GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Young defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche walks through the Arizona locker room and sees Phil Dawson pass by.
“Pops,” Nkemdiche yells then adds to no one in particular. “That’s my father, you know.”
Dawson raises his fist to acknowledge the jab. Entering his 19th NFL season, the 42-year-old placekicker is just happy to still be a part of things.
“I just love football, and I know that’s weird for a kicker to say,” said the onetime University of Texas standout. “But ever since I can remember I wanted to play football. To be my age now and get a chance to still do this, I mean how many guys get a chance to do that. It’s an honor to get to come here and do this.”
After Chandler Catanzaro missed several crucial field goals last season, including ones that would have beaten New England and Seattle at home, Arizona decided to cut him loose and signed free agent Dawson to a two-year contract.
Dawson brings an impressive resume in his long career — 14 seasons with Cleveland and the last four with San Francisco.
His 404 field goals rank 10th on the NFL career list and his 1,698 points are 15th in scoring. In 279 games, he’s made 84.5 percent of his field goals. He is sixth in field goals of at least 50 yards with 38, 28 of them in the last six years.
To what does he attribute his longevity?
“I joke with people it’s the ‘mama plan’ I call it,” Dawson said. “If you eat right and go to bed when you should good things seem to happen.”
The 1993 graduate of Lake Highlands High School in Dallas said he notices no deterioration in his abilities due to age.
“So far everything seems to be tracking,” Dawson said. “Where I may be lacking compared to 10 years ago, I’ve learned how to take care of myself better than then so at the end of the day it feels as least as good, if not better in some ways.”
For Dawson, everything is part of a routine.
“If I had one thing to tell these young kids, it would be, ‘Come in, establish your routine, kind of like a pilot goes through a pre-flight check list,'” Dawson said. “I think that’s what we need to do each and every day. When you do that your body responds accordingly.”
With all those seasons in Cleveland and at times in San Francisco, Dawson had to succeed in bad weather. That’s something that won’t happen at Arizona home games, where the Cardinals play under a retractable roof that’s usually closed.
“I don’t know if easier is the word but I think it gives you a little more margin of error,” he said. “If I slightly mis-hit a ball, there’s a chance it’s still going to go in, whereas when you’re in some of those tough conditions there’s a tiny little window you’ve got to put the ball in to get it through. I’m going to approach it the same way I would tough conditions outside in the snow and wind and all that.”
Still, he said, “I think aiming down the middle is something I can get used to doing.”
And if there are weather issues on the road, Dawson knows what he needs to do to be ready.
“You’ve just got to figure it out in pre-game,” he said. “I kick a lot of balls pre-game for that reason. I probably won’t need to do that as much here but when we’re in that part of the world late in the year, I get out pretty early and dang near kick a ball from every distance, every angle, just so I have an understanding of what to do.”
He said he’ll leave it up to the coaches to determine how much in-game work he needs before the real season starts.
“My life is not very romantic,” Dawson said. “When they say ‘field goal,’ I trot out on the field and I kick a field goal.”