SUDDENLY, it was over.

That always has been a theme with Brian Dawkins.

Yesterday's much-anticipated conference call with "20," or "Dawk," or whatever the Eagles faithful choose to nickname the Broncos' new defensive soul, ended as abruptly as his career as an Eagle.

When the questions turned to age (how he's overcome it) and Eagles ties (how he'd like to be treated), Dawkins, characteristically, bristled. Really, in dealing with the Philly press for 13 years he never was warm, or fuzzy, or particularly sentimental; just direct, and accountable, and very, very good.

Like his play on the field.

Yesterday, again, Dawkins was curt, and direct (if not always genuine), and then, poof, gone.

He had to go to a meeting, reporters were told.

No warning. No goodbyes.

It just ended.

Sort of like how he went to Denver in February for a 5-year, $17 million contract with $7.2 million guaranteed in the first two seasons. The Eagles, having witnessed his gentle erosion from Hall of Fame caliber to simply Pro Bowl level, offered nothing comparable to the proud, 36-year-old legend of the Midnight Green.

The pride remains, if wounded.

Asked if, given his age, he felt a measure of validation returning to Philadelphia with a restructured 8-6 team with a 33-year-old, first-year coach, amassing 100 tackles along the way, he replied:

"That's for people outside to write about and talk about and try to find whatever [reason] they can - why I didn't make this specific play at a specific time in my career. I know what I still can do. And that is, bring a lot of things to this football team - on and off the field."

In reality, Dawkins repeatedly has insisted that his age should have nothing to do with evaluating his performance.

So, does he feel vindicated?

"That's for everybody else to write about and talk about. All I know is what my teammates in this locker room are saying about me. What are my coaches depending on me to do?"

They depend on him to do what he did in Philadelphia - especially from a leadership standpoint, right from the start. Right?

"They didn't hand me anything. Leadership is earned," said Dawkins . . . who was elected a team captain before the season began.

Dawkins can be forgiven abruptness. Clearly, Sunday is nothing to look forward to for him. He still routinely speaks with protégé Quintin Mikell and peer Brian Westbrook and he occasionally corresponds with fellow contrarians Sheldon Brown and Donovan McNabb. Dawkins returns to Philadelphia quickly, and successfully, but the wound from tearing himself away from his first franchise remains fresh.

"It was very emotional thing," he said. He insisted he would remember only good times. "I'm not going to [rehash it], pick on scabs. It took me a little [time]."

He was, he admitted, gladdened by the fans' outrage that he went the way of Hugh Douglas and Jeremiah Trotter, though the outrage over losing Dawkins was a hurricane, and theirs, a summer squall.

"That was expected, the outpouring of emotion. I connected with the fans there . . . in a special way," Dawkins said.

He knows what's coming, but, still, he downplayed the significance of his return - a player who will have his number retired, a player who might enter the Hall of Fame wearing a bird on his helmet.

"It's crossed my mind whatever it's going to be like," he said of his introduction Sunday afternoon - sure to be a lovefest the likes of which has not been seen at Lincoln Financial Field.

Maybe he'll give the fans a Weapon X flashback, that Wolverine crawl-and-roll?

Maybe he'll try to clam himself, stay inside until kickoff?

"I have no idea. I am who I am," he said. "Nothing's going to be preplanned. It's whatever I'm feeling. If I'm overhyped, maybe I'll need to chill out."

And what if, in the pregame ceremonies, the team asks to honor you in some way?

He was gone.