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Pandemonium on the Field: An Interview with Phil Dawson

As mentioned by PB in his recap of the Eyes of Texas 2010 -- which you can buy from Maple Street Press here -- we thought it might be a fun idea for this year's magazine to talk to the four Texas kickers who have made a game winning field goal as the clock struck zero. As we're in the dog days of summer, and in an effort to propel everybody's favorite preseason magazine past SLIDING INTO HOME by reality star Kendra Wilkinson on the New York Times Best Sellers list, we wanted to post the full text of Phil Dawson's interview. You'll have to buy the magazine to hear from all the players, but after the jump is our chat with Dawson.


October 21, 1995    Texas 17  Virginia 16

“Good kick, good hold. The kick is on the way. And the kick from Dawson is...Goood! It's goood! The Longhorns have won the game 17 to 16. And there's pandemonium on the field at Memorial Stadium!” –Bill Schoening, Texas Longhorns Radio Network


40AS: Did you think the game was over before he ever got a shot at it?


Phil Dawson: I certainly didn’t think the game was over, but it was a longshot to say the least. I think what made that kick one that most people remember is just the fact that the wind was blowing so hard. It being a 50+ yard field goal, going into that wind. In a way that was a blessing because no one expected me to make it. And when you’re talking about a pressure situation, big game, coming down to the end, I’ve always thought it’s easier to have one of those where nobody expects you to make it rather than the 39 yarder everyone thinks is a chip shot. I didn’t think it was over, but I knew it’d have to be the best kick of my life to get it through.


40AS: How much wind was there?


PD: It’s been 20 years and it goes up every year. I remember people that day saying it was about 25 MPH.  It was a significant factor. The kicker from UVA the last possession had hit a 56 yarder with the wind at his back, and the ball was still going as it sailed through the goalposts. And that was before the stadium is like it is today and the south end zone was wide open and the wind was just blowing straight in.


40AS: When did you realize it was going in and what was the celebration like?


PD: I knew going into the kick that it would require the best I’ve ever hit. I can remember that when it hit my foot it felt as good as I’ve felt. I don’t know if you play golf, but it’s kind of like standing on the teebox and swinging as hard as you can and actually hitting it perfect on the club face. It doesn’t happen all that often but when it does it’s just like 'wow'. I knew I’d swung my leg as hard as I could. Initially the ball came off my foot well and I thought it had a chance. Then the ball seemed to freeze in mid air. I don’t think any of us knew it was good until the referees put their arms up though.


Until this day that’s one of my most special memories of playing football. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard crowd that loud. My teammates swarmed the field, there was a huge dogpile around the 20 yardline. Unfortunately I was the bottom of it. The thing I remember most is how special it was to sit on my teammates shoulders and have 80,000 people sing The Eyes of Texas.  To this day that’s one of my most cherished memories. To be a kid growing up in Texas, always wanting to be a Longhorn and to go from that to a big game, sitting on my teammates shoulders singing the Eyes. It was just remarkable.


40AS: Have you ever kicked a game winner before? Since?


PD: It was my first at Texas. I’d hit a couple in high school, two in particular were responsible for getting me recruited and giving me a chance to play at Texas.  It was the first in Texas history. I was pretty amazed by that to be honest, you’d think that in over 100 years of football one of those would’ve come down to a kick.  What made that kick big for our team was that Texas had been down the past several years and we were working hard to get the program pointed in the right direction.  That victory really gave us some momentum and we were able to run the table in the last year of the SWC (in 1995) and go to, they didn’t call it BCS but the BCS was coming into fruition and so instead of going to the cotton bowl we went to the Sugar Bowl.  That started to help turn the program around a little bit, and my teammates and me really enjoyed that.


40AS: Did anybody (either Texas or UVA) say anything to you beforehand?


PD: I went out on the field and UVA called a timeout. Rather than going to the sideline I went and stood in the huddle with the rest of the guys. I can’t remember anyone specifically giving me any advice, I think everyone was scared to talk to me. I sensed that we were going to get the job done. Just like any play in football one or two guys get all the credit but any time you kick a game winner they bring all eleven.  The snap was great, the hold was great, and the guys protected all eleven so we were able to get it done. It was truly a special experience.



