Brian Dawkins' style of play felt like Philadelphia – the hard hits, a symbol for the city's toughness, coupled with a shared, unwavering passion for victory. That's also what got him to Canton, where he'll be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday.
As Eagles fans reminisce, it's a good time to dust off those No. 20 jerseys – assuming you're not among the Birds faithful who still wear them out and about all the time. They're a symbol of the era of Eagles football that Dawkins defined and a number that will never grace another Eagles jersey again.
We put out the call this week for fans to share their memories of B-Dawk and their messages for him as he enters the hall. Here's just some of what you had to say.
"He is very inspirational on days I need it to get through," wrote Inquirer reader Dominick Marotta. "B-Dawk will always be my favorite athlete and role model."
Inspiration is a relatable word for Dawkins because, as he said in recent interviews with the Inquirer's Paul Domowitch and others, there were times when he really needed it: there were times when he thought about ending his life.
It was his wife Connie who helped him to live. Connie and then-Eagles defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas convinced Dawkins to seek professional help. That side of one of the toughest, hardest-hitting safeties the NFL has ever seen resonated with fans, too.
"As a person who has battled with depression and mental illness for years, I was so surprised to hear that B-Dawk has suffered from something that has been such a factor in my life," wrote Inquirer reader Bill St. Clair. "In emerging victoriously from my bout with mental illness, I felt as though I had reached the Super Bowl – a feat similar to what Weapon X has accomplished on and off the field. Mental illness is such a debilitating and incredibly overwhelming thing to battle. However, knowing that all people, especially those who appear like superheroes, could possibly experience mental illness, can really be such an inspiration for success. Brian Dawkins IS that inspiration – as a player, a leader, and a man."
You'd hear similar statements from former coaches and players, too.
Dawkins left Eagles fans with an array of highlight plays – mostly incredible tackles – but there might be no hit that better defines Dawkins' career than the leveling he put on Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler during the 2004 NFC Championship.
Trying to describe the play any more than that really won't do it justice, so…
As a lifelong Eagles fan myself, I re-enacted this play (probably a bad idea) numerous times with my little brother in the backyard after we watched it. We each took turns being B-Dawk, the other begrudgingly playing the Crumpler role. It was like Dawkins unleashed all of the frustration Philly fans had with missing the Super Bowl year after year – a streak that was about to come to an end – on Crumpler.
Inquirer reader Tony Schaeffer was at Lincoln Financial Field that day.
"I remember the collective gasp coming from the stands after the hit, and then the cheers. It was clear that Brian Dawkins wanted to set the tone for the defense, and the rest of the defense followed with punishing hits the rest of the game. He willed that Eagles team to the Super Bowl, in my opinion."
While sifting through reader responses, it became so apparent how connected Brian Dawkins is to Philadelphia. Sometimes it almost feels like an athlete is from here because of how devoted they become to the teams we love.
This connection was something that Dawkins' former teammate and close friend witnessed every day for eight years.
"I never saw anyone who embraced the city's image like Brian," former Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent told the Inquirer. "He was the epitome of the franchise and the town. He was blue-collar. A hard-hat-wearing, lunch-pail-carrying, go-to-work-every-single-day guy. There have only been a handful of athletes who can say their personality actually represented the body of the community they played in. Dawk was one of them."
Vincent will be Dawkins' Hall of Fame presenter.
What endeared Dawkins to this fan base was his devotion to always leaving it all on the field — a trait that places him among the greatest players in Eagles history for many fans.
"I have been an Eagles' fan since 1960 and have seen some great Eagles defensive players, but you definitely top the list," wrote Inquirer reader Charles Tirney of Dawkins. "You played your heart out and convinced the fans that you are the best."
Inquirer reader Jim echoed that feeling, highlighting how unique of a player Dawkins was. "Thanks for the memories, Dawk," he wrote. "I doubt there was a player with your intensity before you and I doubt the Eagles will find another. You deserve all the accolades that come your way. Enjoy your moment."
As Hall of Fame festivities kicked off on Friday night, Dawkins showed off the intensity that Jim wrote about and it was pretty clear that he was enjoying the moment.
Celebrating a fan favorite like Dawkins seems fitting for this year. After winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history, Eagles fans are quickly becoming used to celebrating.
For pilot and Eagles fans Joe Elm, Dawkins was even on his mind after the big win.
The day of the Super Bowl parade, Elm, a UPS cargo airline captain of 22 years, was scheduled to fly from Miami to Louisville. On that day, he was sure to wear his uniform, but he couldn't help but wear one of his favorite jerseys over it.
Elm had a six-hour break in Louisville and watched the parade on his iPad. A colleague asked him why he wasn't there and joked that he should have called in sick. "I said in that case, when they win the Super Bowl next year, I'll be sure to do that and use him as my excuse," Elm wrote. "I had to work, but took No. 20 with me."
This weekend, much like Elm, Dawkins is flying high. And Eagles fans are thrilled to watch him soar.