The parallels are easily drawn between athletes and musicians: There are adoring fans, sold out stadiums and a never-ending pursuit to climb the charts and sit atop the industry.
There's practice – yes, Allen Iverson, we're talking 'bout practice: The countless hours spent honing your craft to distinguish yourself from those gunning for your spot on the mantle. The repetitious labor and focus on miniscule details, rehashing the same play or same song over and over again until it's second nature.
And then there's the application. Gameday, show time. When the world gets to see what you're made of while standing in the spotlight. Critics keep a cynical eye on who is cut out for the big stage. Nobody's got time for bad reviews – the catalyst for ruined careers.
Finally, you have the albums: A collection of tracks released periodically into the masses. Some take off and become iconic – think, "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix. Others fall flat – sorry, Nickleback.
For a professional football player, each season is a 16-track album. The result of that album dictates whether or not an NFL franchise lets you make another.
Phil Dawson is in the middle of recording his 18th album, an impressive feat for the once undrafted kicker out of Texas. A 14-year tenure with the Cleveland Browns followed by four more seasons as the kicker for the San Francisco 49ers has seen Dawson compose quite the discography.
Dawson is Cleveland's all-time leader in field goals made with 305 and ranks second on the franchise's all-time scoring list with 1,271 points scored. The kicker also owns San Francisco's franchise record with 27 consecutive made field goals set in 2013.
In all, the 41-year-old has seen 390 field goals sail through the uprights, tenth most in league history. Of that astounding number, 20 have been game-winners (defined as taking place in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime).
Health permitting this season, Dawson will become the tenth player in NFL history to reach 400 makes. And when he gets there, his 84.4 career field-goal percentage will be the second best among any of his peers to reach the lofty milestone (Adam Vinatieri is at 84.5 percent).
Phil Dawson is a rock star in the kicking community.
"It's special. I think it speaks to all the great teammates I've had who have helped me and the coaches who have put me in positions to be successful," Dawson explained the thought of reaching 400. "I'm very thankful that I've been able to stay healthy this long. I'll probably appreciate it more when I'm not playing."
There's no denying that Dawson's resume is of a legendary caliber – although San Francisco's ever-humble kicker would do his best to dismiss the moniker. And in the spirit of this musical analogy, it's only fitting that we put together a greatest hits album, a common practice for musicians of similar prestige.
Below are 10 of Dawson's most memorable kicks from his 18-year career, all game-winners, handpicked by the man himself. Be sure to read until the end for two bonus tracks as well.
The Browns had just moved back to Cleveland and were off to a porous, 1-8 start in the newest iteration of the franchise. A Week 10 clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium was next on the docket. Cleveland had previously been thumped at home, 43-0, in Week 1 by their division rivals.
This bout was far closer. The Browns took an early 7-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game on a 35-yard pass from Tim Couch to Kevin Johnson. Dawson's PAT would be the last time he'd take the field until the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
Trailing 15-13, Cleveland got the ball back with 1:51 remaining. Tim Couch led a drive to the Steelers 22-yard line with the clock running and no timeouts. Dawson came hustling in from the sideline to attempt a 39-yard field goal.
"It was mayhem," Dawson recalled. "But I do remember sprinting out to the field, trying to buckle up my chinstrap, and out of the corner of my eye I see them opening up the centerfield wall."
That's right. The Pittsburgh Pirates also played at Three Rivers. The Steelers were notorious for opening the centerfield wall during an opponent's field-goal attempt in order to create as much air circulation as possible.
"Man, the wind was howling straight in our face," Dawson said of the dramatic conditions for his first game-winner. "I bet it only cleared by four yards. It was going right into the teeth of the wind. That's a special, special memory. I needed it as a young player."
Dawson, who had previously been naïve to the magnitude of the rivalry, was quickly on his way to becoming a fan favorite in Cleveland.
"Winning that game, in Three Rivers Stadium, the reaction of the city of Cleveland, you would have thought we won the Super Bowl," the kicker said. "As a young player trying to get established in the league, I was very fortunate to have a game-winner in that kind of game. That propelled me to settling in, getting established and making a career out of this thing."
The Tennessee Titans were ready to cruise to a comfortable home victory. A 7-yard touchdown pass from Steve McNair to Kevin Dyson gave the Titans a 14-point lead with 5:06 left to play.
Cleveland made it a one-score game with 2:35 left on the clock on a 12-yard pass from Couch to Andre' Davis. Now the Browns needed to recover an onside kick. To worsen their odds of a comeback, Cleveland had no timeouts and couldn't count on having enough time to drive 55-60 yards and reach the end zone.
That's when they called on Dawson. The Browns had practiced a unique onside kick in which he'd send the ball further down the field just for a situation like this. So Cleveland loaded up the right side and the Titans responded, matching up body-for-body on that side of the field. The only player the Browns put to Dawson's left was receiver Dennis Northcutt.
As he approached the ball, Dawson shifted his hips and swung his leg around the ball to send it 30 yards down the left side of the field. Northcutt raced after the kick, caught it on one bounce and kept both feet in bounds to keep Cleveland alive. Northcutt would go on to catch a game-tying, 8-yard touchdown from Couch with 0:18 remaining and Dawson drilled a 33-yard field goal to win it in overtime.
