked at the idea, Minnifield sued to get out of his USFL contract.
He ended up prevailing in his suit and signed as a free agent with the Browns.
Minnifield played in nearly every game during that NFL season.
This fact shouldn’t be overlooked: Counting the games he played with the Wranglers in 1984, along with his time as a Brown, Minnifield ended up playing in 30 professional football games that year.
The “Dawg Pound” is Formed
It was evident by the end of the ‘84 season that Cleveland had one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL.
Dixon and Minnifield fed off each other and each were the perfect compliment to the other.
During the 1985 training camp, Dixon took it upon himself to give he and his defensive mates an edge and bring fear to their opponents.
He referred to himself and his fellow defenders as “dawgs” and the opposing quarterback as the “cat.”
“We had the idea of the quarterback being the cat, and the defensive line being the dog,” Dixon said at the time. “Whenever the defense would get a regular sack or a coverage sack the defensive linemen and linebackers would bark.”
This dog-eat-cat mentality eventually found its way to the Cleveland faithful.
After big plays by the defense, the fans would bark along with the players.
The fever grew to the point where Dixon and Minnifield put up a “Dawg Pound” sign in front of a bleacher section in old Cleveland Stadium before the first preseason game of ‘85.
This particular section was already known to have a rowdy demographic and the moniker stuck.
Fans in the newly formed Dawg Pound quickly donned dog noses, dog masks and collars, dog bone attire, and other colorful costumes.
In 1985, Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield, cornerbacks for the Cleveland @Browns, began barking at their defensive linemen — an unconventional rallying cry. The rest is Dawg Pound history. https://t.co/4IjsmRPWj5 pic.twitter.com/cYSbLRzdkb
— Stephen Hiltner (@sahiltner) February 4, 2018
During the season, Dixon and Minnifield would also bark at one another after big plays.
Together, they led the Browns to a playoff berth with an 8-8 record, although they lost to the Miami Dolphins in the Divisional Playoff game.
The Scourge of the Broncos
The good times kept rolling in the 1986 season.
In ‘86, the Browns went 12-4 and Dixon and Minnifield had Pro Bowl caliber years, intercepting eight passes between them.
Cleveland went to the AFC Championship game where they faced a very good Denver squad.
The Browns were winning the game late until Broncos quarterback John Elway drove his team 98 yards to tie the score at the end of regulation.
My obligatory Broncos post…”we got ‘em right where we got ‘em!” Keith Bishop just before “The Drive”. pic.twitter.com/kfIaDDD35H
— Sports&Dogs&RocknRoll ⚾️🐶📻 (@MATTYLP_33RPM) March 10, 2020
“The Drive” eventually culminated in a 23-20 Denver victory.
Dixon was named as an All-Pro after the season and he joined Minnifield in Hawaii for their first Pro Bowl.
In 1987, it was more of the same.
Cleveland went 10-5 during a strike-shortened season and finished first in the AFC Central.
Dixon and Minnifield collected seven interceptions total and both once again went to the Pro Bowl.
Unfortunately, the Browns were upended, again by the Broncos in the AFC title game.
This time, Cleveland was driving for a game-tying touchdown.
Normally dependable Browns running back Earnest Byner was stripped of the ball at the Denver two-yard line.
#ThrowbackThursday to a play called “The Fumble” made by the Cleveland @Browns running back, Earnest Byner. In this play, @EByner fumbled on the one-yard line which assisted in the @Bronco’s win. #NFLAlumni #AFC #AFCChampionship #TheFumble #Browns #Broncos pic.twitter.com/WMVpQm4IO4
— NFL Alumni (@NFLAlumni) March 28, 2019
“The Fumble” ended Cleveland’s dreams of a Super Bowl appearance.
The 1988 season showcased Dixon and Minnifield’s immense talent despite the team losing to the Houston Oilers in the AFC Wild Card game.
1988 Indy playoff pregame profile on Dawg Pound founders, Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield #Brownspic.twitter.com/22kUkMkGn2
— CleWest (@erjmanlasvegas) March 23, 2020
Both men played in their third straight Pro Bowl and Minnifield received his first, and only, First-team All-Pro nod.
Minnifield played like a man possessed in ‘88.
Facing the likes of receivers Art Monk, Steve Largent, Eddie Brown, Mark Clayton, Andre Reed, and Al Toon, Minnifield allowed zero touchdowns against them.
This was quite an accomplishment considering that both Monk and Largent eventually became NFL Hall of Famers.
In 1989, the Browns finished with a 9-6-1 finish, though they were first in their division.
Despite playing nearly the entire season, Dixon struggled and only hauled in one INT.
Minnifield played well again, ending the year with three picks and yet another Pro Bowl appearance.
