There was no denying the moment. Phil Dawson could feel the difference as he paced backwards to line up the 33-yard field goal attempt. Longsnapper Kyle Nelson and punter/holder Bradley Pinion were unusually quiet.
Focus was essential amid wet conditions at Levi's® Stadium, and neither player wanted to be the one responsible for keeping Dawson away from the looming milestone.
"I could sense the anticipation and excitement," Dawson said. "I lined up, it was a great snap, a great hold, the guys protected well, and I just tried to punch it through."
Dawson drilled it between the uprights. The kick put the San Francisco 49ers on the scoreboard against the New England Patriots, but more importantly, it marked Dawson's 400th career field goal.
The 18-year veteran became the 10th kicker in NFL history to reach the mark.
"It was a great sense of relief. … It felt really good. We'd been tracking it for a while now," Dawson said, referring to the countdown to 400 that had been in the office of special teams coordinator Derius Swinton II. "It was really special."
What's more, Dawson owns the best career field goal percentage of any kicker to make 400 (84.7 percent). That's a remarkable number given the 14 years Dawson spent in Cleveland's unpredictable winter conditions.
"Part of being a kicker is that you never know (when your opportunities will come)," Dawson said. "You just have to be ready, and whenever your team needs you, you have to go out there and make the most of it. That's what I've tried to do in my career."
And it's what Dawson continues to do. The 41-year-old has made 14-of-15 field-goal attempts this season and is showing no signs of slowing down (as evidenced by his booming 53-yard field goal against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10).
Dawson't teammates mobbed him back on the sideline. Everyone took the opportunity to shake his hand and congratulate their esteemed teammate best known in the locker room as, "Uncle Phil." Dawson has learned to love the nickname first given by Torrey Smith.
"I guess it's a term of endearment, and so I'm gonna go with it," Dawson said. "My boys think it's cool and say it's the in thing to be called, so I guess I'm cool now."
But it's better than "Grandpa Phil," right?
"Yeah, but with the gray hair, that's coming," Phil joked about the white hair that is not-so subtly creeping into his beard. "I might be great uncle Phil before too long."
The 49ers kicker couldn't have timed his momentous achievement any better. Each year, the kicker's wife and three kids come to a home game around Thanksgiving. This meant that no special travel plans were needed to be made for the Week 12 contest against the Patriots. In addition, Dawson's parents alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas with his in-laws.
This year, it was Dawson's parents who got to be in town for the turkey day trip.
"They don't get to come to very many games. That was a neat deal, to share it with them," Dawson said. "They've been there since my first kick."
As for the ball, it still resides in the equipment room at 49ers HQ. It will eventually assume it's proper place on the mantle at Dawson's home in Austin, Texas.
"That will find a special place," Dawson said. "That will be one that as I'm done playing, whenever that is, I'll appreciate that ball even more. Right now, I'm still doing my thing and trying to get ready for another opponent. I can't really go into grandpa-reflection mode yet, but as time goes by, I think I'll really enjoy that one."