The sweat had barely dried on his skin when Brian Dawkins sent Quintin Mikell a text message Sunday. Denver had just beaten Dallas after the Broncos' defense denied Tony Romo a couple of strikes into the end zone. Dawkins was pumped, as the television cameras showed.

He still hates the Cowboys. And he still loves the Eagles.

You're welcome, Dawkins texted his former protégé. You're welcome.

It's been seven months since Dawkins had to say goodbye to the only franchise he had ever known. After 13 years in Philadelphia, it wasn't easy to leave, and as so often happens in these cases, there were, and still are, raw feelings.

While Dawkins is a Bronco now, wearing an orange-and-blue uniform with a No. 20 that still doesn't look quite right on one of the greatest players ever to don an Eagles jersey, he hasn't forgotten his Philly family. He still talks, usually via text message, with Mikell - a player he groomed to play the safety position with reckless abandon - and with Brian Westbrook, and, on occasion, Donovan McNabb.

But Dawkins is happier than he ever imagined he would be with the Broncos. His team is 4-0. He's a starter, with significant responsibility well beyond being a veteran team leader. The Denver defense, often criticized before the season, ranks second in the league in fewest yards allowed (sandwiched, interestingly enough, between the New York Giants at No. 1 and the Eagles at No. 3).

And, perhaps best of all, Dawkins, who got a monster five-year, $17 million deal, never gets criticized for being old. Ever. Even though he'll turn 36 next week.

"No matter what mistakes I made, it was always because of my age," Dawkins said. "If we allowed Q to cover a tight end, it was because of my age. Whatever happened, it was because of my age. It was something I had to get used to. I tried not to listen and just go out and play. . . .

"Here, it's different. When I go out and play, they aren't talking about my age. They're saying, 'We just expect Brian Dawkins to do certain things for this football team.' "

Dawkins said that the Broncos and Mike Nolan, in his first season as their defensive coordinator after coaching the San Francisco 49ers the last three seasons, had asked more of him than Jim Johnson did in the last few years here.

"They said, 'We want you to come here because we believe you're a playmaker,' " Dawkins said. " 'You are a leader, and we want you because of that, but we [also] want you because of your production and to help us win ball games.' They weren't just words."

So far, it has worked out for Dawkins. He's playing with longtime cornerback Champ Bailey and strong safety Renaldo Hill. The Broncos are third in the league in passing defense and fifth against the run. They're one of five remaining undefeated teams, and this Sunday will host the New England Patriots in what should be an emotional game for first-year coach Josh McDaniels, a former Bill Belichick assistant.

Dawkins knows that down the road he'll see the Eagles. He knows that he'll be a mess for that one in late December. So many memories, most good, a few bad. (He didn't care to discuss the bad, including his departure.)

"I miss the guys; that's just me," Dawkins said. "That was a part of me for 13 years. I've always said that I am a Philly-grown Bronco right now. I grew up in Philadelphia. They raised me from a pup. The fans did. The coaches did. Now I'm grown, playing for the Denver Broncos, doing what I do."

Including beating the Cowboys.

"Make sure you tell those Philly fans hello," Dawkins said, "and you're welcome."