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Cheers, Tears, And Appreciation For Brian Dawkins

  • He is an all-time Eagle going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. What it means that Brian Dawkins gets his due and celebrates with Eagles fans around the world.

He is ours, one of the most beloved Eagles in franchise history, and we’ll all understand the tears and we’ll take to heart the message and we will know exactly where Brian Dawkins is coming from when he addresses the world upon his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. A special year for the Eagles and for Eagles fans around the world gains new appreciation when Dawkins, as he is introduced by former teammate Troy Vincent, takes to the microphone.

All-time Eagles in the Pro Football Hall of Fame have been few and far between of late. Wide receiver Tommy McDonald was enshrined in 1998, chest-bumping his way into a nation’s heart. Defensive end Reggie White was inducted posthumously in 2006, so we didn’t get the opportunity to celebrate with him, sadly. Offensive tackle Bob Brown, who went into the Hall in 2004? A great, great player, but an Eagle for five seasons, a Ram for two seasons, and then with the Raiders for three years. Wide receiver Cris Carter (2013) and defensive end Claude Humphrey (2014)? They had moments as Eagles, and Humphrey was a key part of the 1980 NFC Champions and he played three solid seasons for the Eagles, but he played the first 10 years with Atlanta and identified more as a Falcon.

This weekend is something special, something historic, and certainly a moment to treasure for everyone who loves the Philadelphia Eagles. There are going to be thousands of fans on hand wearing their Midnight Green Eagles gear – the Green Legion fan travel company has nearly 1,000 fans signed up to attend – and they are also going to feel it when Dawkins addresses the live crowd and the television audience with his usual gusto and emotion and honesty. Having Dawkins go in represents justice for a Hall of Fame that hasn’t been very kind to NFL safeties, so to recognize how Dawkins helped change the game and redefine the position means so much in so many ways.

McDonald. White. Dawkins. Three players from different NFL eras. McDonald was the speedy, big-play wide receiver who helped the Eagles win the NFL Championship in 1960. White was the larger-than-life destructive force who helped lead the Eagles from the mid-1980s malaise into relevance in the Buddy Ryan years and then left, bitterly, to sign with Green Bay as a free agent and help the Packers win the Super Bowl.

And as much as White was respected and held in sheer awe by players and coaches and the fans, Dawkins’ connection was beyond compare. Dawkins fed off the emotion from the fans, who fed off the energy he brought to gameday, and the partnership was, and remains that way to this day, as inclusive and loving and respectful as a player and a fan base could ever have. Dawkins gave it everything he had to make himself into a superstar football player. He was never the biggest player, nor was he the fastest and he certainly did not look the part when the Eagles made him a second-round selection from Clemson in the 1996 draft.

Dawkins, in fact, was a skinny kid who demonstrated toughness and a willingness to throw himself into the fray to make a play. He served notice under then-defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas that he could be a ball-hawking safety, but not until Jim Johnson came on board as the defensive coordinator for Andy Reid’s staff did Dawkins truly thrive. Johnson built the defense around Dawkins and creatively used him to provide Dawkins some freedom to go find the football.

He did and he dominated the game. Dawkins defined the Eagles defense in the 2000s, right up until that fateful day when he signed as an unrestricted free agent with Denver. It was a terrible day, honestly, as the organization put forth the spin to suggest that, simply, Dawkins had an offer he couldn’t refuse from the Broncos. The Eagles offered Dawkins what they thought was a good deal, he felt otherwise, and feelings were bruised.

And Eagles fans, understandably, went berserk when Dawkins moved to Denver.

Fortunately, time healed this wound. Dawkins retired after three seasons in Denver and the Eagles immediately inducted him into the franchise’s Hall of Fame and retired his jersey No. 20 in a celebrated ceremony in 2012. And then Dawkins returned to the organization to work in football operations and mended every fence.

It was a fortunate stroke of serendipity, then, when Dawkins was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on February 3, and then the Eagles won their first Super Bowl the very next day. Just like that, Dawkins was in line for his Hall of Fame jacket and his Super Bowl ring, and the world was right and just and aligned for happiness.

This is the way to approach the weekend – with pure joy. Dawkins is the story, as he should be for Eagles fans. Dawkins orchestrated his career the right way, by giving his all to the Eagles and to the fans, for whom he has profound love.

The perspective from here is an interesting one. McDonald’s induction was a special treat, a fun show of respect and wonderfully received. White’s enshrinement was expected, of course, as he was the greatest defensive end to ever wear an Eagles uniform and without question the dominating defensive presence in the NFL in his era (along with the Giants’ Lawrence Taylor). But White had passed two years prior to his induction, stricken suddenly.

It's impossible to ignore the enshrinement of wide receiver Terrell Owens into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, for Owens was such a riveting, and ultimately incredibly disappointing, figure in his season-and-a-half with the Eagles. As close as the bond was between Dawkins and the Eagles, Owens also created something unique and remarkable instantly with a fan base that had never been so smitten so quickly, and then Owens ruined the relationship with the team, and then the fans, and then finished his career puddle-jumping from one team to another.

Dawkins, on the other hand, is an Eagle forever and ever and ever. He feels the love, trust me. It fueled him throughout his NFL career, and now in his daily life. He will be properly celebrated this weekend and throughout the season and, really, for the rest of his life.

How lucky are we that Dawkins came to Philadelphia and gave us exactly what we needed? Who would have ever known that a humble, hard-working young man from the state of Florida and then Clemson University would fit so perfectly into a culture that demands effort on every play and emotion for everyone to see? Dawkins was the right man at the right time to help revive the Eagles and lead the team to all of those wins and five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance.

Congratulations to Brian Dawkins, and congratulations to the Eagles fans who have loved him for so long. This is a weekend to cherish and embrace. If the tears flow, so be it. It’s only appropriate knowing that Brian Dawkins is doing the very same thing, and each tear is one that says so much about the impact he had, and still has, on Philadelphia, the Eagles organization, and the fans of this football team in every corner of the world.

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