PHILADELPHIA _ You can reduce Brian Dawkins' career to numbers on a sheet of paper, if that is your preference: Pro Bowls (eight), sacks (26), interceptions (37), forced fumbles (37). For some, that undoubtedly is all he was. Even the people who saw him on television sometimes, while living in Yuma or Utah or the Yukon, and saw the way he could simultaneous unite one team while dismembering the other, did not entirely understand.
You really did have to be here.
As arguments go, it is kind of weak. That much, I know. And if the day comes when it is clear that Dawkins will not be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it is the only ammunition I will have. Because the numbers, as impressive as they are, do not do the man justice. The video, as pulverizing at it can be, is necessarily episodic. It is highlights. It is not enough.
You had to live it.
You had to breathe it to understand.
At his best _ and Dawkins was probably at his best for about a decade, a ridiculous amount of time for a person playing such a lethal position _ this was a man who changed football games. He was the versatile safety of a defensive coordinator's dreams, a good runner and a historic hitter _ Ed Reed before there was an Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu before there was a Troy Polamalu. It is more than the numbers, impressive as they are, and more than the longevity _ 13 years with the Eagles, three more with the Denver Broncos.
Hopefully, in five or so years, a Hall of Fame selection committee that has never really liked safeties very much can be made to understand.
"That would be awesome, it really would," Dawkins, 38, said Monday, the day he announced his retirement from football. "I didn't come into the league saying that I wanted to be a Hall of Famer. It was something that you see other people doing, and it would be nice, but I honestly didn't come into the league saying that I was going to be a Hall of Fame player. I was just going to go out and hopefully earn a job and do my thing in the NFL.
"Here I am now, 16 years later, having been able to accomplish some things along the way. If my number and name is called on that day, it'll be a blessing. I'll celebrate it with the coaches, teammates and fans who rooted me on all those years. It'll be a blessed day for not only my family members and myself, but for a lot of people."
Key words: "for a lot of people."
The Brian Dawkins Experience was always a shared experienced. It was the essence of the thing. He did those crazy introductory gyrations, and they were most definitely his own personal show, but every bit of the rest of it was a duet: him and us.
We live in a world where people crave transparency and authenticity and a peek behind the curtain _ and that was what Dawkins gave the fans of Philadelphia, every damn day. He could be great on a play, he could get beat on a play, he could change an entire game on a play, and it was the same. He was giving you everything he had, and you knew he was giving you everything he had. You never doubted it, not for a second, not once _ not when he was playing, not when he was on the sideline, never.
The man played 183 games for the Eagles. That is 658,800 seconds, give or take.
"One of the things that I've been blessed with or cursed with is I played with all of my emotions on my sleeve and you can kind of read me pretty easily by the way I'm feeling on game day," Dawkins said. "I like to try my best to not disappoint people. I purposely try and go out and do my best to make sure my coaches, teammates and fans know that I gave it my all on the football field.
"With me playing as long as I did in Philadelphia, I heard what they said. I didn't just hear it _ I heard and listened to what they said. I felt the pain they had from past failures and the way they are treated sometimes in the media. I heard those things, and I took it to heart and I understood them.
"The thing that I always wanted to do is to go out and put a certain product on the field, to have those certain entities proud of me when the game was over," he said. "Hopefully, I have poured everything emotionally and physically out on the field."
It is what we saw and felt _ and especially felt.
You really did have to be here.
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