Veteran safety Brian Dawkins retiring from NFL

By Arnie Stapleton

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 23 2012 9:15 p.m. MDT

FILE - This Sept. 12, 2011 file photo shows Denver Broncos defensive back Brian Dawkins (20) flying towards Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell (8) during an NFL football game in Denver. Dawkins is retiring from the NFL after 16 seasons. Dawkins posted the news on his Twitter account Monday, April 23, 2012, thanking the teams he played for, his coaches and teammates and fans. Dawkins spent his first 13 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and his last three with the Denver Broncos.

Jack Dempsey, File, Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Brian Dawkins says his head told him to retire, not his neck.

The veteran safety called Denver Broncos coach John Fox on Monday morning to tell him that after plenty of prayer and reflection, he'd decided that 16 seasons in the NFL was enough.

Then, Dawkins announced his retirement on Twitter, where he quickly began trending as fans worldwide expressed their admiration for the mild-mannered family man who transformed himself into a ferocious football player on Sundays.

Well-known by his alter-ego "Wolverine," and for his passionate, energetic play for 13 years in Philadelphia and three in Denver, Dawkins was one of the greatest to ever play his position, and nobody played safety in the NFL longer than he did.

Dawkins, 38, said he felt he had another year left in him after recovering from a serious neck injury that sidelined him for the stretch run and playoffs last season. But he instead fulfilled one final wish from his NFL bucket list: walking away from the game he loves before being betrayed by a battered body or one too many trips around the sun.

"It's probably going to sound crazy, but you know the fact that I could play another year gave me a lot of peace to say that this is it," Dawkins said.

Broncos boss John Elway said he wanted Dawkins to play in 2012 but never pressured him to return.

"It's always tough to take that final step," Elway said. "He'll be missed. He did so many tremendous things for the Broncos, not only on the field, but his leadership off the field was something that we'll always be grateful for."

Dawkins said the offseason additions of quarterback Peyton Manning and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio forced him to pray a little longer on his future.

He insisted his neck didn't enter the equation, though. He said the nerve had regenerated and he was fine.

"My body feels good. It really does. My neck, that nerve area is cool, nothing's wrong with it," he said. "My strength is back where it was and my knees, things don't ache like they do during the season when I'm walking up and down the steps."

Dawkins said he felt great peace over his decision.

Dawkins said he wasn't sure whether he'd sign a one-day deal with his old team to ceremoniously retire from the team that drafted him in the second round out of Clemson in 1996, but one thing's for sure: he's staying in Denver, where he hopes to help coach high school football in the fall.

"I'll raise my kids here," he said. "This is a beautiful spot."

He also has a soft spot in his heart for Philly, where he plans to meet with the media on Saturday.

For 13 years, he was the heart and soul of the Eagles' defense.

"The NFL will miss a player as talented, ferocious, and determined as Brian Dawkins," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He was one of the most dedicated and hardest working players I have ever coached. Whether it was on the practice field, the film room or the weight room, Brian always put in the extra hours it took to become the star player that he was. And he transferred all of that and more onto the field on Sundays."

Dawkins finished his career in Philadelphia in 2008 as the franchise's leader in games played (183) and interceptions (34) while spearheading a defense that made the Eagles perennial championship contenders.

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