"It's not so much the field goal, but it's about being able to execute an onside kick that we had planned and that we had worked on," Dawson said. "It was pretty unorthodox. Learning to be aware in all situations, that's why I look back fondly on that game."
NFL kickers are afforded a few missed field goals, especially from long distance.
But not extra points. Those chip shots should be automatic.
So when Dawson pulled a PAT against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5 of the 2007 season, it didn't matter how hard the wind was blowing in Cleveland.
"That single point haunted us the entire game," Dawson said. "I just felt so bad about it."
Sure enough, the Seahawks kicked a field goal at the end of regulation to tie the game 30-30.
Luckily for Dawson, Cleveland got the ball to open overtime and promptly marched down the field to the Seahawks 7-yard line. But there was still work to be done. Out marched Dawson to win it from 25-yards out.
Another cheapie, yes, but it was on the same end of the field that he missed from in the first quarter.
"I remember going out there thinking, 'I'm the only person in this stadium right now stressing over this kick.' I'd already missed one from five yards closer.
"Fortunately I redeemed myself. To get a chance in overtime to come back and have an opportunity to help my team was huge."
Two weeks after his game-winner against the Seahawks, Dawson kicked one of the most bizarre field goals in NFL history.
On the road against the Baltimore Ravens, Dawson was called upon with the Browns trailing 30-27 and 0:03 left in the fourth quarter. This time, it would be a 51-yard try. What followed perplexed everyone at M&T Bank Stadium, referees included.
Dawson pulled the kick just slightly, but it had plenty of leg. The ball hit the left upright and ricocheted through the goalpost. Then, inexplicably, the ball hit the "gooseneck" connected to the crossbar and bounced back through the uprights the opposite way.
The refs, uncertain, looked at one another and ruled initially that the kick was no good.
Baltimore's players left the field in victory while Cleveland's protest continued. Head official Pete Morelli announced that the play was being reviewed.
The refs didn't have the power to reverse the call, but they did so anyway in what became known as the "Phil Dawson Rule." Cleveland got the ball first in overtime, drove down the field and Dawson drilled a 33-yard, game-winner for his fourth field goal of the contest.
"That was a huge one for the dramatic ending, and beating the Ravens is a huge deal for the people of Cleveland," Dawson said. "That's obviously who the Browns became. The fans of Cleveland hate the Ravens. So to go into Baltimore and win under those circumstances, that's a pretty neat one."
Ralph Wilson Stadium isn't known for comfortable fall temperatures, but a matchup against the Buffalo Bills on "Monday Night Football" was particularly unpleasant. The thermostat read 30 degrees at kickoff with a wind chill factor of 22 degrees.
The Browns trailed Buffalo 27-26 with 1:39 remaining in the game. Dawson, who'd already connected on his first four field-goal attempts, trotted out for No. 5. This time, the kicker lined up from 56-yards out, two yards longer than his career high to that point.
"Here you are on 'Monday Night Football,' you're 4-for-4, and like, 'Man, I've had a great night.' But your night is never over. It's never enough," Dawson remembered his feelings in the moment. "By the time you want to feel good about it, now you're trotting out in 25-degree weather with the whole world watching to see you hit a 56-yarder."
The temptation in that situation, much like a golfer standing in the tee box on a long Par 5, is to swing out of your shoes. But Dawson knew better. The kicker trusted that the combination of his fine-tuned technique and the adrenaline of the moment would give him enough leg to clear the uprights.
Dawson has a vivid recollection of the anxious moments as he watched the ball float through the crisp Buffalo air.
"It's in slow motion. It's a pretty lonely experience," he said. "You think about all the man hours that went into that situation – the countless hours of preparation from the coaches and players – and it all comes down to, 'Is this ball gonna get there or not?'"
It did get there, as Dawson's five field goals powered Cleveland to the primetime victory.
"It's a great feeling when you see those hands go up from the officials," Dawson said. "That's one I hold in high regard."
Nobody cares about style points as long as you get the "W."
Cleveland's 6-3 win over the Seahawks in 2011 was Exhibit A. The Browns held Seattle under 200 yards of total offense and held a time of possession advantage of 42:56-17:04. Despite controlling the entire game, Cleveland also failed to find the end zone.
A pair of Dawson's field goals from 52- and 53-yards out stood as the difference in the game.
"That was a super ugly game. Some days, it's not pretty, but you've got to do your job regardless," Dawson said. "Anytime you can beat in Seattle, even when I was in Cleveland, that's a special day."
Dawson's first season with the 49ers was marvelous. The Faithful appreciated his record-setting streak of 27 consecutive made field goals, but a game-winner against the rival Seahawks made the kicker an immediate fan favorite.
San Francisco trailed Seattle by one, 17-16. Frank Gore ripped off a 51-yard run to get the 49ers into Seahawks territory. Colin Kaepernick followed with a key, 8-yard run on third down to move the chains and bleed the clock.
