June 01, 2015
A nine-time Pro Bowler, Brian Dawkins was without a doubt one of the greatest players to ever wear an Eagles uniform. And in the wake of legendary linebacker Chuck Bednarik's passing, we asked fans to vote on the greatest living player in team history.
The results were not surprising, as Dawkins blew away the competition, receiving 68 percent of the votes, twice as much as the rest of the field ... combined.
You can read the full story on Dawkins, his career, and his special relationship with the fans, here, but below is a full transcript of our interview with the future hall-of-famer:
“That’s an absolute blessing. It’s not something you set out to do when you first started playing the game. And I’m no different. It’s not something I set out to do. I just wanted to be my best and hopefully along the way I’ll be a good player and a good player for my teammates. I always think about things as much as I can from the shoes of myself when I was younger and, you know, to think that, out of all the players that have played the game of football for the Philadelphia Eagles, for the fans to see me as one of the best — if not the best — to do it is very humbling.”
“I think it was a combination of guys. You know, my game was very simple. Because I was not the biggest of guys growing up, I always felt like I had to do more: play harder, be stronger, run faster, be more aggressive than those who were bigger than me. So my game was always physicality. I always wanted to be physical; always wanted the big hit. You know, you had to punish people along the way playing the game of football. So, quite naturally, the guy that I looked up to the most — as far as a player is concerned — is Ronnie Lott. To me, he’s still one of the best to have ever played the game. And he’s the guy I modeled my game after.
"I’ve never been a guy to think I know everything. I’m always searching for more, searching to do more. I’ve always been that way and will continue to be that way as my life continues to go on."
"Then, as I got older, different parts of other guys began to, I guess, glean into my personality. You know, whether it be Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater; Darren Woodson was someone I really looked up to when he was in Dallas. Guys who, I mean, these are all physical guys that played the game from a physical standpoint. Yeah, they can make the big plays — especially Ronnie Lott — like a cornerback, can cover, make interceptions; they can do all those things. But the physicality is what I love most about them, so those are the guys that I modeled my game after.”
“You’re never ready to be a leader in the National Football League. Things you learn: you learn how to be a professional; you learn how to handle yourself; you learn how to train; you learn how to study film, which is different. So there’s a lot of things that you need to know that you don’t know when you’re coming out of college. And I knew that. I knew that I didn’t know everything. I’ve never been a guy to think I know everything. I’m always searching for more, searching to do more. I’ve always been that way and will continue to be that way as my life continues to go on.
“But of the guys that were there — Emmitt Thomas, first of all. He’s a guy that, uh — defensive coordinator, hall of famer — was like an uncle to me. You know, helping me with things on the field, off the field, and really seeing something in me that I didn’t know was there. He saw something in me. He and Ray Rhodes, those guys, they saw something in me. They kept pushing me to do more and be more than what I was doing. They saw the potential for me to be, I guess, the player that I became later on in my career. You know, like making me learn my playbook, making me understand the game, helping me learn how to study film. All those things. And he was there for me in the tough times off the field as well. So he was definitely a huge contributor when it came to me as a professional, as a player.
“William Thomas was huge. Guy that was a pro bowler, very demanding as a player, different type of leadership — very, very demanding — but he was very, very open to questions, being around guys. He wasn’t a veteran that treated rookies like crap. So he’s a guy that I gravitated to. He helped me out, tremendously.
“Troy was there. Troy Vincent, as far as leadership is concerned. Irving Fryar was there, as far as leadership and ministry. So there were a lot of guys that were there — Mark Woody was there — that helped me. There were a lot of guys that were there that really helped me, I guess, form the type of leader I was going to become and help me to become a better professional.”
“Jim, man, he just allowed me to take my game to the next level. So all those things that Emmitt [Thomas] saw and Ray [Rhodes] saw, to me bring me in as a small safety at 5-11 at the time, 188 pounds. You know, I couldn’t get past 190 for the longest time because my metabolism was too high. So I was a smaller safety in a lot of respects. And so for them to take a chance to draft me, to bring me in, they saw something in me.
