Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, who spent the final three years of his career with the Broncos much to the chagrin of Eagles fans, has announced his retirement from the NFL. Since the news is not a surprise, the accolades began to pour in instantly. Rich Hofmann writes that the next stop for Dawkins is the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Jeff McLane writes that the Eagles have issued an invitation for Dawkins to come back to Philadelphia and officially retire as an Eagle. Ashley Fox, who was a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer before she was our NFL columnist, recalls that newspaper ranking Dawkins the fifth-greatest Eagle of all time when it did an issue some years back on the 75th anniversary of the team.
"He was the perfect match of personality with the fan base," Ashley said this morning when I called her looking for help on a Dawkins retirement post. "Because he cared as much as they did. He gave it all up on game day and became this hard-hitting enforcer even though that really wasn't his personality off the field."
Eagles fans, players and coaches loved Dawkins. One of the most popular questions I got from Eagles fans over the past year was whether they'd ever consider bringing him back. In spite of drafting safeties in the second round of each of the last two drafts, the Eagles have not been able to fill the on-field and off-field voids left by Dawkins when he was allowed to leave via free agency following the 2008 season.
Players who are parts of championship teams tend to be the players who are universally loved forever by that team's fans. Rare is the player who makes that kind of indelible mark without the aid of a championship ring. Don Mattingly with the Yankees springs to mind, adored by fans for whom he was the one shining light in a rare down era. Maybe Dan Marino with the Dolphins, for his sheer excellence. Dawkins is such a player in Philadelphia. I imagine the ovation for him whenever he shows up at an Eagles game will be deafening. He made his mark in Philadelphia, which has missed him for three years and seemingly always will.