Brian Dawkins enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August for a reason. He had a concussive impact in every game he played during his 16-year NFL career.
Dawkins played safety for 13 years for the Philadelphia Eagles before finishing his career in Denver and knew only one way to do it. He blew people up.
Dawkins was the first player to make 30 interceptions and force 30 fumbles and the only player with at least 25 interceptions, 25 sacks and 25 forced fumbles. His 36 forced fumbles are the most by a safety in NFL history.
Dawkins was named to the Pro Bowl nine times, to the 2000s All-Decade team and was so revered in Philadelphia that his number 20 was retired before he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here are five of the top moments of Dawkins’ career.
Look out LT. By 2001, Brian Dawkins’ reputation for making plays that changed games had been well established. But in case future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson hadn’t gotten the word out in San Diego, Dawkins reminded him on December 9. With the game tied 7-7, Tomlinson was fighting for extra yardage when Dawkins roared up and stripped him of the ball, punching it loose and then scooping it up and sprinting 49 yards for a touchdown. The Eagles never trailed again in a 24-14 victory in which Dawkins had eight tackles, two forced fumbles and one recovery that he took to the house.
What a day! On September 29, 2002, Dawkins did something no one had ever done in the NFL. When you have a day like that, no one forgets it, least of all his victims. By the time Dawkins was finished with the Houston Texans, he had decimated them in a 35-17 victory that had his fingerprints all over it. Dawkins became the first player in pro football history to record a sack, an interception, a forced fumble AND catch a touchdown pass in the same game. The first three weren’t all that surprising because Dawkins was always impacting games defensively from his safety position. But no one expected the Eagles to run a fake punt in the third quarter. Brian Mitchell took the snap and threw Dawkins a shovel pass in hopes of getting the first down. He got more than that as Dawkins took it 57-yards for a touchdown on his first, and last, NFL reception.
Brett should have known better. The Eagles and Packers were battling it out in overtime in an NFC divisional playoff game when Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre decided he could overthrow the defense. Favre had a rifle for an arm but on this play he made a costly miscalculation when he heaved the ball deep in the direction of wide receiver Javon Walker. Just when Walker thought he was about to make the play of the game, Dawkins leapt up and picked it off, returning the interception 35 yards to set up what would become David Akers’ game-winning field goal. That 20-17 victory sent the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game courtesy of Brian Dawkins’ ball-hawking and Brett Favre’s miscalculation.
Some hits are home runs even if you don’t score. Sometimes one big hit can change the complexion of a game and the attitude of both teams. So it was in the 2004 NFC Championship Game and the guy delivering the hit was Brian Dawkins. The Eagles had not won the NFC title in 24 years when they squared off with the Atlanta Falcons on January 23, 2005. Early in the game, Michael Vick dropped back and rifled a 31-yard completion to Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler in the middle of the Eagles’ defense but the moment he caught it Dawkins slammed into Crumpler so hard he sent him flying backwards two yards and left Crumpler crumpled on his face at the 10-yard line. “They did score there,” Dawkins recalled, “but it didn’t matter. We had made a statement. I had delivered a message. I remember thinking, ‘That’s what time it is right now. Yes, they got a touchdown, but we all felt the same thing at that moment: ‘We’re going to win this game.’’’ Several months after that game. Eagles’ linebacker Ike Reese signed with the Falcons and asked Crumpler about the play. Reese said Crumpler told him, “’Dude, when Dawk hit me, I thought he had knocked all my teeth out,'” Reese recalled. “He said his face just went numb.” Dawkins, though woozy himself for a few seconds, didn’t. He ended up with a forced fumble and an interception as well in a 27-10 NFC title game victory.
Giving a helping hand. No safety in NFL history was more effective dislodging the ball from an opponent than Brian Dawkins and that skill was never on better display than on December 28, 2008. It came at the expense of the Eagles’ most hated rival, the Dallas Cowboys. Facing Dallas in the warmup for a run to the Super Bowl, Dawkins was at his disruptive best in the third quarter of an eventual 44-6 victory. Twice he jarred the ball out of the hands of the Cowboys and both resulted in Eagle touchdowns. The first came when Dawkins strip sacked Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo. Cornerback Chris Clemons scooped it up and ran 73 yards for a touchdown. With Dallas on the ropes, Dawkins finished them off on the next series when he leveled fullback Marion Barber after Barber had caught a short pass from Romo. The ball came loose and Joselio Hanson recovered it and sprinted untouched for a 96-yard touchdown return. In all, Dawkins had five tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack on the day as well as a hand in 169 yards worth of return yardage.