Brian Dawkins was a man of many faces. Off the field, he was intelligent, soft-spoken and kind. He was a leader in the locker room and a mentor to the younger players.
But on gameday transformed Dawkins into something else. He became "Weapon X," a nickname affectionately borrowed from the "X-Men" character Wolverine. He became a machine; a jumping, screaming, raving maniac. Eagles fans loved him. Opposing players feared him. And most importantly, he played with a passion unlike any other.
And at the root of Dawkins' passion was the fans. He was determined to leave everything he had out on the field because he knew Eagles fans would do the same in his position.
"I really feel like I played the game the way (fans) would love to play it if they had a chance to," Dawkins said Friday. "If a fan got a chance to go out on the football field, what would you do? How excited would you be before the game? Would you do a flip? Would you crawl? Would you do those things? Probably so, because you're so excited to play those games.
"If you had a chance, and you had the mindset and you had the skill and you had the courage to hit one of these dudes full speed, would you do it? Absolutely they would do it."
Dawkins' love for the fans starts with his respect for them. Because of that respect, Dawkins wanted to make sure they got the show they deserved.
"This is a hard-working place," he said. "If you look at the cliché in a lot of places, 'this is a blue collar town' – listen, I don't know the true definition of 'blue collar,' but I know cats out here work for what they have. They bust their hump for what they have. And when they get a chance to relax, they relax watching us. They relax watching football. And that's an outlet. It can be a bad one sometimes if we're not doing what we're supposed to do, but they're going to let you know exactly what they're feeling."
When fans took time out of their day to watch the Eagles, they didn't want to see players giving any less than their all. And watching Dawkins play allowed Eagles fans feel like they were inside his helmet, viewing the game through his visor and watching him play the game the way it's supposed to be played.
"I played with my emotions on my sleeve," Dawkins said. "So whatever I was feeling at the time – whether I felt like dancing, singing, whatever I was going to do – I did those things. And so I think all of that invited them to see things from my vantage point, which was, I must admit, looking back, a crazy man sometimes. But I can dig it. I loved it. I loved it."
After all the big plays, the fiery speeches and yes, the love, Dawkins understands the magnitude of the moment. He knows the crowd will be electric, though he admitted he isn't sure how he'll feel hearing the crowd roar for him again.
"I just don't know what type of mood I'll be in," he said. "Will I kick into game mode, or will I be a mushy, tear machine? I don't know. All I know is it's an awesome thing. Last time I checked, this is not a normal thing, for guys to get their numbers retired when they're yet young."
After giving Eagles fans reason to cheer for 13 seasons, it's nice to know Dawkins will return to us as a machine. Even if it is a tear machine.
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