Brian Dawkins: Career retrospective

What is there to say about Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins that hasn’t already been said? One of the hardest hitters in NFL history, Dawkins was feared by offenses across the league. His intimidating nature and unshakeable habit of making a big play at the right time made him a beloved athlete with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Denver Broncos.

Let’s take a look at the career of a beloved Philly athlete.

 

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Committing to Clemson

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Brian Dawkins is from Jacksonville, Florida. He played football at William M. Raines High School and dominated. Dawkins committed to Clemson University.

 

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Dawkins’ college career

Dawkins' college career

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Dawkins established himself as a force to be reckoned with as a three-year starter for the Clemson Tigers. He was an All-American his junior year and had three interceptions in one quarter against Duke University. The campus legend finished his college career with 251 tackles and 15 takeaways, 11 of which were interceptions. Dawkins made himself eligible for the draft after his junior year. 

The Clemson Tigers established the Brian Dawkins Lifetime Achievement Award in his honor.

 

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Dawkins arrives in Philadelphia

Dawkins arrives in Philadelphia

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The Philadelphia Eagles selected safety Brian Dawkins in the second round, 61st overall, in the 1996 NFL Draft. The six-foot, 210-pound draft prospect had everything you wanted from a safety. His outstanding college career and NFL Combine performance were only a sneak peek into how great this player would become.

 

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Making an immediate impact

Making an immediate impact

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Dawkins made an immediate impact during his rookie season. In 13 starts, Dawkins recorded 74 tackles, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and one sack. The Philadelphia Eagles finished the year with a 10-6 record. In Dawkins’ first playoff game, the Eagles lost 14-0 to the San Francisco 49ers.

 

Team struggles

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In the years that followed, the Eagles suffered back-to-back losing seasons under head coach Ray Rhodes. A 3-13 finish for the Eagles in 1998 was all she wrote for Rhodes, who was fired after the disappointing season.

Despite the team’s struggles, Dawkins played lights out for the Eagles, solidifying his role as the unsung leader of the defense. This was a role he’d excel in for the next decade. 

 

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A new era in Philly

A new era in Philly

Andy Reid, Donavan McNabb and Brian Dawkins on the sidelines.
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The Philadelphia Eagles hired a relatively unknown quarterbacks coach from the Green Bay Packers by the name of Andy Reid. Eagles fans were surprised by the hiring, especially since Reid was never a coordinator. It would go down as the best hire in Eagles’ history.

 

Weapon X

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Weapon X is Dawkins’ nickname. It’s also his alter ego. Weapon X is the Wolverine from X-Men, a Marvel comic book series. Dawkins loved X-Men. He wanted to embody the Wolverine’s intensity and relentless fighting spirit on the field.

 

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Contenders in the NFC

Contenders in the NFC

Dawkins intercepted 37 passes in his career.
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In 1999, Andy Reid’s first season ended with a 5-11 finish. It was a detour in the road toward building a winner. The Eagles rose from perennial losers into Super Bowl contenders under the leadership of Reid, franchise quarterback Donavan McNabb, and Brian Dawkins.

In the 2000s, the Eagles went to five NFC Championship Games (2001, ’02, ’03, ’04, and ’08). 

 

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The Quadrafecta Game

The Quadrafecta Game

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On Sept. 29, 2002, Dawkins made history against the Houston Texans. In what is now known as “the quadrafecta game,” Dawkins intercepted a pass, recorded a sack, recovered a fumble, and caught a touchdown pass. The standout performance is the best game of Dawkins’ career, statistically speaking.

The Eagles would go on to defeat the Texans, 35-17.

 

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Last game at Veterans Stadium

Last game at Veterans Stadium

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The 2002 Eagles went 12-4 and had all the necessary pieces to win it all. Several analysts and fans thought this would be the year the Eagles finally brought home the Lombardi Trophy to the City of Brotherly Love. The prophecy looked like it was going to be completed after a 20-6 blowout victory against the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round. The football gods, however, had different plans.

The Eagles lost to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. The Eagles had home field advantage, and it was the last game played at legendary Veterans Stadium. In a year where it seemed the stars aligned for the Eagles, they were sent home packing in their stadium.

 

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So close, yet so far

So close, yet so far

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The 2003 season was a similar story for Dawkins’ team. They dominated in the regular season and lost in the NFC Championship Game. This time, against the Carolina Panthers. 

The Philly faithful were desperate for a Super Bowl. The 2003 season marked their third straight NFC Championship Game appearance. They lost every single one. Each year, it seemed the Eagles were so close, yet so far. 

At this point in his career, Dawkins was considered one of the best safeties in the league. He was always a threat to make a game-breaking play and was in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year honors each year.

 

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Eagles win NFC Championship

Eagles win NFC Championship

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The Eagles soared to a 13-3 record in 2004, the best in the NFC. 

Dawkins helped lead the Eagles to their first NFC Championship since 1980. On a cold January day in Philly, the Eagles beat the Falcons 27-10, shutting down the Falcons’ formidable run game with Mike Vick at the lead. 

Dawkins notched five tackles and an interception in the glorious victory. He made a game-changing hit against tight end Alge Crumpler down the middle. The brutal blow was a statement that the Eagles wanted it more and were willing to fight for the win.

