Three months ago, Brian Dawkins announced his retirement from the NFL. The greatest Eagle of the past two decades, and one of the most popular players in franchise history, signed a one-day contract to officially retire as an Eagle.
The symbolic gesture is great for the team, for Dawkins, and for the fans. Letting Dawkins go as a free agent after the 2008 season was an egregious miscalculation that alienated fans. The retirement ceremony should serve as a balm for this untreated wound, although nothing can erase the ugly chapter that was Dawkins' unceremonious exit from the franchise.
The decision to cut ties with longest-tenured (at the time) Eagle had less to do with his production between the lines than with his stature in the locker room and the community.
The Eagles had developed an unfortunate reputation as being ruthlessly calculating in personnel evaluation. Their philosophy of efficiency—always paying for what a player could do in the future, giving no weight to what he had done or had meant to the franchise in the past—is fiscally sound. But Dawkins should have been the exception.
The DB had earned his seventh Pro Bowl selection in 2008 at the time of his release; the fact that he earned his eighth with the Denver Broncos in 2009 made the pill even more bitter.
Fans have to hope that releasing Dawkins was Joe Banner's lapse in judgment. Clearly, with Andy Reid in charge, the Eagles have put more emphasis on rewarding good soldiers and team leaders. And there was never a better soldier or leader than Brian Dawkins.
A soft-spoken, deeply spiritual family man, the player who called himself "Weapon X" after his favorite comic book character, Wolverine, could flip a switch at game time.
His transformation into Weapon X, or “idiot man,” another of his alter egos, began when he put on his uniform, which he called his armor. It culminated when he entered the field for introductions, in various inspirational ways.
Other athletes who assume these identities, like the Redskins' Clinton Portis, or Chad Johnson/Ochocinco, can seem childish and cartoonish. Dawkins transcended that by channeling the power of his persona on the field, and remaining a gentleman off it.
Anyone seeing #20 burst through the Eagles banner at game time, flexing his incomparable biceps, screaming wildly and mimicking the aforementioned Wolverine, immediately dispelled the notion that his game face was anything less than genuine.
Dawkins' emotions managed to capture the feelings in the stands. One time when he crawled onto the field, it appeared as though he was vibrating from within. Those reverberations filled the stadium, sending the crowd of 65,000 into a frenzy.
Once the game started, Dawkins legitimized his pregame histrionics with controlled fury, delivering bone-crushing hits, putting his helmet on the ball, or snapping up an interception.
His intense play on the field commanded the respect of every player in the locker room. Dawkins was a coach on the field, and his teammates followed him into battle because they knew he always had their backs.
He frequently left his feet to complete a bone-jarring tackle. He roamed the defensive backfield like a marauding bounty hunter targeting his quarry. He was one of the most effective blitzing safeties in football, amassing twenty-six sacks on hapless quarterbacks.
Aggressiveness and jaw-rattling hits were Dawk's forte, but he also incepted thirty-six passes and forced an amazing thirty seven fumbles, while recovering nineteen more.
Dawkins frequently said how much he loved Eagles fans. That when the Eagles played at home, he felt like he was out on the field partying with all 65,000 fans. The fans felt that and it resulted in him being perhaps the most beloved Philadelphia Eagle of all time.
To prove it was more than lip service, after the Eagles failed to re-sign Dawkins, Dan Leone, a gate chief at Lincoln Financial Field, criticized the team on his Facebook page. Adding an ugly footnote to an already ugly chapter, the Eagles promptly fired Leone. Dawkins responded by giving his two game tickets for the Eagles-Broncos game to Leone to show how much he appreciated the support.
Brian Dawkins deserves to be enshrined in Canton. He deserves to be remembered by all Eagles fans as one of the Eagles greatest warriors of all time.
Not that he could ever be forgotten.
Fans loved him as a player, as a leader, and as a man. He brought out the best in his defensive teammates. He connected with the fans more than any other player in my lifetime.
Hero worship is often misplaced in sports.
Again, Dawkins is the exception.