Sam Donnellon: A night to remember for Dawkins and Eagles fans

100112_Dawkins_400
Brian Dawkins is honored at halftime of the Eagles game against the Giants. (Yong Kim /Staff Photographer)

OF THE 69,144 "Cats'' who incessantly chanted Brian Dawkins' name at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night, a few things can be said with much certainty: Not all of them will make it into work on time Monday morning and not all of them will make it into work at all. Of those who do, not all of them will be productive for their entire workday, and maybe some will even check out early.

This does not mean they are bad people, any of them.

It just means they are not Brian Dawkins.

Yet that is the attraction, the glue that fastened his 20 to the wall of retired numbers in the Headhouse Plaza of Lincoln Financial Field during a raucous pregame ceremony: The idea that we are, in fact, Brian Dawkins. To a man, woman and little Eaglette, we believe that if we were born with enough talent, we would play the way he did, we would all love it the way he did, and we would all be humble about it the way he was after every exhaustive effort.

That's what we think, anyway. We would be fearless. We would play every down as if it were our last. We would play with pain shooting through our shoulders with every hit, with numbed nerves in our arms, legs, spinal cord even.

"It's not easy," he was saying on Friday when I brought this up. "It's not easy. One of the hardest things for me is that I played with a heavy dose of feeling like I couldn't let my teammates down. If I went out and played a very emotional game against whomever, they're expecting me to be out there the next week. And for me to have to dial everything I have to be able to be that same Cat the next week . . . I can't be up and down for my teammates and my coaches."

All week, ex-teammates gave testimony to that. He was 5-11 when he was drafted in 1996 and, as he said, "190 pounds soaking wet." Dawkins only grew another inch and only added another 30 pounds over the long 16-season haul of his NFL career, but he always hit like he was twice that size. The toll on his body was visible and often disturbing in the days that followed those hits, especially as his seasons in the NFL reached double digits.

But he got up for work, every day. He got himself ready, every Sunday. During a Kennedy Center tribute to honor Bruce Springsteen two years ago, comedian Jon Stewart noted the rock star "empties that tank for his family, he empties that tank for his art, he empties that tank for his audience and he empties it for his country."

Dawkins made it clear this week that this town was his country and his audience, that the Eagles jersey he took home with him forever Sunday night was as much a part of his DNA as the hyperactive tear ducts that he could only hope to contain during the weekend's events, particularly those of Sunday night.

He got through halftime by morphing into a preacher, by thanking all the "Cats" in the stands, issuing a solemn prayer to late defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and finally leading everyone in a rousing version of "Fly Eagles Fly" as he swirled a single fist in the air.

Before all that, before he followed the current team out of the tunnel wearing his jersey and morphing into Wolverine one last time, his "mushy" side, as he called it, spilled all over the official retirement ceremony.

Those who arrived early for the formal ceremony held 2 hours prior to the kickoff jammed every square inch of the Headhouse, filling stairwells, balconies, squeezing into the glassed-in plaza underneath the wall with the eight retired Eagles numbers and names.

Still seated, before even owner Jeffrey Lurie began his remarks, Dawkins' eyes already had welled up as he looked up and around at the scene. He pursed his lips as Lurie spoke of "the part that isn't going on a wall, the part in our hearts and in our memories."

Lurie also said Dawkins "symbolizes everything Philadelphia stands for." A few days before, in a crowded room filled with reporters, Dawkins was asked what he hoped people thought when they looked at that number on the wall.

"If you just remember that he went out and he gave everything he had and he left everything he had on the football field," he said. "Emotionally, spiritually . . . And that he was always there for his teammates.

"If I'm remembered for being a guy like that, I can deal with that."

 


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @samdonnellon. For recent columns, go to philly.com/SamDonnellon.