CANTON, Ohio – Joe Banner never will forget his first up-close-and-personal glimpse of Brian Dawkins.
"It was the '96 Senior Bowl,'' the former Eagles president said. "We wanted to bring more physicality to the team.
"Brian was playing special teams and had two massive hits on punt coverage. I mean, this is the Senior Bowl. You're sitting there saying, 'OK, anybody laying a hit like that in the Senior Bowl, they just can't help themselves. They're a physical player and likes to be tough and intimidating.'''
As everyone knows, the Eagles ended up drafting Dawkins in the second round that year, and the physicality that Banner and the team's scouts and coaches saw that day in Mobile from the undersized "tweener'' safety from Clemson was something they'd see over and over and over during his prolific NFL career.
He earned nine Pro Bowl invitations and was a five-time all pro selection. On Saturday night, he became just the 10th safety in history – and only the eighth Eagles player — to have a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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Dawkins had predicted a long speech, but needed just a little more than 22 minutes to say his thank yous to family, coaches, teammates, doubters and Eagles fans.
"I know some of you drove all the way from Philly to be here," Dawkins said. "Listen, I have a good understanding that you don't have money just to waste. To know that you used hard-earned money you've been saving to come out here and celebrate with your boy, thank you."
Dawkins made sure to thank his two defensive coordinators with the Eagles — Emmitt Thomas and Jim Johnson. Thomas coached Dawkins his first three years in the league and helped him grow as a player and as a man.
"I called you Uncle Emmitt for a reason," Dawkins said. "Emmitt would not let me settle for average. He would not let me settle for good. He saw greatness in me that I did not see. He kept pushing. It was hard. I was angry sometimes. But he kept pushing. He made me the player that Jim Johnson got."
Dawkins blossomed under Johnson's creative guidance, going to eight Pro Bowls in 10 seasons. Johnson passed away in 2009. His widow Vicky attended Saturday night's ceremony.
"I know Jim is looking down on us," Dawkins said. "It's because of Jim and the way that he used me all over the field that I was blessed to put up the numbers that I put up."
Dawkins entered the NFL as a 'tweener. Many scouts thought he was to slow to play cornerback and too small to play safety. Even Thomas wasn't sure how he was going to use him when the Eagles first drafted him.
"I want to thank my haters," he said. "I want to thank those people that told me through other people that I wouldn't be what I am today. That I couldn't make it because I was too small or couldn't do this or do that.
"But you know those turbines that the wind pushes and you can generate energy from? That's what their words were to me. They just pushed my turbine. They gave me even more energy. My haters became my elevators. So thank you for all those who kept doubting me and told me what I couldn't do."
Dawkins made the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility, which was impressive. Because safeties always have been a tough sell when it's come to Canton.
For decades, the position was largely occupied by hard-hitting players with good ball skills, but limited speed.
They were the last line of defense. They amassed a lot of interceptions playing centerfield, but well, they weren't really considered difference-makers that an offense had to game-plan for.
That wasn't the case with Dawkins. As the lynchpin of Johnson's great Eagles defenses, he was the guy that gave offensive coordinators sleepless nights. He was the guy that teams had to account for on every single play.
He was a game-wrecker. He was a difference-maker. Yes, he was one of the game's most vicious hitters. But he was so much more than that. He redefined the safety position.
He is the only player in NFL history with more than 25 interceptions (37), forced fumbles (36) and sacks (26). Those 36 forced fumbles are 17 more than Dawkins' 2018 Hall of Fame classmate, Ray Lewis.
He was part safety, part cornerback and part linebacker. He was a sure one-on-one tackler. He could cover the other team's best wide receiver, and often did. And he might've been the best blitzing safety who ever lived.
"I can't think of another guy who played like Brian,'' said Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who was an Eagles assistant for 10 of Dawkins' 13 seasons with the team.
"He was one of the most complete football players in the last two decades of our sport,'' said Troy Vincent, a five-time Pro Bowl corner with the Eagles, and Dawkins' best friend. Vincent presented his buddy Saturday.
Said former Eagles coach Andy Reid: "Normally, it's your linebackers that do a lot of the stuff Brian did. But this was a guy who was physical enough to blitz inside and fast enough to blitz on the outside. He could cover. He could take care of the middle of the field so that people just didn't want to come across there. He did things that opened up a lot of avenues for Jim's blitz game.''
Dawkins' 37 interceptions are tied for just the 103rd most in NFL history. The only safety in the Hall of Fame with fewer is Kenny Easley (32), and he only played seven years.
"For whatever reason, when people think of safety, what's the first thing they say? Interceptions,'' Dawkins said. "Like that's the only way you can affect the game. Well, it's not.
"In my mind, you're being narrow-minded if you think that's the only way that a [safety] can affect the game. I'm living proof that you can affect the game in so many different ways.''
Dawkins didn't want to be typecast. He didn't want to be, in his words, a one-hit wonder. He modeled his game after two other safeties – fellow Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and the Dallas Cowboys' Darren Woodson.
"Not physicality-wise,'' he said. "What I loved about those guys was the way they could do multiple things. I said that's what I want to be like.
"I never wanted to be someone who was good at one thing and just OK at other things. I wanted to be consistent across the board. Every line that a defensive player can fill up, I wanted to fill up with numbers.''
He did that. Week in and week out, he did that.
"There's something special going on when you got a guy showing up in categories that the position itself doesn't even normally allow you to be in,'' Vincent said. "If you have nine KPIs – key performance indicators – there was only one number showing up in all nine categories. And that was No. 20.''
Said Reid: "Nobody did it like Dawk did. "There have been other good safeties. But Ed Reed didn't hit anybody. And (Troy) Polamalu, that was a different deal too.
"The other thing about Dawk was, he wasn't hurt a whole lot. He was the one doing the hurting. And he was still showing up.
"At 187 pounds.''