Sam Donnellon: Without Dawkins, Runyan, Eagles have a heart condition

LAST WEEK, General Electric, once synonymous with safe investment, announced it would slash dividends by two-thirds beginning in the third quarter. The move would allow the struggling conglomerate to pay off some $9 billion in debt, a move designed to stabilize the company, make it better in the long run.

Stockholders, who had already seen the value of their shares cut in half over the last year, were left with two thoughts:

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Jon Runyan has played through injury his entire Eagles career.

* This really stinks for me right now.

And . . .

* Maybe it will help my overall investment in the long run.

The Eagles would like you to believe the moves they made and did not make last week will make your investment in their company better, too.

But, man, does it stink for you right now.

No Dawk, no Buck, no new deal for Tra or Donovan. The general perception is that by signing Stacy Andrews, Jon

Runyan has been given his gold watch, too.

Meanwhile, the additional-weapons watch enters its third month.

No players have made you more proud to be an Eagles fan than Brian Dawkins and Jon

Runyan. They played hurt, real hurt, played with injuries that made it hard for them to even walk between games, injuries that most of their co-workers would have been deactivated with.

Maybe the treads on Dawkins' wheels would not have been quite so worn had he not. And while Runyan is not yet either retired or an ex-Eagle, maybe he would be in a much better bargaining position today if he had stopped playing in November and gone under the knife then.

But that's not who he is. It's not who Dawkins is. Both played with unending intensity, with a nice nastiness, and they rarely, if ever, offered excuses for their mistakes and bad games, or pointed to someone else. Aside from sometimes almost begging Andy Reid to run the ball more, Runyan never threw the coach or the quarterback under the bus, even amid playcalling and time management that often bordered on the absurd.

Amid those seasons when the Eagles had not much of a pass-rushing or run-stopping defensive line, Dawkins did not do that either.

They played hard, every down. They led - by deeds and sometimes through words.

After that embarrassing loss to the Ravens, Dawkins began a playoff beard that was quickly copied by a large portion of the Eagles, including Andy Reid and owner Jeffrey Lurie. He was trumping for defensive unity at first, but it spread to both sides of the ball. The Eagles allowed 14, 10, 10 and six points over their final four regular-season games. Given some breathing room, McNabb reclaimed both his starter's status and at least some of his reputation.

"He turned up his play and his speeches," safety Quintin Mikell said of Dawkins, before the NFC Championship Game. "He took us on his back. If for nothing else, we want to get him that championship."

They didn't, of course, which begs this: What if they had? What if Dawkins had made one last big play to abort Arizona's final drive? What if they had reached the Super Bowl? What if they had won that championship?

Would Dawkins be in Denver today?

The Phillies stunned everybody this offseason. They re-signed everybody but Pat Burrell, and replaced him with a higher-priced player they view as an improvement. They gave out huge raises, pushed their payroll precariously close to the luxury-tax threshold. They even admitted a big mistake in Adam Eaton, still owing him close to $9 million after cutting him loose the other day.

"Clearly, he did not pitch to the level that we were hoping he would pitch," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Some things work out really well when you make those kind of commitments, some things don't. This was one of them that did not. None of us are perfect in this game, and this was one time when we weren't."

They took their medicine for it, too. You did, too.

The Eagles allowed Dawk to walk. He won't tell yet what was offered, but it had to be significantly less than the $9 million Denver guaranteed him for the next two seasons. He told Les Bowen yesterday that he always thought he would retire an Eagle, that he "never thought that this would happen this way."

Few did, especially after the beards, the late run, the inspired play. The Eagles have their strategy, their history of doing this sort of thing with popular aging players of the past.

Dawkins always seemed to be in his own category, but that perception was obviously wrong, as wrong as believing your money would always be safe with GE.

Did the Eagles improve the stock's outlook? They've certainly positioned themselves that way. They're a mountain of millions under the cap, stockpiled with draft picks, especially after dealing Lito Sheppard to the Jets for another one during last week's player purge.

He was the face of an often faceless company, though, Dawkins was. He cried for us, played hard for us, and felt as bad for us as we felt for ourselves. Whatever the big-picture plan is, it's hard to figure how the Eagles will replace that. *

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