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Brian Dawkins was indeed one of a kind

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Every so often a professional athlete melds with a city in a way that is almost spiritual.   

 Fortunately for the Philadelphia Eagles and their fans, Brian Dawkins was that athlete.

As the last man selected in the 2nd round (61st overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft, Dawkins arrived with moderate expectations.  Surely, second round picks are productive, but Dawkins joined a playoff team and was not considered a savior.     Brian Dawkins photo: gcobb.com

That day must have been sheer torture for Dawkins as nine defensive backs found NFL homes before the Birds rescued him.  But Dawkins never openly pouted. He never mentioned his draft status nor did he let the fans’ lukewarm reaction affect him.   

Instead, Dawkins used the disrespect showed him by NFL executives as fuel.  He started 13 games in his rookie year and put a stranglehold on his place in Eagles lore.        

In the 15 seasons that followed he intimidated opponents and played the game with an intelligence and voracity few others have.  At his best, he covered tight ends and wide receivers and tackled ball carriers with the kind of violence NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants eliminated from the game. Simply put, Dawkins played safety as well as anyone ever has.

Some athletes never come to understand Philly fans. They say asinine things like the recent comments from André Iguodala in Sports Illustrated. Sometimes they feel sorry for themselves like Donovan McNabb (during the 1999 draft and throughout his career) or their play may lack the proper efforts like DeSean Jackson exemplified last season.  

But Dawkins got it.  He understood as much as any athlete this town is about playing hard. And if you happen to do it at an All-Pro level like he did in 2001, ’02, ’04 and ’06, all the better.  

Still, it is not always enough simply to play great in this town (see Schmidt, Michael Jack). To achieve mythical status here, an athlete must humble himself as well. When he struggles, he must say he had a bad game with as much sincerity as he can muster.  He cannot merely play hurt; he must play well when he is hurt. He must also let people in.  No, fans do not need to know an athlete’s personal business.  In fact, most intelligent fans could care less about Allen Iverson’s discretions or battles with his wife.  

But fans in this area need to believe a player likes it here and appreciates them because they recognize frauds. They know when a player is trying to keep his distance. They can tell when a player’s comments are disingenuous. That is why McNabb, the most productive quarterback in the Eagles’ 79-year history, is not thought of with supreme reverence. Perhaps that is the most impressive thing about Dawkins’ career.  He embraced this area and always spoke of fans thoughtfully.  They will remember him for that as much as his football exploits. Plus, he managed to stay off the police blotter and did his sit-ups indoors, without cameras. 

Is his career worthy of a bust in Canton?  He certainly warrants consideration. Dawkins is a nine-time pro bowler and played in one Super Bowl. Beyond that, he is one of the best all-around safeties in NFL history.  If I had a vote he would get it, but I do not think he will ever be fitted for a yellow blazer for three reasons:
 
1) Hall-of-fame voters (and to a large degree the NFL) devalue safeties.

2) Dawkins played in an era where footballs filled the air but only had 37 interceptions, a paltry sum considering his skill and longevity.  

3) Unlike most of the other safeties in the Hall-of-Fame, Dawkins did not return punts or kicks and never spent any time at cornerback.        

None of that changes how he made Eagles fans feel. This city demands more from its athletes than some places, but Dawkins never shied away- he delivered.  Not only did he capture the heart of Philly, but he embodied its soul. 

To those of us privileged to watch, we thank you.  For the many fans too young to contextualize his career, here hopes another great safety wears Eagle green. 

But do not expect to see another Brian Dawkins; he is one of a kind.


Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area.  He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention.  His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com

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