By Peter Gleason
Legendary Eagles safety Brian Dawkins will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this Saturday.
Dawkins redefined the safety position by providing excellent pass coverage, strong run support, and the ability to blitz quarterbacks.
A fan of the “Wolverine” Marvel comic, Dawkins played like a safety, cornerback, linebacker and defensive lineman in one package.
No. 20 was the heart and soul on defense for the Eagles during the team’s impressive run of success in the 2000s. His unique skills helped Dawkins become the first defensive back in franchise history elected into the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact no football player who passed through a city known for its passion and toughness was more revered than Dawkins. He has a special bond with the fans.
“They’re crazy. They’re twisted in some ways. But I love them, because there are a lot of parts of me that are twisted in a lot of different ways,” Dawkins said. “That’s why I did some of the crazy stuff on the field that I did. So we fit like hand in glove.
“I believe if a Philadelphia Eagles fan had a chance to play, I believe the majority of them, if not all of them, would play the game the way that I played it. They would dance, they would be having a good time, and they would go out and enjoy the opportunity to be on the football field and show it and not be afraid to show their emotions, to play with passion and give everything that they have, because that would be the only chance that they would ever get to play the game of football, and that’s how I played. I played with a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to have a good time. I danced. I celebrated after plays. I celebrated with my teammates, and they saw that.”
Dawkins was a four-time All-Pro and went to the Pro Bowl seven times in 13 seasons with the Eagles. He made two more Pro Bowl rosters in three seasons for the Denver Broncos.
Dawkins played in five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl, a 24-21 loss to the New England Patriots following the 2004 season. He had 37 interceptions, 36 forced fumbles and 26 sacks in 224 regular-season games.
His crushing hit on Atlanta’s Alge Crumpler was the defining moment in Philadelphia’s 27-10 victory over the Falcons that sent the team to its second Super Bowl appearance.
“That was kind of a tone setter for what the game was going to be about,” Dawkins said. “It was going to be a physical contest. We knew that going into it. We talked about it all week long. It just so happened that Alge got the brunt of that blow when it comes to the frustration and anger I felt.”
A second-round pick from Clemson in 1996, Dawkins moved into the starting lineup as a rookie under coach Ray Rhodes. He thrived after Andy Reid replaced Rhodes in 1999 and brought defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to Philly.
Dawkins credits Johnson for finding different ways to use his talents.
“With Jim and his imagination and his willingness to go away from some traditional thinking when it comes to the safety position, he allowed me and my gifts (to shine),” Dawkins said. “Jim just opened the floodgates. He would draw up different blitzes. We worked together when it came to those things. Without him using me the way he used me, I still would have had a good career. But if you look at my ability to affect the game in pretty much every statistical category, that had a lot to do with Jim running the defense through me a lot of times. That’s unheard of for a defensive coordinator to run a defense through a safety.”
Former teammate Troy Vincent, a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback, will present Dawkins for induction on stage at the Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday night. Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, called it a “great honor” to present his good friend.
“There are so many factors that go into B-Dawk the man that complemented his football instincts and athleticism,” Vincent said. “His non-negotiables of faith, family and football made him one of the fiercest competitors in the history of the game. His dedication to his wife and children, his non-wavering love for Jesus Christ, and his all-out commitment to excellence served as an inspiring example to our teammates and to those watching.”