Cleveland faced the Broncos for the third time in the AFC Championship game.
This time, there was no agonizing Denver miracle.
The Broncos dominated for much of the game and ended Cleveland’s Super Bowl hopes again with a 37-21 defeat.
The Dixon/Minnifield Tandem Ends
Before the 1990 NFL season began, Dixon decided to hang up his cleats.
Thus ended a magical six-year partnership with Minnifield.
Dixon ended his nine-year pro career with 26 interceptions, 225 interception return yards, and two sacks.
Minnifield continued to play three more seasons with Cleveland.
Sadly, his numbers began to decline along with the team’s performance on the field.
By the time he retired after the 1992 season, Minnifield had been named to the NFL’s 1980 All-Decade Team.
Surprisingly, Dixon was not named to the team.
However, the two have been ranked as the number two all-time cornerback tandem in league history.
Minnifield ended his career as a Brown with 20 picks, 124 interception return yards, and seven fumble recoveries.
Since retiring from the NFL, Dixon has more or less stayed close to the game of football.
For a while, he was the head coach of the Cleveland Crush of the Lingerie Football League.
He has also worked as a football analyst for WOIO-TV in Cleveland and a color analyst for high school football games of the week for FS Ohio.
Dixon is married and has four children.
While playing in the NFL, Minnifield obtained his real estate license.
Upon retiring, he returned to Lexington and founded All-Pro Homes, a homebuilding company.
One year after retiring, Minnifield became the first African American executive on the board of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce.
For a brief period between 2012-2014, Minnifield’s son, Chase, was a cornerback for the Washington Redskins.
Chase Minnifield and special teams players getting work in. pic.twitter.com/ywRbbzrDbH
— Mike Jones (@ByMikeJones) August 2, 2014
Although they were together for only a few years, Dixon and Minnifield served the Browns and the city of Cleveland with pride.
They were the epitome of the team’s apotheosis as one of the best AFC teams of the 1980s.
They go down in team history as the very definition of grit and toughness, two of the best to ever play the game.
Meanwhile, The Dawg Pound Maintains its Zeal
Though they have long since retired, Dixon and Minnifeld’s creation has continued to thrive in subsequent years.
Even in times where the Browns are struggling on the field, the Dawg Pound maintains its raucous ways.
For a number of years, fans located in the Pound would throw objects onto the field and at opponents.
Eventually, game day officials banned dog food, Milk Bones, eggs, batteries and other assorted items in the stadium.
However, Dawg Pound members could still find a way to sneak in a banned item or two.
One example is a keg of beer brought into the stadium inside a home-made dog house.
The Dawg Pound notoriety grew to such a fever that opposing players, fans, and coaches would refer to these particular fans even when they weren’t playing Cleveland.
In 1989, the Seattle Seahawks were in Cincinnati to play the Bengals.
At one point the game was stopped due to a high number of objects being thrown onto the field at Seahawks players.
Bengals coach Sam Wyche somehow got a hold of a field microphone and addressed the Cincinnati faithful.
In a blistering tone, he hinted at the Dawg Pound while dressing down Bengals fans for their behavior when he announced, “You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!”
🖤🧡🖤🧡🖤🧡 #RIP pic.twitter.com/sRA9YqkoL4
— Aurileus FC (@Aurileus13) February 16, 2020
After the final game at Cleveland Stadium in 1995, Dawg Pound members ripped bleachers from the stands using smuggled in crowbars and wrenches and either threw the bleachers onto the field or kept them as souvenirs.
When the team returned to Cleveland, the Dawg Pound simply opened up shop in the lower east end section of FirstEnergy Stadium.
It didn’t take long for the Dawg Pound to make a name for themselves in the Browns new stadium.
During a 2001 game against Jacksonville, Cleveland was driving late in the 4th quarter in what could have been a game-winning score.
Browns receiver Quincy Morgan looked to catch a pass from quarterback Tim Couch to convert a 4th and 1.
However, referee Terry McAulay reviewed the catch after Couch had spiked the ball to stop the clock and said Morgan never had clear control of the ball.
The result of the overturned call meant that possession of the ball went to the Jaguars.
Cleveland fans were immediately incensed as Couch’s spike should have negated McAulay’s review.
Dawg Pound members began throwing plastic beer bottles and other objects onto the field.
“Bottlegate” ended when the Jags ran out the last few seconds while being showered with debris.
Bottlegate turns 18 today! pic.twitter.com/g4TAYaJGyJ
— Cleveland Sports Talk (@CLEsportsTalk) December 17, 2019
In a way, Dixon and Minnifield will always be present at Browns games.
As long as the Dawg Pound is at their full-throated roar, both their creators will be there in spirit, barking along with them.
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