State Your Case: Brian Dawkins

Brian Dawkins photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles/Brian Garfinkel

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

In  his first year of eligibility, Brian Dawkins is one of 26 semifinalists for the Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2017 — with the smart money on him making the cut to 15 finalists in January. But then the road to Canton steepens, and it’s not so much the competition that becomes a speed bump as it is the position he played.


briandawkinsThere are only seven pure safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the last one who played – Kenny Houston – retired after the 1980 season, or 36 years ago. And the last one elected? It was Paul Krause in 1998, or 19 years after his retirement, and he’s the NFL’s career leader in interceptions.

Sooner or later someone must break the barrier that keeps safeties out of Canton, and maybe, just maybe, it’s Brian Dawkins.

But that’s where the competition comes in. Former safeties John Lynch and Steve Atwater are in the queue, too, with both finalists for the Class of 2016. Atwater made it for the first time and didn’t survive the cut from 15 to 10. But three-year finalist Lynch did, which means he’s in the on-deck circle for 2017.

Only that could be a problem. Reason: Simple. John Lynch was not an all-decade choice; Brian Dawkins was. Dawkins also had more tackles, more sacks, more interceptions and more forced fumbles. Both were nine-time Pro Bowlers, but Dawkins was a six-time All-Pro. Lynch was named to the team four times.

Both are Hall-of-Fame worthy, but let’s be honest: If you’re going to put one in, Dawkins is the logical choice. Except … except there are voters who insist on respect for the queue; that unless the candidate is a first-year slam dunk like, say, a Brett Favre, Joe Montana or Junior Seau, he gets in line and waits his turn.

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 26: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles enters the field during the game against the Atlanta Falcons on October 26, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 27-14. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Brian Dawkins
PHILADELPHIA – OCTOBER 26: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles enters the field during the game against the Atlanta Falcons on October 26, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 27-14. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Under normal circumstances, Dawkins might be that slam dunk. But there is nothing normal about what happens with safeties when it comes to the Hall, and there’s always the possibility that Dawkins, Lynch and Atwater split votes – much as happened for years with wide receivers Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown — guaranteeing that no safety goes in until Ed Reed and/or Troy Polamalu join the party.

And that would be a shame.

Look, Brian Dawkins was the glue and unquestioned leader of a Philadelphia defense that led the Eagles to four straight conference championship games and five in eight years — with the defense ranked in the top Ten four times during that run and the top Five twice. Appropriately, Dawkins was in the middle of it all, a violent hitter who could cover, tackle and create takeaways that were the hallmark of former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s defenses.

In a 2002 game vs. Houston, for instance, he became the first player in league history to have a sack, an interception, forced fumble and interception return for a touchdown in the same game.

But he was more than a star player. He was a reliable one, too, starting 182 of the 183 games he played with the Eagles, and a team leader with a knack for making critical plays.

“What I tried to do,” Dawkins said on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast last month, “was I tried my best to be a stat stuffer. I didn’t want to just be good in one area. I wanted to make sure in every area on the football field that (if) I could help my team win I was going to do it. If that meant getting interceptions, I  would that. If that meant getting sacks, I could do that.

“The way the late, great Jim Johnson used me … he allowed me to do even more things. I consider myself to be a contact safety.  That’s why my caused fumbles accounts were so high. If you look at every stat category, I’m going to have something in it of significance, in my opinion.

“Once again, I did not want to have one weakness in my game. I wanted every part of my game to be a strength for my team to help us win ballgames. And I think I was blessed to do that for 16 years.”

So do I. But there is a shortage of blessings for safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here’s hoping Brian Dawkins can help end that. He belongs, and he belongs sooner rather than later.

(Brian Dawkins photos courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)


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  1. Rob
    November 22, 2016

    Clark, how would you rank the chances of these safeties in order for 2017? Dawkins, Lynch and Atwater?

    • November 22, 2016

      Rob, tough call. Dawkins and Atwater all-decade choices. Lynch not. But Lynch reached top 10 last year. Atwater did not. Think could cancel each other out as WRs did for years. Dawkins most qualified, but have to give edge to Lynch (talking room, not me) simply because he was first in line and is near the finish.

  2. Anonymous
    November 22, 2016

    Dawkins is a beast no matter if he gets in The Pro Football Hall Of Fame or not, and everyone will remember him as the BEST SAFTEY that has ever played the game.

    • November 22, 2016

      Dawkins is a beast, but Ill take Ronnie Lott.

  3. bachslunch
    November 22, 2016

    Dawkins (5/9/00s) is of course eminently qualified for the HoF and should get in a few years from now. Doubt he’s a first ballot guy, but he’ll make it in. Am guessing the safeties will be inducted via finalist seniority: Lynch, Atwater, Dawkins, Reed, Polamalu. Reed might jump the line to be first ballot, but we shall see. Then hopefully there’s still time to elect Leroy Butler and Darren Woodson.

    • November 22, 2016

      Pretty sure Easley going in this year as senior candidate.

  4. Rich Quodomine
    November 23, 2016

    Broader discussion: THe impact of the Tampa-2. Ever since Tony Dungy emphasized the Tampa-2, and the movement towards 3 receiver sets countered by 3 DBs (Slot Corners or hybrid LB/SS to counter), the safety has become a different position then it was generally played between approximately 1950 and 1995. This creates a de facto separation between the two eras, and I consider it difficult to evaluate the two. So while Atwater and Lynch played similar styles, the eras in which the two played had different demands. There was a lot more running during Atwater’s era, and less emphasis on short passing game that might have limited Atwater’s effectiveness (maybe) in this era.

    Lynch and Atwater are decleaters – they made you pay the price. Dawkins has more statistics (Tackles, INTs, FFs) than the other two (I think he has 1-2 more seasons than either), but wasn’t viewed as quite the fierce tackler. That was immaterial, Dawkins was a form tackler and the better overall player. Dawkins deserves in *before* Atwater and Lynch. I am not dissing the other two, but if there’s an argument as to whom was the better player, Dawkins simply is. Ed Reed was a better ballhawk, less a tackler, so that’s a matter for discussion as to which you prefer, but Dawkins did all of the above, and better than most who ever played.

  5. bachslunch
    November 23, 2016

    Clark, agreed that Easley has a good shot at election. He certainly is deserving. As for “greatest ever” safety, agreed that Ronnie Lott has a solid argument, as do Larry Wilson, Emlen Tunnell, and Ken Houston.

  6. Justin
    November 24, 2016

    Ed Reed is the greatest safety ever (with all due respect to Lott and Tunnell). Just listen to Belichick talk about him. My favorite stat of Ed Reed’s is the following, when he set the current record for the longest INT return touchdown in NFL history (107 yards in 2008 against Philly breaking 4 tackles along the way), he broke his own record (106 yards in 2004 against Cleveland). That is not a fluke. I also remember when he singlehandedly crushed my Redskins’ chances of an upset when he sacked, stripped, and returned the fumble for a TD in one smooth ultra athletic play. Oh yeah, four years later, he again killed the Redskins when he had two INTs and stripped Portis and ran the ball back for a 20 yard TD. His highlights are legion and often involve the same physical play that was allegedly Dawkins’ hallmark and not his.

    All of that said, Dawkins is the second best safety in the modern era (post-Lott) and should be a first ballot HOFer. He was head and shoulders above Atwater and Lynch, who were both fine players in their own right.

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