The first time Troy Vincent heard the name Brian Dawkins was in late February 1996.
Vincent was a restricted free-agent cornerback with the Miami Dolphins and was being courted by the Eagles. As part of his sales pitch to him, Emmitt Thomas, the Eagles' defensive coordinator at the time, raved to him about this fast, hard-hitting, undersized cornerback/safety from Clemson who wouldn't even be drafted by the team for another two months.
"Emmitt said, 'We think we've identified somebody who can be real special if he learns the game and we can get him under control,' " Vincent said.
"Again, they hadn't even drafted him yet. But Emmitt said, 'We believe that with the three of y'all' – he was referring to me, Bobby [Taylor] and Brian – 'we can compete with the Cowboys. We can knock the Cowboys off.' Emmitt called Brian a juggernaut. A little juggernaut.''
Vincent ended up signing with the Eagles, not so much because of Thomas' high praise for Dawkins, whom the Eagles ended up taking with the second of two second-round draft picks that year, but because he grew up in the Philly area and wanted to come home.
"I think Cincinnati actually offered him a little bit more money,'' Thomas recalled. "But he wanted to play for the Eagles. Troy was a natural leader. We had a young secondary. Bobby was young. Al Harris was young. Then we drafted Brian. Troy just gravitated into a natural leader.''
Vincent, Taylor and Dawkins ended up playing together for eight seasons, forming the nucleus of one of the best secondaries in the league during that period.
While Thomas wasn't around long enough to see it — he and the rest of Ray Rhodes' staff was fired after the '98 season — his vision of Vincent, Taylor and Dawkins becoming Cowboy killers came to fruition in their last five seasons together, when the Eagles went 8-2 against Dallas and advanced to the NFC championship game three straight times. They would make it four in a row in 2004 after Vincent and Taylor left.
Vincent, who made the Pro Bowl five straight years with the Eagles, became Dawkins' mentor and best friend. They went into the team's Hall of Fame together in 2012. And Saturday night in Canton, Ohio, Vincent will be Dawkins' presenter when he enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Troy's been a big brother to me since I got to Philadelphia,'' Dawkins said recently. "He basically took me under his wing.
"I watched how he handled himself on and off the field. How meticulous he was with his techniques. I was asked to do a lot of covering my first couple of years. I was like another cornerback. So I watched him and modeled my game in a lot of respects after how he did it, his techniques.
"Off the field, I could see what type of person he was, especially the way he handled the media. I loved the way he was able to articulate himself. He was our leader for a long period of time.''
Vincent and Dawkins became Butch and Sundance, minus the cussing and bank robbing.
"We viewed them both as very high character guys with the potential to be leaders of the team,'' former Eagles president Joe Banner said. "I don't think we brought them together with the expectation that it would become what it did. But often times, when you bring guys together that are driven that way and are team-oriented and high character, you see those types of relationships develop.''
Vincent and his wife, Tommi, are the godparents of Brian and Connie Dawkins' twin daughters, Chonni and Cionni.
Brian Dawkins and Troy Vincent grew in their faith together. They attended CAUSE (Christian Athletes United for Spiritual Empowerment) conferences in the offseason with their wives.
Dawkins remembers one in particular in the late '90s that changed his life.
"In that conference, both Troy and I really decided to walk out our faith instead of just being a church-goer, or being somebody that goes to Bible study,'' he said. "We wanted to actually live our faith and have a relationship with God instead of just having a religion with him.
"We both decided to be better fathers, better friends. To hold one another accountable for those times when we might slip up or say things. And we took that same feeling into the locker room."
Dawkins was a wild, untamed stallion when he arrived in Philadelphia. Vincent made him realize that having talent meant nothing if you didn't put in the work and make a commitment to excellence.
"His intentions to be not just good but great was always there,'' Vincent said. "He just needed to learn to be a pro.''
Vincent, who served as president of the players union for several years and now is the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, taught Dawkins things such as how to watch film and how to deal with the media.
"I was just trying to be the best example of a pro for him," Vincent said. "We were next to each other [in the locker room], and we were coming into the organization at the same time. That was part of my responsibility as a teammate.
"Brian wasn't a big talker, especially early on. His silence didn't match up with his energy. He'd say nothing in the locker room, then we'd walk 150 feet [to the practice field] and Lord have mercy. It'd be like he hit another switch.
"Then, two hours later, you'd walk the 150 feet back to the locker room and he'd go completely docile."
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Dawkins had boundless energy. He played with what he described as "controlled rage." That rage was lethal. Despite playing most of his career at no more than 190 pounds, he was one of the game's most ferocious hitters.
"It's not politically correct to say this anymore, but he was putting people to sleep," Vincent said. "At 185 pounds. You'd see snot bubbles from 250-pound tight ends when he hit them."
But Vincent warned him that he needed to pick his spots or he would burn out.
"They loved it in the [film] room," he said. "But walking back [to the locker room], I'd tell him, 'That can't keep happening.' In the steam room, in the sauna, where it's just him and I, I'd say, 'You can get him down and still live to see the next down.' "
Vincent helped Dawkins battle his demons early in his career, which included depression, thoughts of suicide, blinding migraines, drinking and an explosive temper.
"I worried for him when he was home,'' Vincent said. "He would get bad migraines. He wasn't getting a lot of sleep at night. Some of those things were carrying over to the next day.
"He would share days when he just wasn't feeling well. And not feeling well, I know what that meant. Sometimes it wasn't just 'I'm having bad migraines.'
"We would talk through things. I would say, 'Let's talk about what's on our minds. Let's talk about what we're doing. Let's talk about where the kids are.'
"And always getting back to our faith. Not just our faith, but our why. We couldn't allow ourselves to go to that place where the guy on one shoulder is saying one thing and the guy on the other shoulder is saying another thing."
After earning his fifth straight Pro Bowl invitation in 2003, Vincent left the Eagles after eight seasons and signed with Buffalo.
The Eagles wanted him to stay. They offered him the exact same deal that Buffalo did. But they had drafted a pair of cornerbacks, Lito Shepherd and Sheldon Brown, and a safety, Michael Lewis, in the first two rounds of the '02 draft, and Vincent, who was about to turn 33, felt it was time to let Dawkins fly solo as the team's defensive leader.
"I just felt it was time to exit so that Brian, Lito and, frankly, Donovan [McNabb] could take over,'' Vincent said.
"He told Brian, 'You're going to have to step up,' " Connie Dawkins said. "Troy was the person that really had gotten Brian to open up. Because he never would have done it himself.
"He was the quiet one in meetings. When he did talk, it was like E.F. Hutton. Everybody would be like, 'Huh? He's talking. We need to listen.' "
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