"I always had to do more than everybody around me. And there was a chip on my shoulder. There was an anger inside of me, struggling."
"Then, when Jim got there, his scheme was completely different. He just began to use me all over the place. I mean, I had not ever seen a safety used the way Jim used me. You know, a lot of people probably won’t give Jim the credit he deserves, but the way that the safety position is being played has a lot to do with the way Jim used me. He allowed me to play centerfield. He allowed me to cover a slot receiver because I could. He allowed me to blitz a lot more. He gave me freedom to do a lot of things. I was in-the-box safety at times. So he used me all over the place.
“As a player you enjoy that, because what it is, it's more challenging to do all those things. Because he’s depending on me. If he has the confidence that I can do those things ... then it was always a challenge for me to go out and prove him right. And that was always what I wanted to be for Jim.
"When he called my number in the fourth quarter — there was a reason why I always made a lot of plays in the later parts of the game. And a lot of it is because Jim called my number. Sometimes he would hold on to a blitz and then call that specific blitz at that time because he trusted me to get the job done. So a lot of it had to do with Jim’s trust in me, his belief in me, and him seeing something in me. My ability to be all those things that I just said to become, as people know me to be, Weapon X. You know, I was able to do everything.”
“That split personality has always been there. I’ve always been an emotional guy, even growing up playing little league sports. I’m the guy that if I strike out, I’m probably going to cry. Lose, definitely going to cry. And so, those are the things that I was already doing growing up, because once again there was something in me where I always felt like I had to prove something. I always had to do more than everybody around me. And there was a chip on my shoulder. There was an anger inside of me, struggling.
"Gotta let the crazy out every once in a while. [Weapon X] is a part of me that will never go away. It’s going to always be a part of me."
“That has always been there. Even going to high school, I still had that same type of crazy person come out on game day. It just so happened that when I got to the NFL, I could do it. In high school, you can’t do it so much. Coaches tell you you can’t do it. Referees tell you you can’t do stuff. But when I got to the NFL, no one was telling me I couldn’t do it. So I can continue to be now who I’ve always been. And obviously in the NFL, more people are able to see it. And then, you put a name to it.
“That happened in, I think it was 1999. I think when we went to the playoffs that year and lost to the Rams. I think it was that year. And I always had comic books and figurines of Wolverine in my locker. And they’re always looking for a story. And it comes to the playoffs, and they asked - you know, looking for a fresh story — they asked me why I had all those comic books. I told them how much I loved Wolverine. Love his tenacity and everything he brings to the table. His craziness, his dog shot, all that stuff. That’s when they put that special out portraying me as Wolverine, and that’s how it came about.”
“I guess just the climb, the climb of losing, earning the No. 2 pick, and then we drafted Donovan, and it just kind of took off from there. I remember how much we fought as a defense to always put our best on the football field. Even though the offense was struggling at different times, we — myself, Troy, Hugh, Ike, Trot, Bobby Taylor — continued to push the envelope regardless of what the offense was or was not doing. We continued to go out and I think that paid a lot of dividends because we built the culture. We built something in those downtimes.
"And when the good times began to come around, it was just expected for us to play a certain way. So we had a tremendous amount of respect for one another. And there was a tremendous amount of accountability on that team. And then when the offense came around — Donovan finally got in, Andy became the coach, and we began to learn everything — it took off. I just remember how good it felt to go from hoping things would be alright to knowing, pretty much, that if we handle our business, we’re going to be in the playoffs year in and year out.”
“There are a bunch of different plays, whether it be Brian Westbrook on the return against the Giants when they should’ve kicked the ball out of bounds and they didn’t, they kicked it to him, and he took that thing to the house. That completely turned that season around. Whether it be Donovan playing on a broken ankle, throwing four or five touchdown passes on a broken ankle. Whether it be when we got Big Run, [Jon] Runyan, and drafted Tra [Thomas], to be the cornerstones to our offense, the bookends to our offensive line. And that nastiness they brought. A lot of things come to mind. We finally got Hugh [Douglas], pass rusher, crazy pass rusher, to join the Eagles from the Jets. It was a huge thing for me to have a guy like that to come in and add what he added as a teammate.
