Super Bowl kickers Gano, McManus dial up 49ers’ Dawson for advice

Kicker Phil Dawson capped his third year with the San Francisco 49ers by booting the game-winning field goal in overtime to beat the St. Louis Rams.
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Phil Dawson was expecting the phone calls from Graham Gano and Brandon McManus.

After all, if the roles were reversed and Dawson was the one preparing for the Super Bowl, near the top of his checklist would be touching base with the player who had the most experience kicking at the site of Sunday’s game.

"Yes, I would be doing that and, yes, they have done that," Dawson said of Gano and McManus, the respective kickers for the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, who will clash in Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. "I’m honored (to help). … That’s the job of a kicker."

It’s a job few kickers have done as well as the 41-year-old Dawson, who just completed his third season with the San Francisco 49ers and 17th overall in the NFL. Tied for ninth on the all-time list with 386 field goals, Dawson outlined to FOX Sports via phone the preparation any kicker goes through.

Among the issues specific to Levi’s Stadium, and the reasons for the calls from Gano and McManus, were learning the wind direction, both the condition and footing on the field and whether there is optimum plant shoe to wear.

"There’s a lot of variables," said Dawson, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. "All kinds of things a kicker must deal with. … That’s why you’ll never hear any one of us who has kicked in the NFL use the word ‘chip shot.’"

The latter point was driven home in the AFC title game, when New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra-point attempt in more than nine years in a 20-18 loss at Denver. Not coincidentally, it came in the first season that the NFL extended the distance for a PAT from 20 to 33 yards.

"Gostkowski’s was not a bad kick. That was good from 20 yards," noted Dawson, who was voted San Francisco’s team MVP after converting 24-of-27 field goal attempts, including a game-winner in overtime in the regular-season finale. "With the 20-yard extra point, the margin of error is so much greater. … That’s where it shows up."

Dawson has tons of experience kicking in horrible weather, spending 14 years with the Cleveland Browns on the shores of Lake Erie – "that’s where I kind of adopted that one-kick-at-a-time mentality" – but he pointed out that even the most pristine conditions can change dramatically throughout the game. 

That holds true even moreso in the Super Bowl, which features a lengthy halftime show with heavier foot traffic, staging and lighting compromising the playing surface. Levi’s Stadium already has been re-sodded a number of times due to turf issues, and there’s also the matter of kickers having to deal with sizable logos on the field, which Dawson explain can cause the grass to vary from real soft to extremely crunchy.

"Throughout the game, you’re constantly monitoring what’s going on," Dawson said. "By the end of the game, I highly doubt any kicker could go out and feel awesome about making one kick."

There’s also the wind factor at Levi’s, which can be "significant." Unlike the 49ers’ former home at Candlestick Park, where Dawson said the winds tended to die down over the second half of the season, the patterns in Santa Clara are fairly consistent.

"If the wind’s coming out of the northwest, those boys are going to have a long day," said Dawson, who admitted he withheld some of the information from Gano and McManus for humanitarian reasons. 

"I don’t want to freak them out too much," he said with a laugh.