Even though Phil Dawson has become the face of the Browns as their longest-tenured player during the expansion era, he will always have a special place in his heart for his first love — the Dallas Cowboys.
Dawson, the Browns’ reliable kicker, grew up a die-hard football fan in Dallas. In the mid-to-late 1980s, Dawson’s father received Cowboys season tickets for a few years in exchange for his services as an accountant. The father-son duo attended virtually every home game when Dawson was in middle school. They were at legendary coach Tom Landry’s final game in 1988 at the old Texas Stadium.
“I can remember taking history books and having to do my homework and claiming I was doing it because I took my book with me,” Dawson said Wednesday after practice. “I have some very good memories. I learned the game of football from my dad and a lot of that was sitting there watching Cowboy games. He taught me a few things and helped me look at things and explain things. Those were some good memories.”
Dawson, 37, is eager for his homecoming Sunday, when the Browns (2-7) visit the Cowboys (4-5). It will be the Browns’ first appearance at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which opened in 2009, and Dawson hopes the retractable roof is closed so he can play in favorable kicking conditions. Since the Browns’ rebirth in 1999, the only time they have played the Cowboys on the road was in 2004.
“It’s fun to share it with family and friends and go back to my hometown,” said Dawson, whose wife, Shannon; sons, Dru and Beau; and daughter, Sophiann, live in Austin, Texas. “I know they’ll all enjoy it, which makes it special for me. But I’m going down on a work trip. I have plenty of time in the offseason to enjoy friends and family and the environment and the cuisine and the whole deal. But when I get off the airplane, it’s all business, and I’ve got a job to do.”
Dawson’s job this week has included playing the role of a ticket agent. He expects more than 30 friends and relatives to attend the game.
“[The list is] growing each and every day,” he said. “I’m about to close down the ticket office. I can’t afford many more.”
Dawson’s family has strong allegiances to the Cowboys. His son, Dru, is not an exception.
“My son, Dru, has a Cowboys room,” Dawson said. “His bedroom is blue, all the Fathead stuff all over the walls. He’s got the star [logo], the NFL emblem. He’s got the stadium. I don’t know if he has any of the players. He has the mural-type stuff all over the place. And then there’s obviously Browns helmets.”
The setting isn’t unlike that of the bedroom Dawson had as a youngster.
“I had a Doomsday Defense poster on my wall,” Dawson said. “I’m kind of dating myself. Obviously, my high school years were the dynasty with the three Super Bowls. I was pretty spoiled as a football fan.”
Dawson was a huge fan of special-teams standout and safety Bill Bates, who played for the Cowboys from 1983-96.
“I loved Bill Bates,” Dawson said. “I didn’t know I’d wind up being a special-teams guy, but I always kind of pulled for the underdog and he was an undrafted guy that was supposed to be too small and too slow but played forever down there, was just a special-teams ace and even when he got in on defense, he did a tremendous job. I’ve always pulled for guys like that.”
When Dawson was an offensive tackle and kicker for Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, he even tried to adopt the style of his favorite player.
“I can remember playing in high school and everyone wanting to look like Bill Bates — the neck roll and the gloves and the wrist bands and the towel, all that stuff,” Dawson said. “… Football is king down there. Unless you grow up in Houston, the rest of the state is Cowboys, and that’s all you did was follow the Cowboys.”
Dawson, of course, won’t be cheering for the Cowboys this weekend. He has made 23 consecutive field goals dating to last season and hopes to keep the streak alive at the expense of his hometown team.
“We’re off to a good start,” Dawson said of his streak. “I certainly don’t want to diminish that, but there’s still seven games to go. So I could screw this whole thing up pretty quick. I like where I am right now, but I’m only as good as my next kick, and the last thing I want to do is to go home to my hometown and poop the bed, so to speak.”