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Phil Dawson ready for 'really special game' back in Cleveland

Chris Tabor didn't hesitate. He knew the answer to the question before it was even asked.

Will former Browns kicker Phil Dawson be the first of any player to arrive at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday?

"Yes," said Tabor, Cleveland's special teams coordinator. "He always is. He always is."

Sunday will mark the first time back in Cleveland for Dawson since he made his last kick for the Browns in 2012. The 40-year-old, 17-year NFL veteran hasn't slowed up a bit during his three seasons with the 49ers and he enters Sunday's game having made 18-of-19 field goals, including a perfect 7-for-7 mark from 40 yards and beyond.

He won't be treated to the customary December conditions at FirstEnergy Stadium -- kickoff temperatures are expected to be well into the 60s -- but it promises to be a unique moment for the veteran kicker.

"It's a really special game for me and my family and certainly had it circled ever since the schedule came out," Dawson said. "It's important for me that the Browns fans know that – that it is indeed special for me."

An original member of the 1999 expansion Browns, Dawson appeared in 215 games -- third in Browns history -- during his Cleveland career. He made 305 field goals (most in Browns history), connected on 350 PATs and scored one touchdown to give him 1,271 points, a mark that ranks second behind only Lou Groza for the most in franchise history.

Dawson was reluctant to reminisce about his time in Cleveland during a conference call this week with local reporters. He said he'd be happy to do so at a later date, but not when there's a game on Sunday and three more after that.

"The job this week is to zero-in on the task at hand," Dawson said. "It's a work week for me; it's not really a homecoming week. I have to go out and do my job and contribute to what hopefully is a team win."

Tabor worked alongside Dawson during his final two seasons with the Browns. His favorite memory of the kicker didn't come during a game, but in a practice when Dawson casually made a 59-yard field goal that barely got a rise out of Dawson or the players around him because it was such a routine kick for him.

Tabor and Browns coach Mike Pettine credited Dawson for his ability to maintain a high success rate despite playing in a place that is notoriously tough on kickers for such a long stretch of his career. It's why Tabor expects Dawson to be on the field bright and early to get a feel for the wind and the new look of FirstEnergy Stadium, which has undergone millions of dollars in renovations since Dawson last kicked by Lake Erie.

"I use him as a standard with young kickers," Tabor said. "I say, 'Someday, if you can be a Phil Dawson, you have made it."

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