CANTON, Ohio – Eagles fans are descending upon this eastern Ohio hamlet this weekend, much like they did Minneapolis in February, much like they do everywhere that their football team happens to be playing.
There is no Eagles game this weekend, but there is something every bit as significant: Brian Dawkins is entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
If you aren't one of the several thousand that flew here or made the 6 ½-hour drive across the Keystone state for the Saturday night induction ceremony and are going to tune in to the broadcast of the 7 p.m. ceremony on ESPN or NFL Network, you no doubt will be treated to quite a few E-A-G-L-E-S chants during the course of the evening.
"We've talked to so many fans on the radio that are making the trip out there,'' said 94WIP's Ike Reese, who played with Dawkins for seven years. "And you know Eagles fans. Whenever they show up, we gotta be seen and heard.
"He's probably going to get the loudest cheers out there. I can't wait for his speech.''
If the Eagles winning the Super Bowl in February was the next best thing to heaven, Dawkins' Hall of Fame induction is the next next best thing.
The nine-time Pro Bowl safety is the most beloved player in the history of the franchise. There really isn't a close second. Not Chuck Bednarik. Not Steve Van Buren. Not Reggie White. No one. A pretty good case can be made that he is the most popular player in the history of Philadelphia sports.
His style of play, which he liked to call "controlled rage,'' along with the whole "Weapon X'' persona, endeared him to Eagles fans like no other player ever has and probably ever will. Every week, for 60 minutes, he was them and they were him.
"I played with my emotions on my sleeve,'' Dawkins said Friday when asked about his connection with Eagles fans. "The other thing I think they recognized was, I never made excuses.
"If I made a mistake, I was not going to be a repeat offender of that mistake. They could boo me for something, but they knew they were not going to have to boo me again because I wasn't going to make that mistake again.''
Actually, Dawkins may be the first player in the history of Philadelphia sports who never was booed. Given that Philly is considered one of the toughest sports towns in America, that's nothing short of a miracle.
"I was around Philly a long time,'' said Dawkins' former teammate, Troy Vincent, who will present his best friend Saturday night at the induction ceremony.
"There are only a handful of athletes whose personality actually represented the body of the community. Brian was one of them. He was a blue-collar, hard-hat, lunch-pail, go-to-work-every-single-day guy.''
Said Dawkins: "I love Eagles fans. Yeah, they're crazy. They're twisted in some ways. But I love 'em. Because I'm the same way. There's a lot of parts of me that are twisted in a lot of different ways.
"Eagles fans and myself, we fit. Like hand in glove, we fit.''
Jeffrey Lurie knows what that intense fan love for Dawkins is like. The Eagles owner has it. Calls Dawkins "probably my favorite player of all time.''
Lurie never has seen a player and fans feed off of each other the way Dawkins and Eagles fans fed off of each other during his 13 seasons in Philadelphia.
"He had a love for the game of football and everything around it,'' Lurie said. "He gave that love to the fans and the fans gave it to him.
"During a game, you could almost feel it shifting back and forth between him and them. It's one of the rarest things I've seen like that.
"Maybe Brett Favre had it in Green Bay, I don't know. But every fan knew how much Brian loved the sport. He loved it as much as they did watching it. It was a match made in heaven. That's rare.''
Reese's background as both, a former player and now, a talk-show guy, has given him a pretty good feel for the level of affection that Philadelphia sports fans have for Dawkins.
"It was really unique,'' he said. "I witnessed what the fan base was like with Allen Iverson. That certainly was a special relationship.
"I was down in Atlanta with Michael (Vick). He was almost like a folk hero there. But I don't know that it was a two-way street like it was here with Dawkins and the fans.
"I don't mean that in a negative way. It's just that he was a superstar, and sometimes it's hard for a superstar to connect with the fan base the way the fan base wants you too.
"With Dawk, a player of his magnitude in a city like Philadelphia that loves its football team the way that they do, to watch him develop and grow into sort of a man-of-the-people type of player and personality, it was awesome to see. It's something you just don't often see in every day sports.''
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Dawkins' affection for EaglesNation was evident Friday, first at an afternoon group photo opportunity outside the entrance to the Hall of Fame, and again later in the day as he entered the Canton Civic Center for the Enshrinees Gold Jacket Dinner. Hundreds of Eagles fans turned out to greet him at both places, and Dawkins stopped and celebrated with them. He said this weekend is about them as much as it is about him.