Marcus Hayes: Dawkins' ties to Philadelphia: Dearly beloved

Posted: September 28, 2012

HE IS, PERHAPS, the most beloved Philadelphia Eagle; maybe the most beloved Philadelphia athlete.

Not the best Eagle; that would be Steve Van Buren.

Nor the most significant; that would be Reggie White.

And not the best Philadelphia athlete, or most significant; not with a pantheon like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Allen Iverson, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Bobby Clarke.

But Brian Dawkins is beloved. Universally, beloved.

His number will be retired Sunday night against the Giants, and the Eagles had better have catastrophe insurance on the Linc, because the crowd might just shake apart the stadium.

How?

Dawkins played safety, a relatively anonymous position in football.

He played excellently, sure, but he won no more than a few playoff games and one NFC title. He finished his Eagles run with 34 interceptions and 21 sacks, but Donovan McNabb was the national face of Dawkins' teams, and, in any given season, an argument could be made that Dawkins was not even the best player.

So, why is he beloved?

Why will No. 20 never again be worn in midnight green?

Dawkins knows why.

"I played the game the way the fans would have played it if they had the chance," Dawkins told the Daily News. "I played that way every play."

He played defense, which the town loves.

He hit hard, like a 2-Street bully in a bar fight.

He cared.

"I cared about my teammates. I cared about the game," Dawkins said.

He was pedigreed, certainly, a second-round pick, which is about as high as safeties go.

He was versatile; in his prime he often played nickel cornerback, which saved the Eagles about a half-million dollars per season, since they could insert another safety and not pay a seasoned third cornerback.

And he was tough. He always had a finger or two that was cockeyed, and he just dealt with it for 4 months. He usually dealt with some sort of neck or shoulder problem, the detritus of the hellacious hits that used to be legal in the NFL; indeed, much of the current rule modification to protect receivers can be traced to his lethal style of play.

He was, more than anything, professional.

He became a devout Christian but seldom used his job as a pulpit. He lived his life for God, and will continue to do so. An accomplished speaker already, Dawkins said he expects to be ordained soon. He might one day become a minister.

That information had to be pried from him.

This information, concerning his endless effort, did not:

"I don't like to disappoint people. That isn't always a good thing, either, but that's who I am.

"My father, when I did something wrong, didn't even have to scold me. He just needed to look at me like I did something wrong, and that made me feel so bad."

Yes, even as a boy growing up rough in Jacksonville, Dawkins always was accountable.

"At the end of the day, I have my hand on the button. No one else. Me."

Instead of reliving mistakes and nurturing resentments, Dawkins simply moved on.

To stay fresher, younger, longer, he changed his offseason workout routine five times in 16 years.

"I was always interested in what would be best for my body. Something new, challenging," Dawkins said. "Not getting into a rut."

Every February, when he began to prepare for the next season, Dawkins took a NutraGraph test and had blood work done to see how he should adjust his diet to better heal, then grow.

"Our bodies weren't made to play this game. It will not recover on its own," he said. "You have to replace, to replenish what you have depleted."

Such devotion to his craft helped him last 16 seasons, the final three in Denver, after the Eagles deemed him expendable . . . after a Pro Bowl year in 2008.

The split with the Eagles cemented the image of administrative wizard Joe Banner with the fan base as a cold, heartless, bottom-line evaluator. Banner had allowed popular players to walk before, such as Hugh Douglas and Jeremiah Trotter, and Banner had been right. Banner and the rest of the brain trust considered the 5 years and $17 million the Broncos gave Dawkins at the age of 35 to be a bad risk, though the deal essentially was for 2 years and $9 million.

Oops.

Dawkins went to his eighth and final Pro Bowl after the 2009 season.

He played with a slow-burning anger, fueled by his feeling that the Eagles did not trust him to tell them what he had left in the tank. After all he'd given them.

"I know me. I know my body. I understand why they did it, and they're not in the business of taking people's word," Dawkins said.

But this wasn't just anybody's word. This was his word.

"I did this for every contract: I played to show you that you gave the right guy the right contract," Dawkins said. "My production would not dip."

Finally, it did, last season.

So, in April, Dawkins quit.

Consider this, though:

After all of those collisions, Dawkins experiences no symptoms of post-concussion syndrome: "Not a one."

Not yet, anyway.

After all of those years playing on artificial turf, in blazing heat and chilling cold, he gets out of bed in the morning and feels . . . nothing.

Not one twinge.

Not in the neck, a troublesome area his whole career.

Not in his knees. He played with a partially torn medial collateral ligament in each knee in 2010, but they are fine now.

"That's why I always took care of myself," Dawkins said.

On Sunday night, the Eagles and the fans who make them matter will take care of No. 20; dearly, beloved Dawk.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.

 

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