After opening the 1996 season with a win over division-rival Washington, the Eagles fell short the following week in Green Bay. However, in a sense, the loss to the Packers was the beginning of a long-running victory for the Eagles. Why? It was the first-career start by rookie free safety Brian Dawkins.
"It was something I was working hard to do," said Dawkins, Philadelphia's second-round draft choice from Clemson. "One of the things that I had to do was learn that defense because it was pretty sophisticated. It was a blessing for me to have veterans like Eric (Zomalt) and (Michael) Zordich there to assist me. They helped me get in the starting lineup.
"I think it was the first time that Green Bay played a Monday night game in forever, and so how loud it was and the speed of the game was tremendous because at that time Green Bay was a pretty good football team with Brett Favre in his youth."
Dawkins earned consensus All-Rookie honors that season and made himself a home with the Eagles. However, in just a few short years he felt as if he had to start over again. The Eagles hired Andy Reid as the new head coach on January 11, 1999.
"I didn't know much about him," Dawkins said. "I had a coach in Ray (Rhodes) that had a lot of confidence in me to bring me there in the first place. So I was real sad to see Ray and (defensive coordinator) Emmitt (Thomas) and those guys leave.
"To get a new coach was something that I was used to from college. Having to go out and continue to prove yourself over and over again. I had to show another coach that I was worthy to be on the football field for him."
A look back at the storied career of Brian Dawkins, who announced his retirement ...
Dawkins not only had to impress his new head coach, but new defensive coordinator Jim Johnson as well.
"I'd seen Jim a little bit from afar, looking at the things he was doing in Seattle with the defense when he was there," Dawkins said. "He had basic things that he did and all of a sudden he started putting more and more things in for me to do as far as the blitzes, as far as coming down more in run support, as far as all over the field.
"Whereas with the previous regime I was more of a corner. Whoever had a better tight end or a third or fourth receiver, I was the guy that always had to cover those guys. So I wasn't blitzing a whole lot. When Jim came in with his aggressive style, that really fit me as a player."
After a 5-11 first season under Reid, the Eagles began a turnaround by going 11-5. In 2001, they earned their way to the first of four consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship Game.
"I think it was everybody buying into what it is we were doing offensively and defensively," Dawkins said. "Andy had a plan and he stuck behind it. He put Doug (Pederson in as the starting quarterback) even when we had Donovan (McNabb) and a lot of people thought that was the wrong thing to do. But it allowed Donovan to sit back and watch the offense at work and learn. And then when he got his opportunity to come in obviously we know the rest as far as history is concerned.
"We started to get more and more guys that fit what (Reid) wanted to do in his offense. And (Johnson) got a chance to get some of the people that he wanted in his defensive schemes. So when all of that comes together you got a team that goes out and plays hard for one another, who believe in the system and you kind of take off from there."
In 2004, they landed in a place Dawkins knew well to face New England in Super Bowl XXXIX - his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.
"To be honest with you, it didn't really factor into my excitement of it. The fact that we finally made it after losing three (conference title games) in a row trumped where we were playing the game at.
"The whole year leading up to it, losing so much in the previous years, to finally get a chance to win it ... to beat Atlanta (in the NFC Championship Game) to get to the Super Bowl was a huge experience, a huge accomplishment, something I'll never forget. I think once you got there, one of the bad things about just doing it one time is you take things a little far too serious. Not really enjoying some of the things that you could enjoy."
It would be difficult to find a football fan, much less an Eagles fan, who didn't enjoy watching Dawkins play with the emotion he demonstrated on the field.
"That's kind of always been a part of me. From playing in youth sports and losing a game, crying, not wanting to shake people's hand and being upset if I strike out in baseball. Stuff like that," said Dawkins, who was voted by the fans as the safety on the Eagles' 75th Anniversary Team in 2007.
"And having a father that I have in my dad, Ralph, Jr., he allowed me to channel in those emotions. He told me that I can't go around being like that. I can't act like that. I need to channel my emotions into the right direction and to be able to hone in and utilize that gift of being an emotional guy, being someone who is passionate about the things that they do. And to be able to just learn from your mistakes and then utilize that emotion the next time.
"The thing that I'm most proud of is my relationships that I formed there, being a positive effect, hopefully, on the guys that I played with. That they knew that I would give everything that I could, that I would do any and all things for them, that I was willing to listen to things that had nothing to do with football. And so being a well-rounded teammate, person and friend is something that I'm most proud of."
Dawkins has many other reasons to be proud of his 13-year Eagles career. A four-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection with the Eagles, he's also the team's all-time leader in regular season games played by a non-kicker (183) and tied for first in interceptions (34).
During halftime of the September 30, 2012 game against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field, his accomplishments and what he meant to the team as leader on and off the field and in the Philadelphia community were recognized when his No. 20 was retired.
"When you sit back and you look at all the people that have played for the Eagles since the beginning, and to know that I'm one of the, I think nine now, that will have their number retired by an organization in the National Football League, it's a tremendous honor. A tremendous honor."
Another honor that may be in Dawkins' future is enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"If it happens, what a wonderful thing to be able to share with some of the other people that assisted in my career along the way. Coaches, players, organizations, have all given me the opportunity, poured knowledge and wisdom into me and entrusted me to be able to go out and play. So I would definitely celebrate that day with a lot, a lot, of people," Dawkins said.
"If it does not happen, people ask me about first ballot, second ballot ... I don't care. If I get in, I get in. It'd be a blessing to be in those hallowed hallways. But if it does not happen, then here I am. I played 16 football years in the National Football League. Many people who are reading this article would have loved to play one, two, three, four, five. Just be on the practice squad. And here I have played 16 years, so that's a blessing. That's just the ultimate blessing in itself."
Dawkins makes his home in suburban Denver, where he played the final three seasons of his 16-year career and earned his eighth trip to the Pro Bowl, with his wife, Connie, and their children: Brian, Jr., Brionni, Chonni and Cionni. He helped coach his son's high school football team. Dawkins, Jr. will also play his college football at Clemson starting in 2016. Dawkins also makes motivational speeches around the country and is a studio NFL analyst for ESPN.