Brian Dawkins has a chance to join that elite group this weekend.
Dawkins is a finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Getting in as a first-ballot player would be special, but just getting this far in his first year is very impressive. Dawkins is going up against the best of the best and not everyone will make it in. Whether it takes one year, two years or five years isn't really important. Getting the call that lets you know you're in is a life-defining moment. Making the Hall of Fame means you are in the same company as Reggie White, Chuck Bednarik, John Elway, Jerry Rice, Dick Butkus, Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Mean Joe Greene, and the greatest of the greats in football history.
There is no question that Brian Dawkins belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is one of the best safeties to ever play the game. Back in the Buddy Ryan era, the Eagles had a pair of terrific safeties. Andre Waters was a fierce tackler and great run defender. He was very good in the box. Wes Hopkins was the guy who could drop back deep and play the ball, as well as be a devastating hitter. Dawkins was those two players rolled into one. He was special.
Things didn't start off that way. Dawkins played for head coach Ray Rhodes and defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas for his first three seasons. They had Dawkins play in the slot on a regular basis and tried to take advantage of his cover skills. Things changed in 1999 when Andy Reid became the head coach and hired Jim Johnson to run his defense. Johnson watched tape of Dawkins and realized he had a dynamic talent on his hands. You simply didn't label Dawkins as a free safety and play him as you would every other free safety. You wouldn't want Picasso to color between the lines. You wouldn't want Jimi Hendrix to play like every other guitar player.
Johnson turned Dawkins loose and offenses didn't know what hit them. Dawkins could play deep and cover as much ground as any safety in the league. He could blitz off the edge and destroy quarterbacks. He wasn't afraid to take out a pulling offensive lineman and blow up a run play. Johnson would let Dawkins cover backs, tight ends, and receivers. Offenses never knew what he was going to do on a given play.
Dawkins thrived in a role where he could do everything. He finished his NFL career with 37 interceptions, 26 sacks and an amazing 36 forced fumbles. He was a playmaking machine. One of the things that made Dawkins so special is that he did all this within the framework of the defense. He was a team player. The Eagles' defense thrived with him as the leader. In the 10 seasons that Dawkins played for Johnson, the Eagles finished in the top 10 in points allowed seven times. Moving the ball on them was hard, but scoring was a true challenge.
Whether this year or in the future, Brian Dawkins will be a Hall of Fame player.
In 2004, Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens helped the Eagles get to the Super Bowl. Owens is a finalist for the Hall of Fame for the second time this year and has a good chance to make it. He should. Despite his explosive personality, Owens is one of the best receivers I ever saw play. In his prime, he was a dominant force. His size-speed combination drove defenses crazy. He could overwhelm cornerbacks with his size and you sure didn't want to put a big safety or linebacker on him. They couldn't run with Owens. When he got the ball in his hands, Owens was incredible. Tackling him wasn't going to be easy.
The downside with Owens is his personality. He left the 49ers, Eagles, and Cowboys on bad terms. He drove his teammates and coaches crazy. As great as he was on the field, he was just as divisive off it. I still think you put Owens in because of how great a player he was.
McNabb isn't a finalist and I don't see him getting in. McNabb had a terrific career, but quarterbacks are held to a very high standard. McNabb didn't post gaudy stats. He didn't win a Super Bowl. The Eagles only finished in the top five in scoring twice in McNabb's time as the starting quarterback. He was very good, but is a long shot for the Hall of Fame.
Brian Westbrook was a special running back and returner. Any time the ball was in his hands, there was the possibility of a big play. His punt return for a touchdown to beat the Giants in 2003 is one of the greatest plays in Eagles history. While Westbrook was a tremendous player, he did not have great knees. They affected his durability and limited both how much the Eagles could feed him the ball and how long Westbrook could play. He only had five seasons of heavy production. With good knees, Westbrook just might have been a Hall of Fame player. He certainly was an incredible talent.
Michael Vick was another noteworthy talent. He spent most of his career with the Falcons, but had some great moments with the Eagles. At his best, Vick was one of the most dynamic quarterbacks to ever play the game. I have never seen a quarterback as fast as Vick. He also had an explosive arm. Vick made the 2010 season a lot of fun. With Vick, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and DeSean Jackson, defenses didn't know who to focus on. There were times when the Eagles appeared unstoppable.
I don't know if Vick will make it into the Hall of Fame. There is no question that he was a magnificent talent, but did he have a great career? As a runner, yes. As a passer, no. Not even close. Vick finished his career with 133 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 80.4. Those are pedestrian figures. The question for voters is whether being the greatest running quarterback of all time is good enough to get him into Canton.
There are some former Eagles who deserve to already be in Canton. Seth Joyner is one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers of all time. That is a position unfortunately that gets overlooked. The media loves pass rushing edge rushers and middle linebackers. Guys who play on the outside in the 4-3 just don't get the credit they deserve.
Joyner had an amazing season in 1991 and helped the Eagles to finish as the top defense against the run, the pass, and in total yards allowed. That is a rare feat. It hasn't been done since. Joyner was a great playmaker. He finished his career with 52 sacks, 24 interceptions, and 26 forced fumbles. Joyner scored five touchdowns. He could do it all. Joyner could cover, blitz, and stuff the run. Whatever you wanted. He was named the NFL Player of the Year by Sports Illustrated in that '91 campaign.
Eric Allen played with Joyner on the Gang Green defense and also deserves to be in Canton. He is one of the smoothest cover corners to ever play the game. Allen picked off 54 passes in his career. Quarterbacks knew they were taking a chance any time they threw in his direction. Allen made them pay on a regular basis.
You can make a strong argument that Harold Carmichael should be in the Hall of Fame. He caught 590 passes and averaged more than 15 yards per reception for his career. Receivers post insane numbers these days, but Carmichael's hold up very well against the players of his generation. Carmichael played on some bad teams in the early 1970s and that certainly didn't help his cause.
Let's hope Dawkins and the Eagles get great news on Saturday and that another former Bird is headed to Canton. After a great NFL career, Dawkins certainly belongs among the best of the best.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.