Why is Philadelphia so in love with Brian Dawkins?
Think about it. You don't exactly admire Brian Dawkins, and you don't exactly respect him — at least, you don't only admire and respect him. You feel a certain sort of love; something much more than simple affinity for a guy who represented the Eagles in seven Pro Bowls.
This is a different sort of love; a deeper sort.
You appreciate Brian Dawkins. You appreciate what he stands for, because it is so patently Philadelphia. You appreciate unvarnished sincerity. You appreciate the pursuit of validation.
The raw outpouring of emotion in the weeks approaching and in the week since the enshrinement of Dawkins into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was so ardent that it merited further examination. Why is he so special?
Because, like Philadelphia, Dawkins will tell you how he feels, about himself and about you. It might make you uncomfortable, but that's Dawkins, and that's Philly. Who else gives you unvarnished sincerity? Your husband? Wife? Mother? Your very best friend? Maybe, if you're lucky. But constant, unvarnished sincerity from a millionaire star athlete in a caustic, cynical, cannibalistic city such as Philadelphia is a dangerous policy. It is a policy Dawkins used since the day he was drafted in the second round in 1996.
Because, since Dawkins embodied Philadelphia — the ultimate chip-on-its-shoulder city — Dawkins needed validation, too. This is the Eagles' town, and the Eagles won a Super Bowl. Dawkins got the call to the Hall. He's a safety, and only six others had made it. Dawkins was sandwiched between the 49ers' Ronnie Lott, who has four rings, and the Seahawks' Earl Thomas, who has one, just like Ed Reed, Dawkins' contemporary and future Hall mate. For much of Dawkins' career he wasn't even the most accomplished safety in Pennsylvania. Steelers fans will argue that Troy Polamalu, a two-time champion, was head-and-shoulders better than Dawkins. The argument for Dawkins' Hall of Fame worthiness often ended with his ring-less finger.
Dawkins, meanwhile, comported himself with typical dignity. He never campaigned for the Hall, and all arguments against him died their worthless death Feb. 3 in Minneapolis. The next day, as a member of the Eagles' front office, he won a Super Bowl ring. That's a lot of validation in one weekend.
The records show that the Eagles drafted Dawk in the second round, but he really was a third-round pick. In a 30-team league, the Eagles drafted Dawkins 61st overall as a compensatory pick, compensation for losing Seth Joyner to free agency in 1994. Dawkins also was the fifth safety selected in 1996. None of that set well with Dawkins.
Dawkins' arrival wasn't close to being the most significant addition, or even the most significant addition in the defensive backfield. That was Troy Vincent, whom the Eagles signed away from the Dolphins as a restricted free agent. Vincent immediately became the defense's biggest star, the locker room's loudest voice, and Dawkins' big brother. By the time Vincent left, after the 2003 season, he left those reins in Dawkins' hands. There was never a cross word between the two, but anyone who's had a big brother who casts a big shadow, things change when the shadow goes away. For those of us fortunate enough to witness Vincent nurture Dawkins for eight years, watching Vincent unveil Dawkins' bust and watching Vincent help Dawkins don the gold jacket was especially moving.
What he said afterward sounded familiar.
"I want to thank my haters," he said during his speech. "I want to thank those people who told me through other people that I couldn't make it because I was too small, because I couldn't make it, because I couldn't do this, that or the other. … Guess what their words were to me? They just pushed my turbine, so my haters became my elevators. They helped me out. So thank you to those who kept doubting me, who told me what I couldn't do."
That is a sanitized and personalized version of Jason Kelce's speech on the Art Museum steps. Argue among yourselves who dressed better.
>> IMAGE GALLERY: Brian Dawkins through the years
Dawkins also said his crippling fear of failure drove him, and that translated into an almost scary intensity. Dawkins is unfailingly kind, but being around him is like entering a room infused with the essence of Adderall. Every game, every play, every hit, every action, every word carries weight. Every second carries consequence. Everything is important.
"I have a healthy dose of fear of letting you down," he said, his voice cracking. "That's why I went so doggone hard. I never wanted to let you down. I didn't. I gave everything I had down to the last drop for you because I loved you to the last drop. So thank you."
That sort of pressure can break a man. It almost did. Do you appreciate Dawkins more, in this moment, because of his transparency concerning his mental struggles? Perhaps; but, while his discussion of his depression was more complete and more compelling in this latest telling, he has long been forthcoming about his troubled mind.
Which is why we appreciate Dawkins so much. He is always like this — to your benefit.
Dawkins speaks about his depression because he wants you to conquer yours. He talks about outperforming expectations because he wants you to outperform yours.
He is an instinctive leader. He is what we all aspire to be.
No one appreciates that more than Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.
"His speech, I think, kind of, just — was so Dawk," Lurie said. "It was vulnerable, passionate, genuine, honest. It's what makes him a great person, but also made him a Hall of Fame football player. Just being so genuine in the end, just so real and vulnerable."
A lot like Philly.