In his first year of eligibility, former All-Pro safety and current executive of football operations Brian Dawkins is a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall Of Fame's Class of 2017.
Between earning seven Pro Bowl selections with the Eagles as well as a Super Bowl appearance, one might say this has been a long time coming. For Dawkins, the thought of receiving the honor only started when he was approaching the end of his playing career.
"My mindset was always I need to live where I am. I need to operate in the place that I am now standing. So if I start thinking about things too forward or worrying about things in the past, I won't be as good where I'm standing," Dawkins said on Thursday. "I always try to keep that mindset. As those accolades and those praises start to come in, and thank you to everybody, but my mindset has to be where I am in order for me to be what I need to be for my teammates at that time."
In 1996, Dawkins was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft. In his 13-year career with the Eagles, Dawkins and the late Jim Johnson changed how the safety position was played.
"I honestly believe that he was the one who truly revolutionized the position of safety," Dawkins said of the longtime defensive coordinator. "Changed it to what it is today because he used me all over the football field. So now you see those safeties all over the place, but when I came in that was not the case. And I believe it was because of him that, that happened."
Once Johnson became familiar with Dawkins' hard-hitting, playmaking ability, he began to incorporate it into his scheme. It's safe to say that Dawkins left a mark on every field he competed on.
"My God-given ability did that. I was blessed to have the ability to run, to beat blocks, to cause fumbles. I was blessed with a lot of abilities, but if Jim only kept a vanilla game plan for safeties like he had when he first got here … he saw the things that I was blessed to be able to do.
"All of a sudden he would get into game plans through me. A lot of the game plans were going through me. When do you ever hear that about a safety? Is there any other team that does that? No. That was Jim's baby. So his baby became this grown man right here to be honest with you and standing in front of you right now thanking everybody for wishing me well on this Hall of Fame trip. But that was Jim's baby that has become this."
Dawkins not only had a special connection with Johnson, but with the fans as well.
"That feeling it goes both ways, it's a mutual thing. For me to have the opportunity to be in front of these fans and give everything that I had, that meant the world to me. And the reason why I'm emotional right now is because of the amount of letters I've gotten with people being buried in my uniform. That's a special connection," said Dawkins.
The finalists for the Class of 2017 will be announced in January. With a few weeks to spare in between, Dawkins explains how he won't let the anticipation get to him.
"I'm so engulfed in what I'm doing here, what I'm learning here, what I'm trying to bring back here and to help out as much as I can. When I go back home, it's all about my family. I guess my mind does not have time to truly wander. And this will take care of itself," he said.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017 will be announced on Saturday, February 4, 2017, the eve of Super Bowl LI. If Dawkins is among the inductees, he will be ready to celebrate. He wants to make sure the fans are invited.
"It's going to be crazy," Dawkins expressed ecstatically.
"I'm a passionate cat so we're going to have a good time. The fans are going to have a good time, I'm going to have a good time. For those who come out to Canton, we're all going to have ourselves a good frickin' time."