Phil Dawson decided Tuesday it was time for a change, and not just in leaving the Cleveland Browns to become the 49ers’ kicking savior.
Dawson wore No. 4 the past 14 seasons with the Browns and throughout his college career at Texas. Rather than ask punter (and his holder) Andy Lee to part with that number, Dawson sought his kids’ suggestions.
When one son suggested wearing No. 8, Dawson wisely replied of Steve Young’s retired number: “Son, in San Francisco, you don’t wear No. 8. … It’s probably time for me to wear a new number, with a bright, new beginning for me.”
Young led the 49ers to their last Super Bowl win 18 years ago. After signing a one-year contract, Dawson fills a glaring need in the 49ers’ quest to reach Super Bowl XLVIII next February.
Dawson, 38, replaces David Akers, whose two-year tenure ended March 6, after Akers converted only 29 of 42 his field-goal attempts last season and barley kept his job through the Super Bowl.
With only one playoff game on his otherwise distinguished resume, Dawson is eager to make an impact for the reigning NFC champs, adding: “I’m so humbled they would even want me.”
General manager Trent Baalke said in a statement: “Phil has performed at a high level throughout his career and has a lot of experience managing the elements, which is a valuable asset.”
Dawson’s kicked in only two games at Candlestick Park, but he said he’ll familiarize himself with its notorious winds by practicing there, especially on bad days after “studying weather forecasts.”
Dawson made a career-high 93.5 percent of his field-goal attempts (29 of 31) last season for the Browns, whose 5-11 record marked the 12th losing season that Dawson endured. He will be reunited with Brad Seely, the 49ers’ special teams coordinator who had a similar role with the Browns from 2009-2010.
In the two seasons since Seely left for the 49ers, Dawson has excelled on long-range field-goal attempts: 27 of 29 from 40 yards or longer the past two seasons combined, including 14 of 15 from 50 yards last season. Akers missed 10 of his final 15 attempts from at least 40 yards last season.
“You kind of get on a roll,” Dawson said of his long-range precision. “When I’m kicking well, I don’t think about distance. “I’m thinking target.”
Dawson delivered 15 game-winning field goals in the Browns’ 73 wins since the franchise’s rebirth in 1999. He entered the NFL with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent, and after his training-camp release, he spent his rookie season on the New England Patriots’ practice squad learning behind Adam Vinatieri.
“I was sitting there quietly hoping this scenario would play out,” Dawson said of his weeklong free agency. “I’m not focusing on the (contract’s one-year) term. I’m zeroed in on the 2013 season.”
By Cam Inman - Contra Costa Times (MCT)
©2013 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
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