“And then some of the bonds. You know, some of the things you guys don’t see. Just the bonds. The bond that we had and love we had for one another. How we went out and played for one another and the respect we had for one another. So we enjoyed doing it for one another, playing the game.
“It wasn’t probably a mistake; it was definitely a mistake. It was definitely a mistake,“ Dawkins said of the team's decision to let him walk following the 2008-09 season.
“For me, as far as plays are concerned, just some of the big hits, some of the big plays. One against Washington in the Linc, and I think [wide receiver Antwaan] Randle El threw a pass, it was a double pass, and everybody bit up on Randle El, and I just happened to see out of the corner of my eye, [tight end Chris] Cooley in the back of the end zone, wide open, in the ground that I was designated to cover. And it surprised the hell out of us, but I saw it on film. And so small things, like that.
“I guess the biggest memory I’ll ever have — besides the NFC Championship game — would probably be the last game against Dallas that I played. That game is how I define myself as a player. People always ask me, 'What is your perfect scenario? Is it the interception for a touchdown?'
"Nah, I like that, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not my perfect play. My perfect play has always and will always be me making a play on a ball carrier, whether it be a running back or a quarterback, cause a fumble and one of my teammates picking it up and scoring. And I just so happened to be blessed to do that twice in one game. I got one on [Tony] Romo that [Chris] Clemons, my man, picked up and scored. And then I tackled [Marion] Barber and Joselio Hanson picked it up and scored. Both more than like 60-70 yards for touchdowns.
"And so to end my career in Philadelphia that way — I didn’t know it was going to be the end at the time — and to do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is my perfect play, to be physical with somebody because I’m a physical safety, to cause a fumble and for my teammate to score and celebrate; those are the ones I remember most.”
“It wasn’t probably a mistake; it was definitely a mistake. It was definitely a mistake.“
“No. Not in that situation. You can say business is business, and sometimes things in business happen. But that, what happened, that wasn’t business. That wasn’t business. That team, my teammates, the city meant too much to me to do something crazy, to ask for crazy money. And I knew at the end of my career, I wasn’t going to get it first of all. I was older in my career. I wasn’t going to get what Troy and those guys got because they were younger at the time.
"So for me to have the opportunity to be blessed to have my jersey retired by the Philadelphia Eagles, a town that is as demanding as it can be and to know that we clicked, you know, like no other — I still consider that to be home — I had to do it [despite how my Eagles career ended]."
“But, ugh, the way it went down, it should not have gone down that way. And because of it, I had to leave a place that I called home. I had to leave a place that I loved being. It took me a bit, man, to get over it. And not completely over it, but over it enough to keep my emotions in check so that I could be everything that I could be for my teammates — my new teammates. You know, they didn’t care about my feelings towards Philadelphia and was I hurt, crying. They didn’t care about any of that. All they were hoping was that I would bring what I brought in Philadelphia in Denver. And I had to do it, because that’s the type of man I am. When I put my name on the dotted line and if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it to my fullest. I’m not going to take my work back because my word is my bond. I believe that.
“So, when I came here I had to put those emotions aside and go out and play. I gave everything I could, that I had left, for the the last three years of my career to the Denver Broncos.”
“I appreciated the fans while I was there. Big time. Listen, I said something right in the beginning of this conversation: that I played with my emotions on my sleeves. Since I was little. I’ve always been that way. And that’s how Philadelphia fans really are. They’re going to tell you exactly how they feel, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. They’re going to love you hard. They’re going to let you know exactly how they feel. I mean, they work hard for what they have. Every bit they have, and the money they can afford to spend, they’re spending on us. So they go out and they cheer. They’re out whether it’s raining, whether it’s snowing, whatever the case may be. They come out. And I appreciate that.
