By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report
When Brian Dawkins left the Eagles after the 2008 season, he took with him the high-octane passion with which he played the game. And since his departure, the Birds defense has lacked his fire and his ability to be enforcer in the Eagles secondary.
Dawkins, who played the last few years with the Denver Broncos, announced his retirement from the game via Twitter last week. While he hadn’t work the Midnight Green for a while, anyone who plays free safety for the Eagles in the future will no doubt be measured by how Dawkins approached and played the game. He was one of the game’s hardest hitters who left everything out on the field.
Dawkins will be honored by the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 30 during a nationally-televised Sunday Night game against the New York Giants.
Sources say that Dawkins will retire as an Eagle. And for a guy who played the game with emotion, it is fitting that he retires in the place where he hyped to a fever pitch during pre-game introductions.
“One of the things that I’ve been blessed with or cursed with is I played with all of my emotions on my sleeve and you can kind of read me pretty easily by the way I’m feeling on game day,” Dawkins said in a conference call with reporters.
“I purposely try and go out and do my best to make sure my coaches, teammates, and fans know that I gave it my all on the football field. With me playing as long as I did in Philadelphia, I heard what they said. I didn’t just hear it, I heard and listened to what they said. I felt the pain they had from past failures and the way they are treated sometimes in the media. I heard those things, and I took it to heart and I understood them.”
During his 13 years in an Eagles uniform, Dawkins was a five-time All-Pro selection, went to the Pro Bowl seven times and is the franchise leader in games played with 183 as well as the team’s all-time career leader in interceptions. He averaged nearly 100 tackles per year.
But even beyond his numbers, Dawkins was considered one of the most dominant safeties of his era. His work ethic was unparalleled and consistent, according to his former coach, Eagles head coach Andy Reid.
“Brian always put in the extra hours it took to become the star player that he was. And he transferred all of that and more onto the field on Sundays,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said in a statement. “He poured everything he could into doing whatever was best for his teammates and this organization. He was the unquestioned leader of our defense. He will go down as one of the greatest Eagles of all-time and I have no doubt we’ll be celebrating his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
When they honor him in September, I hope the ceremony will be one where they retire his jersey in the way they retired Chuck Bednarik’s. I don’t think any player can wear Number 20 again. Dawkins’ shoes, and his jersey, are simply too big for anyone to fill. The ability to play football at Dawkins’ level for the length of time in which he did it is too much to ask of anyone.
My most vivid memory of Dawkins as an Eagle was the vicious hit he put on Atlanta Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler in the 2004 NFC Championship, a hit that led to the victory that took the Eagles to the team’s second Super Bowl in franchise history.
Another thing I liked about Dawkins is that he was a loyal teammate. In the midst of all the harsh criticism that quarterback Donovan McNabb would receive, Dawkins was always quick to defend his teammate to the news media and anyone else who came along.
Unlike Ray Lewis in Baltimore, who comes out of the tunnel doing some sort of dance, Dawkins just sprinted out of the tunnel, fist raised, bringing the crowd to a thunderous roar. Sometimes, Dawkins was so hyped for a game that not even the Eagles mascot, Swoop, was safe…
To me, Brian Dawkins was the ultimate warrior-poet. He was a fierce competitor who wore his heart on his sleeve from the first play to the last.