Connie Dawkins didn't know what to expect. Her family was flying back to Philadelphia from Colorado for some sort of Saturday news conference at the NovaCare Complex, because her husband was retiring from football. They'd been in Denver three years. This seemed like a lot to go through just to pose for pictures and talk to reporters.
"He's been gone for a while. I just said, 'I hope they haven't forgotten you.' We're in Denver, we don't hear the [Philadelphia] radio or see the papers," Connie said Saturday, after the Eagles announced they will retire Brian Dawkins' No. 20 in a Sept. 30 ceremony, honoring their all-time greatest safety, when they play the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Dawkins family walked into the auditorium Saturday, through the doorway decorated with poster-size photos of Dawk in action. They greeted about 15 former teammates who had come to honor him, along with a string of employees from across the organization. They watched the video retrospective, listened to chairman Jeffrey Lurie's lavish praise. At that point, Connie got it. She remembered where she was, who her husband was.
"The fans, they're psychotic, that's my word, and I just love it! I just missed it a lot," she said afterward, as reporters jostled for position around her outside the auditorium. "He is just as crazy as these fans. He has been like that since I've known him, in high school [in Jacksonville, where they met at 15]. . . . They love hard, he loves hard."
During the news conference, which included Dawkins' signing a ceremonial contract to retire as an Eagle, Lurie said he hopes "the whole nation" gets to see the Sunday Night Football ceremony honoring No. 20 "because there is none better, and there never has been."
Lurie also said, "I don't know if anyone has connected to the fans of this city the way Brian Dawkins has."
Dawkins, pausing several times to wipe away tears, spoke on that topic right after he honored his late defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, for shaping his guided-missile style.
"So many times, I get letters, and people asking me to sign jerseys to put in their coffins with their loved one, because they loved me so much," Dawkins said. "I thank you for welcoming me into your household. . . . Just know that I appreciate it, and I heard what you said, and I continue to hear what you're saying about your love for this team, for the people that play here, and your love for me. Believe me, that reverberates, and it comes right back to you, because I love you guys just as well."
Dawkins, 38, who spent 13 seasons with the Birds and his final three with the Broncos, said it took him a while after arriving as a second-round draft pick from Clemson in 1996 to understand and appreciate "why [the fans here] push us the way they push us. Why they get on us the way they get on us. I understood this is a city that loves hard. They'll love you. But when they get on you, they're going to get on you. You have to have thick skin through that short period. On the other side of that short period, they're going to love you again."
One of the ex-Eagles on hand was quarterback Donovan McNabb, who, like Dawkins, was making his first visit back to the team practice facility - in McNabb's case, since being traded to Washington two years ago.
McNabb said playing with Dawkins was like "playing with a guy like Michael Jordan. You see his passion, you see his determination, you see his aggression out on the football field. I was just so happy that I was on his side of things."
McNabb wanted to be there to support his friend, but he didn't want to steal the spotlight by talking about his own plans. Released by the Minnesota Vikings in December, McNabb seems to be edging toward retirement at 35. Is he done? Does he think his No. 5 might join Dawkins' No. 20?
"I'm happy that the Eagles would really go out on a limb and [retire Dawkins' number]," McNabb said. "This is not about me, it's about Brian."