TEMPE, Ariz. — Phil Dawson doesn’t come to work expecting to have fun.
“It’s a job,” the Cardinals new kicker said. “It’s a great job and one I’m very grateful to have, but I don’t come to work looking to have a good time.”
Dawson does find joy in his work, but it comes more from the product than the process.
“I’ll take satisfaction in knowing I did my job,” he said. “Kicking is very misunderstood and a lot of people don’t know a whole lot about it. You may be the only one in the stadium that understands how difficult a certain kick may have been, so just knowing what you went through to prepare for that moment, knowing what you felt in that moment, to know how much everything was riding on that moment and to then be able to come through, that’s a very rewarding experience.”
It’s that mature, business approach that general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians were looking for when they set out to upgrade the kicking game after Chandler Catanzaro made just 21 of 28 field goal attempts last season, including critical misses against New England, Seattle and Miami.
It’s an approach Dawson has refined over the years when faced with the reality of his job.
“In the NFL, strange things happen so I’d rather dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ and make sure I am almost over-prepared so that when those weird things happen I’ve got a fighting chance to get the ball through,” he said. “It may not be the approach that allows you to have the most fun but it allows you to do your job.”
As he has progressed through an 18-year career, Dawson’s attention to detail has allowed him to appreciate the smallest of victories when others might view them as mundane. As an example, he cited a December game two seasons ago at Soldier Field against the Bears.
“In the first quarter, they blocked an extra point on our first touchdown,” Dawson said. “That point kind of haunted us the whole day but at the very end of the game, we’re down seven and we score this dramatic touchdown, and I’ve got to go out and make an extra point to tie the game and send it to overtime.
“Most people are going to the fridge to get a beer if they’re watching it on TV because they’re figuring it’s going to OT. I’m thinking how that first-quarter kick was blocked. I’m thinking about the bad footing. I’m thinking about the wind. It was not an easy day to kick,” the kicker added. “What may appear to be a routine chip-shot to most people goes down as one of my favorite kicks of my career because I had to move the spot of the snap because of the footing, which then made me aim in a certain way that I really didn’t want to aim because of the wind that day. There was a lot of stuff going on, so to see the ball go through was pretty cool.”
The Cardinals raised some eyebrows when they signed the 42-year-old kicker, but Arians is convinced there is plenty of game left in Dawson’s leg after he made 18 of 21 attempts last season, including 10 of 10 inside 40 yards.
“Having been around Adam Vinatieri and now Phil — and I was around Phil when he was a lot younger — they’re special guys,” Arians said. “They’re different personalities, but they just don’t age.”
Arians has been consistent in his message to Dawson.
“Not just when I was signed, but since then the communication has been, ‘come do your thing. Be an example to the younger guys in the locker room of how to be a pro, how to go about things. When there are opportunities to lead, do that,'” Dawson said.
“My leadership style may be different than AB (safety Antoine Bethea), a teammate of mine who we brought over, but they just want me to bring a veteran presence, be a guy that takes his job seriously and then obviously performs when his team needs him.”
Arians has consistently mentioned Dawson as one of the key, offseason signings he hopes will bring needed leadership to the team. Dawson is happy to fill that role, but he knows his ability to lead will only materialize if he performs.
“We’ll just have to see, won’t we?” he said, smiling.
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