With 0:26 left in the fourth, Dawson chipped in the 22-yard game-winner to hand the 49ers a 19-17 victory. The field goal was his fourth of the game as San Francisco's kicker was also good from 23, 48 and 52 yards.
"That was my first game-winner with the 49ers," Dawson said. "That was similar to the '99 kick against Pittsburgh. This was my first introduction into the 49ers, Seahawks rivalry. As a fan of football, I was aware of it, but that was my first time able to experience it. To have a hand in that one was huge.
"It really made me feel like I was a 49er."
Dawson played hero against another divisional foe in Week 17 of the same season, this time on the road against the Arizona Cardinals.
San Francisco's drive stalled at Arizona's 38-yard line with 1:56 to play. Tied 17-17, Dawson was sent out for a 56-yard, go-ahead field-goal attempt.
"I can remember thinking to myself, 'If I miss this, they're two first downs away from kicking a game-winner,'" the kicker explained. "I felt an extreme amount of pressure there, but I was able to get it through."
But Dawson's day wasn't done. The resilient Cardinals were able to tie the game at 20-20 with a field goal of their own.
San Francisco got the ball back with just 0:26 left on the clock. Two Kaepernick completions of 18 yards to Anquan Boldin and 29 yards to Quinton Patton got the 49ers in field-goal range at Arizona's 20-yard line. Dawson was good from 40-yards out as time expired to put a bow on the 49ers 12-4 season.
"To hit from 56, and then to hit one at the buzzer, those are the games where you really feel a part of the team win," Dawson said. "It gave me a great taste in my mouth going into the playoffs."
A week after the dramatic win in Arizona, San Francisco travelled to Green Bay for a playoff matchup against the Packers from Lambeau Field. The Wild Card tilt was not for the faint of heart as sub-zero temperatures pierced through every layer of clothing.
"It was that cold, nasty, Midwest-kind-of day where people just love football," Dawson said. "You can throw style points out the window. Statistics didn't matter. It was all about winning a football game."
Green Bay had just tied the game at 20-20 with 5:06 left to play. The 49ers responded with a methodical drive that not only reached field-goal range, but also bled the clock. San Francisco converted two crucial third downs in the process. Kaepernick's 11-yard run picked up a first down on 3rd-and-8. Later, Gore converted on 3rd-and-3 to help rid the Packers of their timeouts.
With the ball at Green Bay's 15-yard line, Dawson came out and drilled the 33-yard game-winner as the clock read 0:00. From the subpar weather conditions to the postseason stakes, it would be the biggest kick of his career.
"When it's that cold, you worry about the snapper not being able to feel the ball or the holder not being able to catch the ball," Dawson said. "To get that one through meant a lot to me. All those years of playing and making game winners, but none of them were ever playoff kicks and weren't on the national stage.
"I'd quietly wondered if I was ever in that big moment, can I actually do what I've been doing all these years? I can remember really staring out the window on that flight home thinking, 'Man, this is a lot of fun.'"
Dawson and his wife, Shannon, let their two sons choose one road game a year to attend individually. The eldest, Dru, decided he wanted to see his pops play the New Orleans Saints in 2014.
He picked the perfect game to attend.
With his son sitting directly behind the goal post, Dawson made a 45-yard field goal to send the game to overtime and a 35-yarder in OT to seal San Francisco's 27-24 victory.
"Dru was able to see me kick the game-winner," Dawson said. "I got a game ball all painted up, dedicated to him, from his old dad. That's why that one is special to me."
Dawson's continued flare for the dramatics sparked a three-game winning streak for San Francisco that season.
Here's a fun sports trivia question to stump your friends. Which player scored the first rushing touchdown in the most recent era of the Cleveland Browns (1999-present)?
That's right. Phil. Dawson.
The Browns trailed the Cincinnati Bengals 6-0 in Week 5 of the 1999 season. Early in the second quarter, Couch threw an incomplete pass on third down from the Bengals 4-yard line. Out came Dawson.
Cleveland had practiced the upcoming fake all week. The kicker had even watched film so he'd know what to expect when he got the ball in his hands.
"I had wheels, man," Dawson laughed.
When the ball was snapped. The kicker broke left. Holder Chris Gardocki took the snap and pitched it to Dawson, who vividly remembers his 4-yard race to the goal line.
"I was scared for my life. I made a little cut and got in the end zone," Dawson recalled. "I've always tried to be a football player who kicks field goals rather than a field-goal kicker that plays football. That was a lot of fun to score a touchdown."
The touchdown run was topped only by the celebration. Words won't do it justice so you'll have to watch the highlight.
Dawson has only attempted one pass during his storied career, a 10-yard completion in 2009 against the Detroit Lions. Cleveland opted to open their bag of tricks at the end of the first half rather than attempt a 38-yard field goal.
"The old 'lonesome pull-cat' we called it, where the offense is slow coming off the field and we leave a receiver right near the sideline," Dawson described the play design. "I was nervous as could be.
"They snapped it directly to me, I had to find the laces right away and I threw it to (Browns wide receiver) Mike Furrey. I've got a 108 passer rating (108.3 to be exact) so I feel pretty good about that."