49ers kicker Phil Dawson talks about putting best foot forward
Feb. 15, 2014 at 9:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 14, 2014 at 8:15 p.m.
The temperature was in single digits at Lambeau Field when Phil Dawson prepared to attempt a 33-yard field goal on the final play of the San Francisco-Green Bay NFC Wild Card playoff game.
Dawson was doing his best to stay warm, but he wasn't having much success.
"It was pretty extreme that day," he said. "There wasn't a whole lot you could do. Fortunately, in my 14 years in Cleveland, I learned a few tricks. I was able to make it through the game. Certainly, at no point it was comfortable."
Dawson felt much better after his kick split the uprights to give San Francisco a 23-20 win.
But even though Dawson's field goal sent the 49ers on to the divisional playoffs, it was not the most memorable in a 15-year NFL career.
"I tend to remember some of the more random kicks that most casual fans would never think twice about," he said. "There's a story behind every kick. Some of my favorite moments are getting on that airplane after a road game and thinking about what just happened in that game and staring out the window and reflecting and just knowing you did a good job."
Dawson, 39, talked about his kicking career after driving from his Austin home to the Victoria Country Club on Saturday, where he was the guest speaker for the Claud Jacobs Intercollegiate Golf Tournament banquet.
Dawson began kicking in the ninth grade at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas.
"One day at practice, our coach said we needed a kicker," he recalled. "I didn't want to kick. But all my buddies who played soccer said, 'You seem to be able to kick a soccer ball; why don't you go try it?' I made a 49 yarder. I started going to a few camps here and there. I decided this might be something I need to do on the side, and it's paid off."
Dawson was a first-team All-American kicker at the University of Texas his junior and senior years but went undrafted and signed with the Oakland Raiders as a free agent.
"I had the big draft day party, and the phone never rang," he said. "It was not exactly the entry in the NFL I was hoping for."
Dawson was cut by the Raiders before spending his first season on the practice squad of the New England Patriots.
He was thankful for the opportunity to learn under Adam Vinatieri before signing with the Browns when the team returned to Cleveland in 1999.
"It's very difficult to get your foot in the door," Dawson said. "There's no backups, so there's only 32 spots. At the time when I came in, there was only 30. There's usually pretty quick triggers by personnel people those early years. They don't have to invest a lot of money in you, so there's not a lot of incentive to keep you around if you hit a rough patch."
Dawson stayed in Cleveland for 14 seasons and made a franchise-best 305 field goals before signing with the 49ers before last season.
"It was sad leaving Cleveland," he said. "I had invested a lot of time and effort and quite honestly was hoping to finish what I started there. It was a good run, and the opportunity in San Francisco was there. A very successful team, a first-class organization, a special teams coach I had worked with in Cleveland for a couple of years. It was a great experience this past year."
Dawson is a free agent again and is unsure where he will play in the upcoming season.
But he's likely to have no shortage of opportunities since he has the highest all-time field goal percentage (84.5) among kickers with 300-plus kicks made.
"There's a lot of great kickers that came in the league when I did," Dawson said. "I'm glad I came in when I did. The game's evolving to the next level right before our eyes.
"To make a high percentage, I feel good about it and also just to be around that long. That's another aspect of it I'm proud of. Being undrafted and to last for that long and hopefully a few more, that's a pretty nice statistic."