When he was a kid, Browns kicker Phil Dawson worshipped the Dallas Cowboys.
In Texas, it's mandatory.
"Unless you grow up in Houston," Dawson said. "The rest of the state is Cowboys and that's all you did was follow the Cowboys."
And that he did.
Like many boys growing up deep in the heart of the Lone Star state, where football and religion intersect, Dawson dreamed of one day wearing the Cowboys' royal blue and famed five-pointed star. He even decked out his bedroom into a pseudo shrine to America's Team.
"I had a Doomsday Defense poster on my wall," Dawson said. "My high school years was the dynasty with the three Super Bowls. I was pretty spoiled as a football fan. My dad, we had season tickets, so I had a few stars sitting around the house and some good memories."
Dawson hopes to add new ones Sunday, when the Browns (2-7) visit the Cowboys (4-5) in what will be a second homecoming in two weeks for the 37-year-old, who has been perfect so far this season. During the Browns' bye last weekend, Dawson returned to his alma mater of Texas and was inducted into the Longhorns' Hall of Honor, a tribute he's "still absorbing."
It will be just Dawson's second game as a pro in Dallas, and his first visit inside 4-year-old Cowboys Stadium, the monstrous $1.3 billion marvel with its enormous high-definition TV screen, platforms of go-go dancers and retractable roof.
Dawson can't wait.
"I just hope they have the roof closed and it's a true dome game," said Dawson, who has made 23 straight field goals — the NFL's longest current streak — since last season. "It'll be fun to see it. I've driven by it. I haven't gone in it yet. But everyone I've talked to who's been in it says it's just ridiculous."
The only drawback has been filling ticket requests for family and friends. Dawson expects around 30 supporters.
"It's been growing every day," he said. "I'm about to close down the ticket office. I can't afford many more."
He's not the only Browns player with Cowboy connections.
Rookie running back Trent Richardson is hoping Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith will be in attendance. From the same high school in Pensacola, Fla., where Richardson broke most of Smith's records, the two have developed a close relationship.
Richardson speaks regularly to Smith, Dallas' iconic No. 22, for advice.
"That's one person I said I always wanted to be like when I was growing up," said Richardson, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in two straight games despite still being slowed by a rib cartilage injury. "I'm just trying to follow in his footsteps and see if I can do better than how he did. That's big footsteps to follow."
Richardson is trying to become the first Browns rookie to string together three straight 100-yard games, a feat even the great Jim Brown couldn't accomplish.
For Dawson, Sunday's game is a chance to continue what has been a personally sublime 14th NFL season.
He's made all 17 field-goal tries and is 16 of 16 on extra points. Dawson is the lone kicker in the league with more than nine attempts who hasn't missed. In his previous game, Dawson accounted for all of Cleveland's points by kicking five field goals in a 25-15 loss to Baltimore.
Ever humble, and mindful of a kicker's fragile existence, Dawson didn't want to make much of his impressive nine-game run.
"We're off to a good start," he said. "I certainly don't want to diminish that, but there's still seven games to go. So I could screw this whole thing up pretty quick. I like where I am right now, but I'm only as good as my next kick, and the last thing I want to do is to go home to my hometown and poop the bed, so to speak."
So much of Dawson's youth revolved around the Cowboys and trips to their former stadium in Irving, Texas.
He attended high school games there with his father, Robert, an accountant who pointed out football's innate beauty to his son. On Sundays, Dawson would carry books with him to Cowboys games, though he would rarely crack any open, preferring to learn more about Tom Landry's "flex defense" than the Revolutionary War.
"I learned the game from my dad and a lot of that was sitting there watching Cowboy games," Dawson said. "He taught me a few things and helped me look at things and explain things. Those were some good memories."
Dawson's children will be at Sunday's game. He and his wife, Shannon, have kept their three kids in school in Texas, a separation that has been hard on Dawson. They were all together last week in Austin for his enshrinement, and the Dawsons will gather again to watch dad try to beat the Cowboys.
He has spent his entire career in Cleveland, so surely his house is free of any Cowboys paraphernalia.
"I'll go with that," he said, cracking a smile.
Dawson confessed that his oldest son, Dru, has a Cowboys bedroom like he had.
"His bedroom is blue," Dawson said. "He's got the star, the NFL emblem, he's got the stadium. I don't know if he has any of the players. He has the mural type stuff all over the place. And then there's obviously Browns helmets."
So will Dru be allowed at Sunday's game?
"Oh yeah," Dawson said. "No blue though."
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