Five hours before Sunday's game in Green Bay, a lone, bundled figure in a black hat walked onto the otherwise empty field to check it for soft spots, to find the bare patches, to gauge which way the wind was blowing, to orient himself with the scoreboards.
It was 49ers kicker Phil Dawson performing the painstaking game-day ritual he goes through no matter whether the 49ers are playing in 5-degree cold or in a climate-controlled dome. "I don't have an opponent across the line of scrimmage," he said Friday. "The conditions of the day are my opponent, so anything I can do to study and prepare, I'll take advantage of that."
Sunday's game will be played under sunny skies and temperatures in the high 50s. But it brings its own degree of angst for the 15-year veteran, who has kicked game-winning field goals as time expired in San Francisco's last two contests.
Dawson spent in the bulk of his career in the AFC, meaning he's seldom kicked at Carolina's Bank of America Stadium. He said his experience there amounts to one regular-season game and one game in the preseason.
To get as much information about the field and what's in store for him, Dawson even went so far as to call his counterpart in Sunday's game, Panthers kicker Graham Gano. "To his credit, he didn't give me a lot of information, so the gamesmanship has begun," Dawson said.
What did Gano say when he called?
Said Dawson: "Pretty much said, 'I'll see you Sunday.' So I'll see him before the game and I'll have to do the homework myself."
-- Matt Barrows