40AS: What do you remember about the other three game winners? What's it like to watch one as a kicker?


PD: (Dusty Mangum's kick)


You know, one of the bummers, if you will, about still playing today is that I don’t get to go to as many games as I’d like. But whenever the Horns are on TV I get to watch. I can remember watching that Rose Bowl, and it’s 10 times worse being a fan than playing. I was just a nervous wreck.  Here’s the Rose Bowl game coming down to a FG, and I’d had the chance to meet Dusty. I won’t say we’re close but I was really pulling for him. I think the replay showed it was a lot closer than I originally thought. It looked good to me at first. Generally I don’t watch the ball, I watch the kicker’s reaction. When he kicked it, he turned and ran straight back, so I started running around in Cleveland.


What a kick to win the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, made a lot of old Longhorns proud on that one.


(Ryan Bailey's kick)


I don’t remember that one as much because it wasn’t on TV in Cleveland.  I do remember reading about it though. If I remember correctly we needed that win big time at that time in the season. I have a lot of loyalty to guys that kick for the Longhorns, I’m probably their biggest fan and they don’t even know it.  It gives me bragging rights to walk into my locker room after they win.


(Hunter Lawrence's kick)

Biggest kick in Texas history, no doubt. Like I said earlier, the pressure you feel as a fan is horrible.  Watching that game, the play prior to that gave us all a heart attack. Even though I’m a fan, I watch the game as if I were playing. I can remember at the time “this has got to be tough as a kicker to see the other team run onto the field, act like they won the game, then regroup, focus in on what you need to do, and do your job.” That’s in any game, much less a game to send your team to the national championship. So for Hunter to handle that odd situation and have the mental toughness, along with the physical gifts he has, to get the job is truly remarkable. He deserves a ton of recognition for that, I hope Longhorn fans, I’m sure they will, show him respect for the rest of his life for what he did that day because that was remarkable


It looked a little left, but given the fact that it was in a dome I knew the ball would stay pretty true. There was no wind, no footing issues because of a slippery field. Sometimes on a slippery field with wind the ball can do some crazy things. The fact that he didn’t have to worry about those variables was great. I haven’t spoken to him about it, but if I had been in that situation all I’m thinking is just start it out somewhere between the posts. Because if you do then it’s going to stay there. He put it through, the Longhorns won and he deserves a ton of credit.


40AS: Is it tougher to step up to a field goal where a miss just sends the game to overtime or a kick where if you miss the kick you lose?


PD: You try not to think about the differences from one kick to another. You try to treat them all the same, but you can’t. Personally I’ve always enjoyed a kick to win the game a whole lot more than a kick to tie the game. I equate that to a par putt versus a birdie putt. You make a par putt, you’re just feeling a lot of pressure to make a par putt. But with a birdie putt you’re standing over the ball looking something really good. A kick winning the game you’re looking for something positive rather than tying the game you’re looking at a negative. Ultimately when you’re a kicker on the football team, whether it’s the first quarter, right before half, or a game winning situation, your job is to put the ball between the posts. Sure there may be more “pressure” at the end of a game, but those points are just as important at the beginning. So when you look at it like that you really try to treat them all the same.


40AS: You were a rookie for the Saints v. Browns game in 1999 where Tim Couch one it on a hail mary (full disclosure: we're Saints fans), what do you remember from that game and how does it compare with making your game winner?


PD: I remember Ditka lying on the ground. They’re obviously both memorable moments, but my heart and my lifelong dream was to be a Longhorn. So as blessed as I’ve been to have 12 years worth of experiences in the NFL, my heart’s still in Texas.  Those memories are the ones that I cherish.


40AS: Do you see yourself ever coaching down in Austin after retiring?


PD: You never know. I’ll be down in that part of the world and you never know what’s going to happen. I love the game of football and I love the university. Mix it all together in a pot and you never know what might happen.