TEMPE, Ariz. — When Phil Dawson arrived in New England two weeks before the 1998 regular season began, he was an inexperienced, wide-eyed 23-year-old who had never been to the Northeast.
It was cold. The wind swirled in the winter. The grass was long. It was like nothing Dawson had ever kicked in.
“My head was swimming,” Dawson told ESPN, 19 years later.
He wasn’t there to win a job — or even really compete for one, for that matter. The Patriots already had a kicker on their roster. His name? Adam Vinatieri.
That was Vinatieri’s third season in New England and he had yet to become the household name responsible for some of the most memorable kicks in Super Bowl history. Dawson, who was on the Patriots’ practice squad, didn’t know much about Vinatieri when they met, but he instantly respected him for kicking in those conditions.
Over the next 20 weeks, Dawson watched everything Vinatieri did. By the time the year was over, Dawson had learned how to be a kicker in the NFL from Vinatieri.
“Adam was a great influence,” Dawson said. “I’ve told him every time I’ve played him since all those years ago, ‘I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the role you played and you probably don’t even realize the role you played.’
“But he was a pro. He was a competitor. He took his job seriously and as a young guy in the league, for me to have that modeled for me was a tremendous asset.”
This Sunday, almost two decades after they were teammates, Dawson, 42, and Vinatieri, 44, will share a field in Indianapolis when the Arizona Cardinals visit the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
A game that’ll be missing two of its biggest stars in Cardinals running back David Johnson and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will be a matchup of two of the best kickers of all time. Vinatieri is ranked third in NFL history with 521 field goals. Dawson is 10th…