Dawkins Reflects On Eagles Career After Announcing Retirement
It’s one of many everlasting images of Brian Dawkins in Eagles green. Late in the 2004 NFC Championship game, with the outcome nearly decided, Brian Dawkins let it out.
Number 20 stood by the goal line and picked up the right pylon. Dawkins lifted it in the air with his arms spread open in a gesture of triumph, joy and relief. He let out a yell and spiked the pylon to the ground along with the Eagles three-year streak of losing a step before the Super Bowl.
The Eagles beat the Falcons 27-10 in a game remembered for Dawkins bone-jarring hits on Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick and tight end Alge Crumpler, as well as a late interception of Vick that helped secure the win. The victory sent the Eagles to their first Super Bowl since 1980.
Today after announcing his retirement following 16 seasons in the NFL and 13 in Philadelphia, Dawkins called that game his greatest moment as an Eagle.
“The exuberance, the joy, seemingly the burden lifted off your back and to see the celebration, the joy on Jim’s face - Jim Johnson, the late, great, Jim Johnson,” Dawkins explained, referencing his old defensive coordinator who died in 2009 after a battle with melanoma.
“To see the joy and the tears in his eyes and the way he grabbed me and said, ‘Dawk, we did it, we did it!’ I’ll never forget that. That’ll be something that I’ll always remember.”
Dawkins led an Eagles defense that went to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl during his 13 years with the franchise, but never got over the final hump.
Dawkins ended his career with three seasons as a Denver Bronco and finished with 911 tackles, 37 interceptions, 36 forced fumbles and 26 sacks. Dawkins is considered a likely future Hall of Famer.
“He was the unquestioned leader of our defense,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said through a statement. “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.”
Dawkins shared a special relationship with Eagles fans, going down as one of the most beloved players in franchise history. The hard-hitting safety had a special ability to understand Philadelphia’s unique fans.
“I heard the fans, I heard what they said,” Dawkins said. “I didn’t just hear it, I listened and I heard it and I took in the pain that they’ve had from past failures and not being able to win a championship and the way that they’re treated sometimes in the media. I heard those things, so I took them to heart, I understood.”
Dawkins also had a personality that made him a perfect fit in the City of Brotherly Love.
“Brian embodied everything about a working class city,” said Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. “He was talented, worked hard, appreciated who you are, be comfortable with yourself, look in the mirror and don’t try to put on airs, just be hard, tough and want to win.
“He loved the fans, and I think they knew it. With a lot of players, there’s a barrier sometimes in being able to connect with the fans in terms of communicating from your heart. Brian always communicated from his heart.”
“One of the things I’m blessed with, or cursed with, whatever you want to call it, is I’m one that had, I played with my emotions on my sleeves and you could kind of read me pretty easily, the way that I’m feeling on game day,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins hopes his legacy is rooted not in statistics, great plays or even wins and losses, but rather in what he meant to others.
“I just wanted to be one where fans, teammates, coaches, whoever I had a chance to play with, or play for, or in front of, that he gave everything that he had to the last drop,” said Dawkins.
“Whether it be on game day, or in preparation, or with the media or someone needed help, something off the field related that had nothing to do with football but everything to do with him, that [I] was there for [him] for that.”
The Eagles will honor Dawkins before their Sunday Night Football game against the Giants on September 30th.
Ryan Messick covers the Eagles for 97.3 ESPN FM. Follow him on Twitter.