Spadaro: Eagles favorite Brian Dawkins headed to the hall

Dawkins was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday and was supported by thousands of Eagles fans in attendance.

By Dave Spadaro

It was late February in 2009, another lousy Super Bowl-less winter ending in Philadelphia, and it became a whole lot worse when word leaked that Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, a beloved figure for 13 seasons here, was signing a three-year contract with the Denver Broncos. The fans in the region, deservedly, were crazy with anger.

That the Eagles allowed the heart and soul of the franchise to leave in free agency was inexcusable and unthinkable and irrational. The Eagles, simply put, thought Dawkins, at the age of 35, was too far past his prime to invest in his future. And that angered every fan right down to the bone.

Fortunately, time healed this wound. Dawkins played three seasons in Denver and then retired after the 2011 season. The Eagles immediately inducted Dawkins into the franchise’s Hall of Fame and retired his jersey №20. Ultimately, Dawkins returned to the organization to work in the personnel department and the team and the individual kissed and made up and the fans embraced the reconciliation, and everyone has gone back to happy, happy.

And now the crowning moment for Dawkins, for the Eagles and for the fans: Dawkins is to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday and he will be supported by thousands of Eagles fans in attendance in Canton, Ohio. A fan base that suffered for 57 years is suddenly living a charmed life: Dawkins was named to the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class on Feb. 3, and the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots on Feb. 4 to win the Super Bowl.

As the region has celebrated since that historic night, Dawkins’ enshrinement on Saturday adds to the party. Never before had a player touched a fan base as Dawkins has with the Eagles’ faithful — his emotional, fearless and intelligent approach to the game resonated with the blue-collar, championship-starved fan base, and his big-play abilities as the get-the-ball player in coordinator Jim Johnson’s Eagles defense changed the way the NFL played its safeties.

Back before Dawkins came along, safeties were simply smaller versions of linebackers. They played closer to the line of scrimmage and were largely judged by their ability to crush opposing running backs as they came through the hole. But then Dawkins entered the league and after him Ed Reed (Baltimore) and Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh) and suddenly the safety was a more versatile player who had to cover receivers and run sideline to sideline and blitz and, yes, fill the hole and take on 220-pound running backs.

And Dawkins was better than any of them.

“Truly a game-changing and generational football player,” Eagles Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie says of Dawkins. “He played with incredible energy and passion.”

For his part, Dawkins is reveling in the moment. The past is forgiven. He has his Super Bowl ring and he’s soon to have his Hall of Fame jacket. All is good.

“This is a thrill of my lifetime. I loved every minute of playing in Philadelphia. This honor, this is for them and for my coaches and my teammates,” Dawkins said. “I wouldn’t be here without all of that, all of them. I’m truly blessed.”

We celebrate Dawkins this weekend and remember everything that he’s meant on and off the field. The true Philadelphia Eagle goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and no player deserves it as much, or will enjoy it more, than Brian Dawkins. Sometimes, fairytale endings do happen, and in this case, that’s exactly how it played out. ••