The first time I was graced with the presence of Brian Dawkins was a cold December night during my freshman year at West Chester University. Somehow, that mediocre state school managed to get Dawk to come to his first (and only, last time I checked) college event. I was so excited that I stole one of the fliers the activities council hung up and I pinned it on my wall (and now it hangs in my room at home).
That night, I put on my Dawkins #20 jersey, along with every other item of Eagles clothing I could find in my dorm, and walked through the frigid cold campus to the auditorium. There were to be twenty students chosen at random to meet Brian after the event, but I was still shaking with excitement at just being in the same room as Weapon X.
This may seem pathetic, but this was a big deal for me for two reasons. The first, I have never been to an Eagles game. At 22 years old, I have never been lucky enough to have tickets fall in my lap and I sure as hell cannot afford them now that my college loan waiting period is over. The second reason is that Brian Dawkins is and will always be my favorite Eagles player of all time. His intensity and passion were a perfect blend with his skills and talents that made him such a great player, his demeanor was perfect for any Philadelphian to identify with, and he would pummel the shit out of any offensive player that touched the ball. (Most of his hits would result in fines these days.)
So I sat in that auditorium and watched Dawkins strut across the stage to his chair, I listened intently to his words about his career, his mindset on the field, his family, and who he is as a man. There was a Q&A period, but I couldn't think of any question that made me worthy of words with this monster on stage. The time came to pick the winners of the meet and greet and I, unfortunately, did not win. But seeing that man a few rows in front of me on stage was almost enough for me that night. (I say "almost" because I waited at the backdoor of the auditorium in the freezing cold for an hour after the event to try and catch him outside).
A few short weeks later, I was home on Christmas break. I was home alone watching ESPNews when I got up to do something, and a "Breaking News" story flashed across the bottom line. Brian Dawkins had just signed a 5-year deal with the Denver Broncos. I dropped to my knees, wept, and cursed the Eagles for throwing away their leader. I vowed not to watch the Birds that season, even though that was an empty threat.
And as you all well know, the defense has never been the same without that maniac in the center of our huddles.
Fast forward four years. I'm graduated and on the prowl for a job. Of course I shot for the moon and gave my resume to the Sixers and Eagles, so when someone from the Eagles left me a message on my voicemail, I got a little antsy. Turns out it wasn't a job offer, I had just won an invitation to the Eagles "Dinner with a Legend." I assume this was one of the dozens of online contests I enter on a daily basis.
I was told the event was a meet and greet followed by a dinner. That sounds cool right? Well, it was better. The event was held in the SCA Club, which I hope to be popular or financially stable enough to go to again one day. When we went upstairs, we were greeted by a 4-foot ice sculpture of the Eagle head resting on top of a large "20." There was an open bar and at least eight different finger foods on rotation (which automatically made this the nicest event I've ever been to).
And then we got to meet him. Dawkins. Weapon X. Number 20. He walked in to a roaring round of applause. Everyone moved through the line with various jerseys and helmets and footballs to be signed, and then it came to be my turn. I had thought of a million things to say to Brian, but when I shook his hand, I basically blacked out. I congratulated him on such a great honor and a wonderful career. I thanked him for signing my jersey and the poster everyone received. Basically, I blew it. But I met Brian Dawkins and I shook his hand. This time around, that was more than enough.
However, there was still more to come. We were invited to the back of the SCA Club for dinner. To begin, a short Dawkins highlight reel was shown on a big screen projector, followed by the obligatory "EAGLES" chant. After that, Dave Spadaro introduced the speakers for the evening. First up was a spokesperson for AAA, who had sponsored the event and also gave the most boring speech of the night. Second was Merril Reese, who reminisced about his three favorite Dawkins moments with the Eagles (in classic Merrill "play by play" fashion).
Lastly, before Dawkins, was Troy Vincent, who turned out to be the only teammate to make it to the event. He started off with something I thought could never be done, which was poking fun at Brian Dawkins. He explained that he and Bobby Taylor always had most of the field locked up, and that #20 really didn't have to do that much work.
What made Troy's speech even more memorable was that he knew how we felt as fans. Growing up in Yardley, he was close enough to Philadelphia that he knows what type of people we are. He perfectly described it, "We grab our lunch pail, we go to work, we put on our hard hats, and we get it done. And if you don't, we don't like you. Move on." It was refreshing to hear a former player say that about Dawk, because that's exactly how we feel about him and the way he played in our city. (Troy even went the extra mile to connect with us as fans after dinner when he went to every individual, shook their hand, and thanked them for coming out to the event. Class act).
Troy went on to talk about how Brian was a true role model, and perhaps the last of his kind. He was never in trouble off the field, and he never gave anything less than 100% on it. He really made it clear how special of a player we had in our city for 13 seasons.
Troy then introduced the man of the hour. In true Brian Dawkins fashion, he gave us all something that we could use to better ourselves in our own lives. He explained that he worked on his body so that he was physically capable of doing everything possible on the field. But he didn't strive to be the best for himself, he did it so that he could ask his teammates to do it as well. He did everything he did on the field so that he could ask the men around him to give the same things. He wanted so badly to have his teammates succeed and bring wins to this city. The big plays were never about him. The big hits didn't just make him feel good. He blew up defenders and ran like hell to sack the quarterback so that he could tell his teammates "I did it. Three straight downs, I sacrificed my body. Now you go do it."
That's what legends are made of. In my lifetime alone, I've seen some amazing athletes do some unforgettable things. Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue. Cole Hamels pitching our Phils to a championship. And the Flyers making history winning a series down 0-3.
But nothing compares to Brian Dawkins. He was the ideal football player, the ideal Philadelphian, and the ideal man. He gave everything he possibly could on and off the football field, and he always did it with other people in mind. This night was about more than just football. We were celebrating a great man. We were celebrating a great leader.
We were celebrating a legend, and I was lucky enough to have dinner with a legend.