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John Smallwood: Dawkins honored, humbled to have his No. 20 retired by Eagles

The only reasons you can't go home again are if someone won't open the door or you never try.

"I learned too much here. I grew into a man here," Brian Dawkins said about his time in Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)
"I learned too much here. I grew into a man here," Brian Dawkins said about his time in Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)Read more

The only reasons you can't go home again are if someone won't open the door or you never try.

The only way to make a mistake even worse is if you never try to correct it.

Fortunately, both Brian Dawkins and the Eagles realized that immediately, so Sunday's ceremony retiring Dawkins No. 20 will go off without a hint of awkwardness.

"Not for me," Dawkins said Friday at the NovaCare Center when asked whether not spending his entire career as an Eagle diminishes anything about the tribute. "I had too much, too much fun [in Philadelphia], too many great years.

"I learned too much here. I grew into a man here. There are so many great things about being here that I don't care where I would have played after that. The time here could never be diminished. There is nothing that could take away even a small part of what I had here."

Everybody knows how the ceremony should go down at halftime of the Eagles game with the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field.

The beloved safety - who becomes the eighth Eagle to have his number retired, joining Steve Van Buren (15), Tom Brookshier (40), Pete Retzlaff (44), Chuck Bednarik (60), Al Wistert (70), Reggie White (92) and Jerome Brown (99) - should be honored for having never worn anything except Eagles green.

Sadly, it won't happen that way.

The fact that Dawkins played the final three seasons of his 16-year career with the Denver Broncos cannot be erased.

The Eagles know they messed up by letting Dawkins sign with Denver as a free agent in 2009.

Despite the wear and tear on Dawkins, they drastically miscalculated his value on the open market.

They criminally miscalculated his presence and leadership in their locker room, which is why they're still searching for his replacement as a player and presence.

But that is water under the bridge.

Not even former Eagles president Joe Banner, the man given most of the blame for letting Dawkins go, draws a negative thought.

"I saw [Banner] and his family at Disney World," Dawkins said. "I gave him a hug. The thing about grudges is that if you hold them too long, they began to eat you up.

"It is something I had to pray to get over, but. at the end of the day, I knew [Banner] and his family outside of football."

The business side of sports rarely allows for the dream scenario in which the beloved warrior evolves from rookie to star to valued veteran all with one organization.

As Dawkins said, however, it doesn't matter.

What the Eagles are doing Sunday makes up for everything.

Remember, this isn't just an induction into the Eagles Hall of Fame. There have been 35 people and two teams (the 1948 and 1949 world champions) so honored.

But this will be only the eighth time the organization will proclaim that no other Eagle will ever wear that number again.

And when you remember some of the players who have come through this franchise since Jeffrey Lurie became the owner in 1994, take note that Dawkins, who was selected out of Clemson in the second round of the 1996 NFL draft, is the first player from the Lurie era to be so honored.

It happened quickly. In 2011, Dawkins, 38, played the last of his three seasons with the Broncos. Less than a year later, the Eagles are hanging his number in the rafters.

There is no measure of respect greater than that.

And that's what matters.

A lot of special names are from the Lurie era - Donovan McNabb, Jon Runyan, Jeremiah Trotter, Troy Vincent, Brian Westbrook - but none represented all the attributes Eagle fans aspired for this franchise better than Dawkins.

To the fans, saying a player bled Eagle green is not something to be taken lightly.

Everyone knows that Brian Dawkins bled Eagles green.

"I just don't know what mood I will be in," Dawkins said, looking toward Sunday and his reunion with Eagles fans. "Will I kick into game mode or will I go all mushy, a tear machine?

"I don't know. All I know is that it's going to be an awesome time. Last time I checked, this is not a normal thing for guys to get their number retired, especially when they are still young - I consider myself to be young - and alive."

It's not just a random number to Dawkins.

Dawkins is a second child, and he said he's always loved the No. 2 because of that.

But at Clemson, he wore 34 and then 39 until Larry Ryans graduated, and Dawkins got No. 20, which also was the number of his favorite player, Detroit Lions star running back Barry Sanders.

When he entered his first training camp with the Eagles, Dawkins was No. 24 for three preseason games.

Then kick returner Vaughn Hebron got cut and Dawkins' prized No. 20 became his again.

"I had to muster up the courage to go ask [former equipment manager Rusty Sweeney] if I could have a new number," Dawkins said. "You couldn't ask Rusty for anything. With a scowl, he said, 'All right.' "

The Eagles had unofficially pulled 20 out of the pool of player numbers, since no player has worn it since Dawkins played his final down in midnight green in 2008.

Now, no future Eagle ever can.

"In the biggest sport in [the United States], in one of the biggest markets and with one of the best teams in the NFL, my number is going to be retired," Dawkins said, his voice cracking. "I still can't believe . . . "

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