"But I think at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done — as the cliche goes — I played the game, to me, I played the game the way they would play it if they had a chance to strap on a uniform for one game. Whatever reason, the Lord blessed them with the ability to go out and run, hit, jump, play fast, know the game plan, and they get to go out, one shot. You would not go out and be calm. You would not go out and hand the ball back to the ref. You would not go out and not have just an act to see. And that’s how I played every game. Because I loved it so much. And I didn’t care what anybody thought about it, because I was blessed to play the game of football.
"And so I went out and played with emotion. I laughed, I cried, I danced, I partied after a sack, after a big hit, with my teammates. I got up, head butted them. They didn’t want to see me coming ‘cause they knew I was going to hit them hard after a celebration. All that stuff.”
“It was really — that was going to happen. I was not going to let no individual, no couple of individuals, no whomever, not allow me to celebrate, just with my teammates and with the fans. You know, you have been through too many good times, and that’s what I chose to remember. Way too many good times, too many runs year after year. Yeah, they came up short as far as the playoffs are concerned, but as far as the runs are concerned — sometimes we’d start off the year 1-3, and we would make a late run in December or January — it was year after year after year with that type of performance. So to have that type of success, to play that many games, and to have that much fun, to be quite honest with you, I couldn’t continue to allow that to be sour and to not come back and celebrate with the fanbase.
"To my kids, you know, I’m old. ... But to me, I’m not. I still can do a lot of things I need to do to handle my business. It’s just crazy to have come full circle when it comes to my career."
"And on top of that, you’re talking about getting your jersey retired. That’s not a given. Think about how many people have played in the National Football League, how many people have come and gone. Guys who played 2-3 years; guys who played 20 years. Not all of them get their jersey retired. So for me to have the opportunity to be blessed to have my jersey retired by the Philadelphia Eagles, a town that is as demanding as it can be and to know that we clicked, you know, like no other — I still consider that to be home — I had to do it. There was no other way around it. I was going to do it.”
“Retired life is great. See, what you have to do is you have to find things to fill your time with. Find things to do with your time. You have time. You know I do the analyst work, so I have to study up on everything to keep up with what’s going on in the NFL, because I love it. I did some coaching on the side, high school, seven-on-seven kids, coaching DB’s and defense there. I might be looking into doing some other stuff, front office stuff, at some point. Maybe do some coaching, I don’t know. There’s a lot of things up in the air, but I’m definitely enjoying it. Being able to do things because I want to do them, not because I have to do them because I didn’t take care of business when I was playing as far as finances are concerned. I love it.
“I still lift and work out hard. A lot of people ask me why. First of all I can, I want to. I still can do it. And I gotta let me crazy out, man. Gotta let the crazy out every once in a while. [Weapon X] is a part of me that will never go away. It’s going to always be a part of me. So every once in a while, when I go in the weight room — I go in at least like four times a week and get a nice workout in — more so then not, I'm throwing up some heavy weights. I gotta let him out, you know what I mean, to play a little bit when I’m working out, because that will always be there. Always.”
“Any time people start saying ‘legend’ — like you’re saying greatest Eagle of all time, jersey retired — I always equated that with older people. Like you’re old when people start calling you a legend. And I don’t consider myself to be old. To my kids, I’m old. To my daughters, I’m up there at 40. But to me, I’m not. I still can do a lot of things I need to do to handle my business.
"It’s just crazy to have come full circle when it comes to my career. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate it. I don’t take any of that for granted and I love it. It’s just the fact that when you are younger and you hear the word ‘legend,’ what do you always think about? An older guy. Like an old dude. Old dude, he’s a legend. That’s an old dude.
"And so now, people are calling me that legend, so in their minds, I’m that old dude, but to me, I’m not. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.”
Again, you can check out the full Greatest Living Eagle story, here.