SANTA CLARA (AP) — No parting shots, just Phil Dawson’s standard, classy approach in saying farewell to Cleveland:
“Phil was here 1999-2012,” he wrote in the cabinet where he stored his cleats, then later thanked the masses upon learning he really would be leaving town.
Three years after departing the only team he’d known, and after more than a decade of losing before he went west, Dawson acknowledges there are a few more grays in his signature goatee — and he hardly minds.
No doubt all those tough years in northern Ohio contributed to the current look of the Niners placekicker, and this weekend he returns to face his former Browns in the unforgiving elements at FirstEnergy Stadium.
He’s not thinking much about how he might be received from the old fans who loved him.
“I’m just going to go in there and try to zero in on the job at hand. There’ll be a week where I can soak it all in and reminisce and all that, but not this week,” Dawson said Wednesday. “I’ve just got to focus on my job. Kicking in Cleveland deserves your full attention in December.”
Dawson is in his 17th NFL season and third with San Francisco after spending his first 14 years with the Browns, and he said Wednesday he is strongly leaning toward playing in 2016.
The soft-spoken, steady Dawson left his mark in Cleveland in so many ways, sticking it out through many frustrating moments.
“It was a job, one of 32 jobs in the world. You can’t be very picky in my line of work,” Dawson said. “I always considered it a privilege to be a Cleveland Brown. I was grateful to have a job and just put my head down and went to work. Before you know it, you were there 14 years. That’s just kind of how it happened. I brought the same attitude here.”
Sure, the 40-year-old Dawson might look all the more distinguished these days to locker mate and 21-year-old kicking partner Bradley Pinion, though the rookie punter didn’t need any convincing to give Dawson all his attention and respect.
Dawson is probably not going anywhere, either. As he approaches his 41st birthday in late January, he seems nearly ready to commit to another season if his wife and three children give their blessing. But it will ultimately be his call.
Staying with the 49ers is his top choice, too — “It’s great here.”
“I’m totally open to continuing on,” Dawson said. “I’ll get home and discuss it with my family and get a pulse for how that is. My family comes before football. However, with that said, I still love playing the game, I still have a passion to win, I still have a passion to accomplish things in this league. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to go home and sit on a rocking chair.”
Dawson has made 18 of 19 field goals this season, including all three from 50 yards and out, also hitting all but one extra point after missing his first try during a 26-20 win at Chicago last week.
He points to the career of veteran Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who will be 43 at the end of the month.
“He’s a guy I look up to a lot, and obviously he’s still performing at an elite level,” Dawson said.
Dawson is perhaps the most reliable member of these 49ers (4-8). He offers a positive presence in a locker room that has undergone so much change in one year since former coach Jim Harbaugh’s departure late last December.
“Phil Dawson is incredibly important every week, and not just because he’s such a good kicker, such a good football player,” coach Jim Tomsula said. “Phil will come in at halftime, he’s letting you know where the winds are. ... Things like that with Phil Dawson are just huge. I laugh a lot and tell him we’re the same age.
“That’s a money guy. That’s a good dude.”
Dawson feels fortunate Chris Gardocki guided him in his early days, “so now I’m the old guy helping him,” Dawson said of Pinion.
“I wouldn’t have had half the season I’ve had without him,” Pinion said.
Dawson misses kicking off after putting in extra work into that area through the offseason. Now, Dawson considers it a “win-win” because he has been able to concentrate all his efforts on field goals and PATs and feels much better physically.
Of course, Dawson would love to go out a winner when he is done.
“Very few people get a John Elway-type send-off,” Dawson said of Elway going out a Super Bowl winner after the 1998 season. “At the end of the day, you’re a grown man coming to work, and if your team wins that’s a super valuable added bonus. If you feel you can come contribute to your team and help your organization, you need to take satisfaction in that. I still want to do that.”