In the second round of the 1996 draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Brian Dawkins, a safety from Clemson. He quickly found his way into the starting lineup as a rookie and never looked back upon his great career.
With the start of the Andy Reid regime in 1999, Jim Johnson was hired as the teams defensive coordinator. No one in the city knew much about Johnson, but that year he helped Dawkins evolve into a Pro Bowl player. The team wasn’t very good at 5-11, but improvements were noticeable. In 2000, Dawkins and his defense finished 4th in points allowed and 1oth in yards. The Eagles made the playoffs and won their first playoff game since 1996. In what seemed a yearly occurrence, the season ended in a disappointing loss, losing to the Giants 20-10.
Dawkins made the Pro Bowl for the second time in 2001. His bone-jarring hits quickly made him a fan favorite along with his leadership abilities. The defense finished 2nd in points allowed and the team went to their first of many NFC Championship games. Aeneas Williams had other ideas for the Eagles as his interception ended the Eagles’ season one game short of their goal. Weapon X, Dawkins’ alter ego, made his second straight Pro Bowl in 2002. In a game vs. the Houston Texans that year, he became the first player in NFL history to have a sack, forced fumble, interception and touchdown reception in a game. After a first round bye, Brian laid what many say is his greatest hit. With Mike Vick running towards the end zone, Dawkins flew out of nowhere and laid out Vick with a shoulder. The play was called back because of a penalty, but Vick had to come out for a play. The Falcons drive would eventually end with a missed field goal and the Eagles went on to win 20-6. No reason to discuss what happened against the Bucs the following week.
Dawk had an injury plague season in 2003. The team got off to a 2-3 start before a Brian Westbrook punt return saved the season as the Eagles won nine consecutive games. Another great Weapon X moment occurred in the playoffs that year. 4th and 26 would forever live in Eagles lore, but it was Brian’s interception in overtime that led to the game winning field goal. According to a friend who is a season ticket holder of both the Eagles and Phillies, it was the loudest he’s ever heard the Linc or CBP. The Eagles’ defense would only allow 14 points the following week to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game, but it wasn’t enough. They lost at home for third straight year in the NFC Championship game.
While the 2004 season will always be remembered for the Donovan and TO tag team. The defense was great as well, finishing second in points allowed and sent 4 starters to the Pro Bowl including Brian Dawkins. Once again, Weapon X set the tone with a hit in the playoffs. In the NFC Championship game, his hit on Alge Crumpler was a tone setter for a game that seemed destined for an Eagles win. Once again, a disappointing ending would occur in the Super Bowl. With a team loaded for several years, no one thought that Brian would only get to the Super Bowl one time in his career.
While Dawkins’ career was still on a great peak, making the Pro Bowl in 2005, but the team blew up. Off the field troubles and injuries led to a disappointing 6-10 record. 2006, another banner season for Dawk, was a wild journey for the team. With the team at 5-5 and having just lost Donovan McNabb for the year, Jeff Garcia was inserted at quarterback. Garcia won five games in a row before losing a heart-breaker in the second round of the playoffs to the Saints. Dawkins and the Eagles had one more run in them before major changes occurred. After a 13-13 tie to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens crushed the Eagles 36-7. Donovan McNabb was benched at the half for Kevin Kolb. With a Thanksgiving game a few days away, Donovan was named the starter for the rest of the year. The team won three in a row with a playoff berth in reach. A devastating 10-3 loss to the Washington Redskins zapped the city and crushed the Birds’ playoff hopes. The Eagles needed to win along with loses from at least two of Chicago, Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Chicago lost to the Texans and Tampa Bay lost to the lowly Raiders. (Thank you Michael Bush). After the Ravens game, Dawkins and his defense didn’t allow more than 20 points a game in the regular season. The offense fell asleep in the first half while the defense did the same in the second half of the NFC Championship. The Cardinals won 32-25. After an impressive comeback that briefly gave the Eagles the lead, the Cardinals went right down the field and scored. Yet another near miss on the cusp of a Super Bowl appearance resulted in an awful feeling for the city and the team.
That off-season was one of the most dramatic in the franchise’s history. Brian Dawkins was a free agent and felt low-balled by the Eagles offer. The Denver Broncos signed him to a 5 year, 17 million dollar deal. It was one of the lowest points in the franchise’s history. The Broncos’ made Dawkins one of the highest paid safeties in the game based on the salary cap hit. The Eagles have been struggling for a replacement ever since. In Training Camp, Jim Johnson lost his battle with cancer taking away not only his life, but the toughness he instilled in the defense. Weapon X made the Pro Bowl in 2009 while the Eagles went 11-5 and got bounced in the first round of the playoffs against Dallas. Brian and the Broncos came to Philadelphia in December of that year. It was an emotional return for him and the fans of the city. He was introduced last and was given a wonderful standing ovation. It was the last message from the fans about their support of a Philadelphia icon.
I love Dawk as much as anyone because he embodies everything that Philadelphia wants in an athlete. I’ll never forget the hits, the interceptions and everything else about him. He is one of only two safeties in NFL history to have at least 25 career sacks and 35 interceptions. One day, I will be in Canton to watch his enshrinement in to the Hall of Fame along with thousands of other Eagles fans. I’ll admit though that I was wrong when Dawk left. I thought he was done. I still don’t blame the Eagles for overpaying for a 36-year-old safety and somehow that gets twisted into Dawkins hate. It’s not. I love Dawk. And for that I say Thank You Brian Dawkins. Thank you for the Vick Hit. Thank you the Crumpler Hit. Thank you for the suplex in Washington. Thank you for the Favre Pick. Thank you for the Texans Game. Thank you for being such a high character guy. Most importantly, Thank you for getting us. Few athletes get the Philadelphia fan base and Dawk did in every way. Philadelphia isn’t a hard city to play for. Play hard, show character, win. That’s all. Brian Dawkins had all of it. Brian, enjoy your retirement and enjoy it on your own terms. Be ready though because September 30th will be your homecoming. Your adopted home has one final thank you to say.
Article by : Warren Croxton
Editing by: Mike Orzechowski