Brian Dawkins heard you. He heard you as he stood on the sidelines and talked with coaches prior to taking the first snap of his 181st game, a franchise record, as a Philadelphia Eagle. He heard as the fans at Lincoln Financial Field stood and roared their approval for a player who has left every drop of his energy on the field for 13 seasons, a player who has graced the organization each day he has been here, a player who has a talent and passion unmatched.
He heard you.
And he loves you.
"I mean I just thank them. I thank them so much," said Dawkins after the team's 30-10 win over Cleveland on Monday night. "I've been obviously blessed to play this game for a long period of time. Like I've always said connected, I feel like I connected with the fans pretty well. We come out to party together. I've enjoyed every game and partied with them."
Oh, what a party it has been. The marvelous Weapon X has been a joy to behold, one of the greatest players ever to wear an Eagles uniform, a player who has been so great for so long that it kind of seems like Dawkins has been around here forever. Which, by NFL standards, he has. Dawkins was a second-round draft pick in 1996. He was here during Ray Rhodes' final, bleary seasons. He was here during the transition to Andy Reid and has been a steward as the Eagles enjoyed a half-decade of deep playoff runs and, even a Super Bowl appearance. Dawkins has been the go-to quote since then, speaking with so much passion and truth to the reporters hanging on his every word.
It's been a remarkable success story, punctuated on Tuesday with the news that Dawkins was voted into the Pro Bowl for a seventh time. This is Hall of Fame material, no question about it. Dawkins continues to defy the logic of the league. Players in their 13th season don't make the Pro Bowl, especially at a position that demands speed, agility and the physical toughness to take on running backs that have ballooned by 15-25 pounds -- in some cases (Brandon Jacobs, for example), more -- since Dawkins came into the league.
Dawkins has played in 181 games as an Eagle and yet here he is, coming out of the tunnel before a game against the 4-9 Browns, banging his helmet, literally acting like a man out of his mind. It is great theatre. It is an astounding display of voltage from a player who gives just as much now as he gave when he was 25, or 28. Dawkins has played this way his entire career, from his pre-teen days until now.
This is who he is. This is what he does. And don't we all feel just that much more fortunate to have had him and to continue to have him as our own? Dawkins is an Eagle. He defines what it means to be an Eagle.
"That's the only way I know how. I wouldn't know how to play any other way than the way that I am. I've told you guys this before, but I've always been that way," said Dawkins. "This is not something that's just happened with the Eagles. I've always been this way. I've been this way since Pop Warner, coaches telling me to calm down. In high school, getting dehydrated before the game and having to get IVs. I've had these things. I've been this way. This is who I am, and I can't change that. I'm going to go out and give what I have and put myself on that field for these guys."
Dawkins held a conference call with reporters on Tuesday when the NFC Pro Bowl team was announced. He was humble, as usual, and he was also very confident about what he has been this season.
Has he been the vintage Dawkins? I don't know about that. My memories of Dawkins from 5, 6, 7 years ago are of him changing games. At times this year, he has changed games.
"I think I've played a pretty good stint in these last eight games or so," said Dawkins, who said he has been an "impact" player for the defense. "This is a place I feel comfortable being in."
There are few Eagles who transcend the years and the generations of teams. Dawkins is one of those players, one of those men. He is not done being a great player, not by a long shot. As the Eagles bumped along the road for much of the season, Dawkins insisted that the vibe in the locker room was positive and that the confidence level was high and that, yes, the Eagles would turn it all around.
They have done that. The team is playing for a playoff spot. This is the most exciting time in an NFL season, and Dawkins is right in the middle of the action. He is bouncing around, thumping his chest, playing to the crowd and enjoying every second on and off the field.
Isn't that what the game is all about? We play games as kids because we love the games. Dawkins is a kid in a man's body. He is still in high school flying around the field, tackling everything he can reach, running sideline to sideline throwing everything he has into the effort.
Enjoy him. Admire him. Honor him. Dawkins deserves it all, and more. His kind don't come around very often. We are all fortunate to have been part of the career of such a special player and a special man who clearly has touched Eagles fans as few players in this proud franchise's history have in 76 years of football.