In the 10 seasons I've covered the Eagles, there has been one star player that EVERYBODY liked and respected.
That man, Brian Dawkins, announced his retirement Monday via Twitter.
"The Lord has blessed me to play in the NFL for 16 years," Dawkins said. "I would like to thank the Eagles & the Broncos for believing in me. I would like to thank all my teammates & coaches that I have been blessed 2 go to battle with. Along with u, the fans 4 helping make my career 1 that I have enjoyed tremendously. In other words, I am announcing my retirement from the NFL. #BBTB"
Dawkins, who turns 39 in October, was an Eagle from 1996 to 2009, when he signed with Denver. He became a free agent after the 2011 season.
Dawk had a long and illustrious NFL career, should make the Hall of Fame, and will be honored by the Birds at the Sept. 30 home game against the Giants. The league will really miss him.
The Eagles have offered one of those one-day contract deal so Dawk can retire as an Eagle. Dawkins told a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters this afternoon that he hadn't decided on whether to do that yet. He acknowledged "you still remember" the bitterness over his departure, even thought he said he has forgiven that, "there still is pain there."
Asked why he connected so well with fans here, Dawk said: "You could kind of read pretty easily my feelings on gameday ... I heard what they said, I listened and I heard it ... I took 'em to heart and I understood 'em."
As the Eagles noted in a press release, Dawkins finished his Eagles career in 2008 as the franchise's all-time leader in games played (183) and interceptions (34), while earning seven Pro Bowl berths, five All-Pro selections and averaging nearly 100 tackles per year along the way. Only Chuck Bednarik made more trips to the Pro Bowl in an Eagles uniform. Two Pro Bowl berths with Denver followed.
Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie called Dawk one of his favorite players and one of the greatest leaders in the history of the franchise.
Asked about his legacy, Dawkins said he "absolutely enjoyed my time ... I wanted it to be one where teammates and fans I had the pleasure to play with or in front of said 'he gave everything he had to the last drop.' "
One thing you find when you start hanging around NFL locker rooms, you're going to hear a lot about God and Jesus. Sometimes this is really tiresome, as when someone like Terrell Owens opines that he knows God really loves him because he made T.O. so much more awesome than the rest of us. Or when somebody makes it seem that it was "God's will" they didn't get into the end zone, instead of their own fault.
But from the two-locker suite at the left front of the room, one side of which was given over mostly to Marvel Wolverine memorabilia, the emphasis on the almighty never chafed. This was a guy who practiced what he preached, was absolutely humble and sincere, serene and wise during the week, but a guided missile on game day.
I don't think there has ever been an athlete in Philadelphia who "got" the fans better than Dawk, and that visceral connection went both ways. No. 20 jerseys still abound at Eagles games, as they should; that number stands for something that unlike most of the present player numbers, can never be altered by a poor series of games or a contract dispute or a trade.
Retiring jerseys is problematic in the NFL these days, because only a small range of numbers is allowed at each position, and every time you retire one, you further restrict what's available. Nonetheless, No. 20 oughta be off-limits, for good. I doubt the Birds will ever find someone worthy of that legacy.