It was Brian Dawkins' night, but ever the consummate teammate, No. 20 didn't want to be a distraction to the cause at hand. When Dawkins addressed the Eagles players following their Saturday walk-through, he told them to focus on one thing - beating the hated New York Giants.
"He said, 'Don't play for me.' He said, 'We're playing for us. We're playing for the Eagles. We need to win," defensive end Trent Cole recalled of Dawkins' words. "He said, 'I'm going to be retired; my jersey's going to be retired regardless of what goes on, win or lose. It doesn't matter. We go out there to play for us.' That's what he said. He stated that. He made sure that he gave us a little advice. He said, "Whatever you've got going at home, rest up. When Coach (gives you time) to rest up, it means rest up. You just can't do some of the things you usually do on the regular. You've got to change your game, change the way you approach the game; try something different.' Like I said, he said we've got to go play for ourselves. Don't play for him."
"Brian Dawkins is a very passionate guy," said DeMeco Ryans, who, in some ways, has taken Dawkins' torch as the vocal leader of the defense. "When he talked to us, it was just about this game being about us, not about him. That just shows how selfless he is. Even though this was his day, retiring his jersey, a big day for him, he just let us know that he doesn't like the Giants and he wanted us to go out and get the win against the Giants."
Of course, Saturday was not the last time this Eagles team would see Dawkins. Following the pre-game introduction of the Eagles offense to the crowd, Dawkins crawled through the tunnel one last time, gyrating, gesticulating and going through his self-titled "idiot-man routine," creating an absolute frenzy among the 69,144 fans in attendance.
"Act a fool," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said, once again recalling Dawkins' message to the team. "He said go out there and act a fool. Don't go out there and win it for me, because they're retiring my jersey. Go out there and play for each other and for one another and just act a fool. That's the main thing (he) did when (he) played. Act a fool and turn it up. I think everybody just went out and let it loose."
"I can only imagine playing with a guy like Brian and having the opportunity to go out each and every Sunday and feel that type of energy from a guy who is so passionate about the game and the game means so much to him," said quarterback Michael Vick. "It's evident because we're here today and his number has been retired and he's a Hall of Famer. I give him a lot of credit. The hardest hit I ever took came from Brian Dawkins so I can only imagine what it's like playing with him."
At halftime, Dawkins had the opportunity to address the crowd directly, thanking them for their support over the years and leading the stadium in the Eagles Fight Song. It was the capper of a tremendous weekend for Dawkins and his family and for the Eagles fans who have loved him so dearly for so long. And of course, all of it was made even more special because of the Eagles' 19-17 victory over the Giants.
"You have to give the organization credit," said head coach Andy Reid. "The Lurie's did a phenomenal job of putting together a real special weekend for Brian and his family. It was unbelievable the things that went on. You can tell he was probably a fan-favorite, right? You know why. If he doesn't get into the Hall of Fame, I don't know who should."
For now, Dawkins will be plenty satisfied with being in the Eagles Hall of Fame.
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