 

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Super Bowl loss to New England

Super Bowl loss to New England

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Super Bowl 39 was a game for the ages. Dawkins’ Eagles faced off against the New England Patriots for football immortality. 

The Patriots were looking to win their third Super Bowl in four years. The Eagles wanted to bring home the Lombardi Trophy for the first time. 

The Eagles lost a close one, 24-21. The defense stuffed Patriots legend Tom Brady all game long, but a Donavan McNabb interception late in the game sealed the deal. Dawkins had five tackles in the heartbreaking loss.

 

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Super Bowl hangover gets to the Eagles

Super Bowl hangover gets to the Eagles

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The Super Bowl hangover got to the Eagles, who went 6-10 in 2005. It was their first losing season in five years. 

Dawkins made the Pro Bowl that year after registering 80 tackles, four forced fumbles, 3.5 sacks, three interceptions, and one fumble recovery.

 

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Later years in Philly

Later years in Philly

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In his later years in Philly, Dawkins led the team to the playoffs two times in three seasons (2006-08). They lost in the Divisional Round in 2006 and the NFC Championship Game in 2008. Dawkins went to two Pro Bowls in the same span and was named First-Team All-Pro in 2006. 

Dawkins’ contract was up after the 2008 season. The Philly legend would explore his options as a free agent the following offseason.

 

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The heart and soul of the defense

The heart and soul of the defense

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Dawkins was an Eagle for 13 years. He became the heart and soul of Philly’s defense. Under defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, the Dawkins-led defense consistently ranked top ten in the league. When it comes to safeties, Dawkins was as dominant as they come. He was making plays all over the field. 

Without Dawkins, those Philly defenses would’ve been a shell of their former selves.

 

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Finishing his career with the Denver Broncos

Finishing his career with the Denver Broncos

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Dawkins tested the free agency waters and landed with the Denver Broncos in 2009. They needed a safety to come in and electrify the team. Dawkins delivered. He went to two Pro Bowls (2009, ’11) during his short tenure in the Mile High City. 

Recurring neck injuries forced the legendary safety to retire after the 2011 season at 38.

 

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Making the 2000s All-Decade Team

Making the 2000s All-Decade Team

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Dawkins was named to the 2000s All-Decade Team. Dawkins made the cut in a decade filled with superstar safeties such as Charles Woodson, Ed Reed, John Lynch, Rodney Harrison, and Troy PolamaluWeapon X’s spot on the All-Decade Team was well deserved.

 

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Member of 20-20 club

Member of 20-20 club

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The 20-20 Club is a prestigious honor among NFL defenders. The only way to enter the club is by finishing your career with 20 sacks and 20 interceptions. Dawkins earned his right into the 20-20 Club after a legendary career. The club has a short list of members, including Charles Woodson, Rodney Harrison, and Ray Lewis.

 

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The last person you’d want to see down the middle

The last person you'd want to see down the middle

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Wide receivers feared him, quarterbacks didn’t throw in his direction, and running backs ran away from him. Dawkins put fear into the eyes of every player unfortunate enough to go against him. He could stuff the run, blitz, cover the pass, and defended the deep ball. He never let anyone get behind him in coverage. Most importantly, Dawkins quickly developed a reputation as a hard hitter around the league. And of all time, as well.

 

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Accomplishments with the Eagles

Accomplishments with the Eagles

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Dawkins led the Eagles to five NFC Championship Games (2001, ’02, ’03, ’04, and ’08). He went to nine Pro Bowls. Seven were with the Eagles. Philadelphia was a team known for hard-hitting defenses when Dawkins was around. Dawkins oversaw the most successful era in the Eagles’ storied history.

 

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Winning Super Bowl as an executive

Winning Super Bowl as an executive

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Off the field, Dawkins built a great life for himself. He married Connie Dawkins in 1994, and they have four kids together. Dawkins has a strong Christian faith that guided him through his entire life.

In 2016, Dawkins was coming back to Philly. This time, as Football Operations Executive for the Eagles. In just his second year in the role, the Eagles won the Super Bowl! The win against the Patriots, whom Dawkins lost to in Super Bowl 39, was a vindicating moment for Dawkins. (He resigned from the position in the spring of 2018.)

As a family man, executive, and franchise player — the title didn’t matter — Dawkins was always a class act. He will always be cherished in Philly.

 

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Inducted into the Hall of Fame

Inducted into the Hall of Fame

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Dawkins was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2018, the same year he won the Super Bowl as an executive. The 2018 Hall of Fame class also featured Terrell Owens, his former teammate during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2004.

 

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A monumental Philadelphia athlete

A monumental Philadelphia athlete

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When you think of the best Philly athletes, Dawkins is most definitely on the list. His time in midnight green was incredible. A leader. A hard hitter. A good person off the field. A guy who played the game how it should be played. The heart and soul of the defense. Clutch playoff wins. Dawkins had the “it“ factor necessary to succeed as a Philly athlete.

 

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One of the best safeties of all time

One of the best safeties of all time

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Dawkins’s passion for the game and respect around the league will never be questioned. And maybe that’s the single best accomplishment of his entire career. Dawkins went down as one of the best safeties in NFL history. 

David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He’s a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn’t watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.



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