My Brian Dawkins moment happened on Friday, November 4, 2005. I know the date only because it was the same day Terrell Owens issued one of the most unconvincing apologies in American history after saying on national television that, among other things, the Eagles might be undefeated if they had Brett Favre as their quarterback instead of Donovan McNabb.
This was my first time inside the NovaCare gates and my introduction to the circus that can be the Philadelphia Eagles. For all the drama that was unfolding in the auditorium, it is what I saw before I even left my car that made a lasting impression.
Right after I parked a sleek four-door sedan pulled in about 10 yards in front of me. This was definitely a player. I was new to the game, this was pretty damn surreal, and I wasn’t moving until I found out who it was. Turns out, I would have to wait a while.
The driver side door cracked open. Then for some time, nothing. The door was slowly pushed out. A foot eased its way past the frame and gingerly to the ground. Eventually, another. A hand grabbed the door frame for support, and a beat later, a head emerged. It was Brian Dawkins.
After some struggle, the safety eventually pulled himself out of the car, then deliberately made his way to the back of the vehicle to get his things out of the trunk. There was a long pause between each movement to gather strength for the next. Every twitch looked painful.
This was a Friday. Dawkins, if memory serves, wasn’t on the injury report. He played that Sunday against the Redskins and led the team with seven tackles and a forced fumble in a 17-10 loss.
“I really feel like I played the game the way that they would love to play if they had a chance to,” Dawkins said yesterday, meeting with reporters in advance of the ceremony to have his No. 20 jersey retired. “If a fan got a chance to go on the football field, what would you do? How excited would you be before the game? Would you do a flip? Would you crawl? Would you do those things? Probably so, because you’re so excited to play those games. If you had the chance and you had the mindset and you had the skill and you had the courage to hit one of these dudes full speed, would you do it? Absolutely they would do it. So I feel I played the game in such a way that they can see themselves in me.
“I think all of that kind of invited them to see things from my vantage point, which I must admit was a crazy man sometimes. But I can dig it. I love it.”
The fans will zap back to Dawk’s vantage point once again on Sunday night when he is honored at halftime. Now 38, Dawkins said he has zero idea how he will react: He could morph into the maniac of Sundays past, or he could be a mushy “tear machine.” Either way it will be raw and uncensored, and he’ll have the crowd on bended knee because of it.
For some time after watching Dawkins in the parking lot that day, I concluded that this was a player’s reality. That they put their bodies through so much that they can hardly move, yet find the will to make it back out there the following week. There is some truth to that; it is where the nobility of the sport is found. But to this day, I have never seen a site like I saw in November of 2005. That was a whole other level of self-sacrifice.
On Friday, I asked Dawkins what it was like to pull through the NovaCare gates once more this weekend. To make that right turn into the parking lot, get out of the car and walk towards old reality.
“God, for a brief second…you remember coming in, I’m about to go to the locker room and prepare myself for the game. Like I left something, I was coming back to get something before I head off to get ready for the game Sunday,” said Dawkins. “For a brief second as we were driving down…”
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WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Mark Meany’s remembrance of Dawkins’ encounter with an ailing Gary Papa deserves to stand alone.
Dawkins emerged from the locker room barely able to walk, his face clearly reflecting the pain he was in. He asked me where we were going to do the interview. I explained that Gary was waiting for him, but it was a long walk to the other side of the stadium. That was as far as Gary could make it before he needed to sit and rest.
A quick discussion ensued between myself, Dawkins and Eagles media relations manager Ryan Nissan. It was quickly determined that Dawkins was too hurt to make the walk. We would have to cancel the interview. That is, until I said one simple thing to Dawkins, “Gary’s in bad shape, he’s having a really rough day.”
Dawkins looked me in the eye and said, “Let’s go.”
The walk down the hallway through the bowels of Giants Stadium took forever. Dawkins was limping and silent the entire way. We finally got to Gary, who was sitting down and still gathering his strength. Dawkins walked up to Gary and helped him out of the chair.
Then the two embraced.
Both men, two of the toughest I’ve ever met, began to sob in each other’s arms. It went on for what seemed like forever. I then noticed that through the entire embrace, Dawkins was whispering in Gary’s ear. I’m not sure that whispering can be described as intense, but that’s what this was.
Dawkins was giving Gary a pep talk, a pregame speech before a tough game. It was vintage Dawkins.
The Eagles have a mock game in their last bit of preparation before Sunday’s game under the lights against the Giants. Dawkins is expected to address the team.