Before he kicked his first NFL field goal ...
Before he beat out Chris Boniol and Danny Kight for his first NFL job ...
Before he outlasted three coaches and hundreds of teammates ...
Before Phil Dawson became Phil Dawson, he looked up the Browns record for most field goals in a career and told his wife, Shannon, he would one day own that mark.
With 233 field goals, he's one off Hall of Famer Lou "The Toe" Groza's career mark. Dawson hopes Sunday against the Falcons is when he becomes No. 1 in Browns history.
"It's a goal I've had since the day I got here," said Dawson, who was signed as a free agent by the expansion Browns in 1999 without ever kicking in an NFL regular-season game. "Had I announced that back then, I probably would've gotten laughed out of town. It's heresy, you know.
"You might as well try to be the best. I've never been a guy just happy to be here, happy to have a job. I remember telling my wife way back then, 'Someday that's going to happen.' So it'll definitely be a special moment for her and I 'cause there's been a lot of ups and downs between then and now and for it to finally be here is pretty neat."
Dawson smiled, flashing his big dimples, when first asked Friday about the big day ahead.
"What're you talking about?" he said.
He was only kidding and couldn't keep up the gag.
"Uncharacteristically, I found myself reflecting a lot this week," he said. "That's not something I usually do. It's going to be a challenge to zero in and make sure I approach everything the same way."
Dawson, 35, has been the only player left from the expansion team since 2006, when cornerback Daylon McCutcheon went on injured reserve. He's the franchise's all-time leader in field-goal percentage (82.9), third in points (986) and entered the season in the top eight in NFL history in accuracy.
The field-goal record is the one he's always chased. He can't control the number of extra points he kicks - that's up to the offense, which has been among the league's worst for most of his tenure.
Dawson knew of Groza growing up in Texas, but didn't grasp his stature until meeting him at training camp in 1999. Groza died in 2000. The Browns headquarters is at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.
"Mr. Groza pulled me into the tents right over here and I sat down at a round table with him," Dawson said. "That's when it really hit me.
"That was the first Hall of Famer I had ever had the pleasure of sitting down with. Just to share that moment kinda added fuel to that motivation way back then. So the amount of respect I have for him and what he was able to do here, every day I come down this road and I see his name on the street. You mix all that together, it's going to be pretty neat."
Dawson loves to talk about his family, which includes sons Dru and Beau and daughter Sophiann.
"I yanked Shannon out of Texas, took her all the way across the world to this strange, foreign land of Ohio and told her I'm gonna get that," he said of the record. "She said, 'You better. You made me go through all this.'
"It's been a family deal. To think this all started before I ever had kids and now my two boys will be there Sunday. That's just gonna be a neat thing."
If Dawson doesn't make two 3-pointers, the next two games are at Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
"When the schedule came out, my wife and I sat down and tried to figure out when it would happen," Dawson said. "Obviously wanted that to be in Cleveland, in front of the fans and have my own family there. Hopefully it'll happen and lead to a victory."
Dawson has made plenty of memorable kicks in his 11-plus years. He hit a winner in Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium in 1999, the overtime-forcing kick off the goalpost extension in Baltimore and the two kicks in a blizzard against Buffalo. He said the record-breaker would likely surpass them all.
"I just wished more of them would've resulted in victories because that's kind of the whole point of what we're doing here," he said. The Browns are 60-120 since 1999.
Dawson missed his first two kicks this year, but has rebounded to hit four straight.
"It's always enjoyable for me as a coach to see a good guy who works hard have success at what he does," special teams coordinator Brad Seely said. "Obviously, Phil's had a lot of success and will continue to have a lot of success in this league because of his work ethic, his attitude and because of the type of person that he is."
Dawson said setting the lofty goal of passing Groza was important at the time because he didn't have the support group he was used to having. All the coaches and alumni in high school and college weren't with him in Cleveland. He had coach Chris Palmer, who made no promises beyond Week 1.
"I felt like that whole season, I miss a kick, I'm out of a job," Dawson said. "It wasn't necessarily fun or enjoyable. So I needed something to shoot for."
Dawson is trying to prepare himself for the emotions he will feel Sunday, because he'll have to quickly put them aside so he can kick off. Unless, of course, he hits the winner as time expires.
"That would be good," he said.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.