Brian Westbrook came back for this.
To smell and hear and feel glorious danger.
To play on a football field against a notorious headhunter who just happens to be his best friend in the game.
To, afterward, dress obscenely well, a monogrammed, striped pink shirt tailored to match his dark blue suit with a muted pink pinstripe; to stand, holding in both hands his personal pyramid: Bible, headphones and Brian Dawkins' autographed game jersey, still wet with sweat and soiled; to speak, humbly, about his blessings and his health and his future.
It wasn't much of a return, but that wasn't the point.
The Eagles needed answers. Westbrook needed answers.
Westbrook yesterday came back from a 5-week absence after suffering two concussions in 4 weeks. Overall, he missed seven of the previous eight games.
Would he get rung again? Would his season end, finally? His career?
Nope. Nope. And, nope.
Westbrook, wearing a new helmet with more padding, took part in about 25 plays, a few more than his coaches expected.
He looked tentative. He looked rusty. He looked spied upon; everytime he entered the game, the Broncos keyed on him.
Most importantly, afterward he looked lucid.
"He said he felt fine," coach Andy Reid said. "He doesn't lie to me."
Westbrook finished with 32 yards on nine carries and 5 yards on two receptions.
Again, that wasn't the point.
Westbrook absorbed his first contact in 41 days on the Eagles' fifth play, a 4-yard run. Linebacker Robert Ayers made the tackle, but teammate Todd Herremans appeared to deliver as much of a shot, incidentally, from the side.
"That first hit, you're always looking forward to . . . to make sure you're going to be straight," Westbrook said. "My head felt good. No headaches. No more concussions."
Later, Westbrook took a direct snap for a 3-yard dive, and Dawkins delivered a hard, late blow.
That was the point.
"I didn't really take too many big hits. I think 'Dawk' speared me a little bit. That's who he is," said Westbrook, laughing.
While he was healing his head, Westbrook actually received advice from Dawkins, a firsthand concussion expert.
"He told me to be patient. Be smart about my decision as far as football goes," Westbrook said. "That there is life after football."
Right now, for Westbrook there was not much life without football.
Westbrook started, but he split time in a mostly one-back backfield with rookie replacement LeSean McCoy and fullback Leonard Weaver. It is a rotation that is likely to remain, considering that pair carried the backfield load during the last five games the Eagles played without Westbrook – all wins, it should be noted.
Yesterday, McCoy and Weaver combined for 47 rushing yards on 13 carries and 39 receiving yards on one catch by McCoy.
Weaver loved the company.
"It's a very uplifting thing," Weaver said.
So, for Westbrook, was playing against No. 20.
Westbrook repeatedly was isolated on Dawkins, his old pal, his mentor, who now plays safety for the Broncos.
Once, in the first quarter, Dawkins blanketed him (with plenty of Dawkinsian contact) and quarterback Donovan McNabb was simply unable to get the pass to Westbrook.
Then, in the third quarter, Westbrook slipped coming out of a pattern.
"Didn't have my shoulders over my toes," Westbrook said.
Yes, the turf was soggy and loose, but balance at full speed, he said, in time, "will come."
Time, Westbrook does not have. He knows it.
He will play about as much next weekend, in Dallas, in the season finale. Then, it's playoffs.
His legs might feel fresh, but this man has had no run-up time; offseason surgeries that meant no real training camp and no preseason games. His ankle and head issues have meant virtually no in-season work. He stands at 56 carries – about three games' worth of work in 2007, his second Pro Bowl season.
His role now?
"At this point, just try to help this team no matter if I was going to be the Brian Westbrook of '06 or '07. Whatever it is, that's what I'm going to do," he said. "They don't need me to be that Brian Westbrook right now."
Significant questions remain.
"I'm going to continue to push myself to get back in that form," he vowed.
But is his ankle really sound? Is his head? Can he help?
There's 1 more week to find all of that out.
Yesterday was a first, wonderful step.