The most beloved player in Eagles history is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Former safety Brian Dawkins, already a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame, is one of the 18 players, coaches and contributors who will be on the ballot for enshrinement when the Hall of Fame's Board of Selectors chooses the Class of 2017 on February 4, the eve of Super Bowl LI, in Houston. Former wide receiver Terrell Owens is also a finalist.
"It's a blessing to be mentioned among the names of so many other guys who have made it this far, let alone to be hopefully in the Hall of Fame someday," Dawkins said at the NovaCare Complex late Tuesday afternoon. "I don't take these things for granted. I understand the plight of safeties (in the Pro Football Hall of Fame). To make it this far in my first year, it's a tremendous, tremendous honor."
The embodiment of what it means to play football in the City of Philadelphia, Dawkins was a physical and spiritual leader for 13 seasons with the Eagles. He was a Pro Bowl selection seven times, tied for the second most in franchise history. Dawkins finished as the team's all-time leader in both games played (183) and interceptions (34) by the end of his tenure with the Eagles in 2008.
Ray Didinger, a former member of the Hall of Fame's Board of Selectors, believes Dawkins should be a first-ballot selection.
"The numbers alone make a strong case for Dawkins as a Hall of Famer, but his impact goes far beyond that," Didinger wrote as he laid out the case for Dawkins. "I would contend Dawkins changed the safety position in today's NFL."
Dawkins is quick to point out that it was the late Jim Johnson who maximized his talent and unearthed "Weapon X," the safety's alter ego who had his own separate stall inside the locker room.
"I think with me as a tool, and Jim as the mastermind, we were able to make the safety position become a game-changer, not just a position," Dawkins said. "For too many years, people thought the safety position was good for one thing, and that's getting interceptions. That's key. But to have him use me, the way he used me, in so many ways, that's really where Weapon X came from. I know it came from Wolverine and all of that, but the fact that he used me in so many ways gave other defensive coordinators the ability to think outside of the box when it comes to that position."
A look back at the storied career of Brian Dawkins, who announced his retirement ...
There are only seven players who spent their entire career at safety in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dawkins blazed a trail for players like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, who are both expected to one day land in Canton.
"If you move a guy around who has the ability to do a lot of things, you can affect the offense," Dawkins said. "For Jim to then basically game plan most of the time around me, that's unheard of for a safety. You don't see that. You don't see defensive coordinators doing that, especially when I was coming in. All of a sudden, there he was using me in that way. Now, you see guys being used a lot of different ways. I truly believe that's because of Jim's vision."
Dawkins was pleased to learn that he is a finalist, but his focus now is on improving the Philadelphia Eagles. A second-round pick out of Clemson in 1996, Dawkins helped guide one of the most successful periods in franchise history. The team made the playoffs eight times, won five division titles, earned four trips to the NFC Championship Game and reached the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history thanks in large part to Dawkins. Now an executive in football operations, Dawkins wants the Eagles and the fans to experience the "ultimate success."
"It's a tremendous honor in so many ways to be back in here. I don't think people really know the magnitude of what this place means to me, and how much I care about it. The misconception is that I want to get things back to where they were. I want to get things past where they were," said Dawkins, as he was breaking down tape of college prospects in his office. "We had success. We had great success, but we didn't have the ultimate success. I'm looking for the ultimate success. I want this place to be a place of championships. When I talk about championships, I'm talking about Super Bowl champions. That's what I'm helping to do. I'm not the sole piece. I'm a part of something.
"Not only do these fans deserve another Hall of Famer, they deserve a Super Bowl ring. That's my ultimate goal for this place, to have this be a place of envy when you talk about the Philadelphia Eagles organization. We have some work to do on the field, but I think the minds are right to get some things changed around and moved in the right direction."
Dawkins has not played a down for the Eagles in eight seasons, but his jersey is still found all over Lincoln Financial Field on gamedays. He is humble and proud that his name conjures images of passion, respect, loyalty, heart and dedication. That is the true legacy he wanted to leave behind.
"For me, one of the main things I always wanted to do was represent my family, my wife (Connie) and my children (Brian Jr., Brionni, Chonni and Cionni), in the proper respects," Dawkins said. "The name that I wanted to give my kids, I wanted it to be a powerful one. I wanted it to be something that they can be proud of, that they can utilize it whether it's for business or whatever they needed. Now, I want my wife to be proud of her sacrifices, being a single mom for so many years because I'm beat up and in the training room. I'm getting stretch or things done to my body to get me back ready to play on Sundays. Because of that sacrifice, I was able to be all that I was on the field."
Owens, a former teammate of Dawkins, is in his second year as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He spent just two of his 15 NFL seasons in Philadelphia, but was an instrumental part of the team that won the NFC title in 2004. In just 21 regular season games with the Eagles, Owens had 124 catches for 1,963 yards and 20 touchdowns. Owens' 14 receiving touchdowns in 2004 set a new franchise mark. He had seven 100-yard receiving games that season, also a team record, on his way to achiveing Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Seven weeks after suffering a broken leg late in the regular season, Owens played in Super Bowl XXXIX and caught nine passes for 122 yards.