Brian Dawkins, choking back tears on the NovaCare auditorium stage with more than a dozen former teammates seated behind him, was lauded by chairman Jeffrey Lurie for his unique connection with Eagles fans.
At this moment Saturday, with Lurie announcing Dawkins' No. 20 will be retired in a Sept. 30 ceremony, the fans were on Dawkins' mind, as well:
"So many times, I get letters, and people asking me to sign jerseys to put in their coffins with their loved one, because they loved me so much," Dawkins said. "I thank you for welcoming me into your household ... Just know that I appreciate it, and I heard what you said, and I continue to hear what you're saying about your love for this team, for the people that play here, and your love for me. Believe me, that reverberates and it comes right back to you, because I love you guys, just as well."
Dawkins, 38, who spent 13 seasons with the Birds and his final three with the Broncos, was asked why he felt he connected so well with the famously prickly fan base. He said it took him a while after he arrived as a second-round safety from Clemson in 1996 to understand and appreciate "why they push us the way they push us. Why they get on us the way they get on us. I understood this is a city that loves hard. They'll love you. But when they get on you, they're going to get on you. You have to have thick skin through that short period. On the other side of that short period, they're going to love you again.
"Also, I played with my emotions on my sleeve. You could tell in that video (shown before the news conference, Dawkins' hits interspersed with rants and exhortations), that's who I was. That wasn't an act ... I'm a passionate cat about the thing that I did for a living for that long, and I just so happened to be able to do that in an arena that allowed me to do that."
Former quarterback Donovan McNabb, like Dawkins, made his first visit back to NovaCare since he left the team -- in McNabb's case, two years ago.
"I'm happy that the Eagles would really go out on a limb and (retire Dawkins' number)," McNabb said. Asked if he thought his No. 5 might get the same treatment, McNabb gave the same answer he gave when asked about his plans. "This is not about me, it's about Brian." It seems likely that McNabb will retire, as well, but obviously, talking about that Saturday would have cut into the spotlight on Dawkins.
Connie Dawkins, who started dating Brian when they were 15-year-old sophomores at Raines High in Jacksonville, was taken aback by the hoopla.
"He's been gone for a while. I just said, "I hope they haven't forgotten you,' we're in Denver, we don't hear the (Philadelphia) radio or see the papers ... the fans, they're psychotic, that's my word, and I just love it! I just missed it a lot."
Connie said she knows why Dawkins is beloved in Philadelphia: "He's as crazy as these fans. He has been like that since I've known him ... They love hard, he loves hard."