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News » Ashley Fox: Dawkins' revival is one for the ages

Ashley Fox: Dawkins' revival is one for the ages

Ashley Fox: Dawkins' revival is one for the ages
He was too old. Had to be. Too many violent collisions, too much adrenaline used, too many miles on those old dogs to be the player the Eagles needed.

A 35-year-old free safety? Really, who plays that position at that age at a high level after essentially 12 seasons of nonstop Football? Not even Brian Dawkins. Couldn't happen.

He is a madman, his on-field demeanor the antithesis of his gentle, polite, good-natured way off the field. But early this season, it looked as if the years and the hits had finally taken their toll. Dawkins looked done - slow, tired, cooked.

Fans were torn, dizzy even. Dawkins is beloved because he's crazy on the field, because he plays as if every game could be his last, because he gives every ounce of energy he has. He has long been the leader of the defense, directing traffic from the back, infecting his teammates with a tireless commitment to trying to win every play, not just every game.

But if Dawkins couldn't go, if he couldn't run fast enough or cover well enough or hit hard enough, what good was he? He would fall, as so many before him, off the roster and into the NFL abyss. Like Jeremiah Trotter. And Hugh Douglas. And Bobby Taylor. And Duce Staley. And . . .

Early this season, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was worried. He wouldn't admit it at the time, but Johnson saw the nagging injuries, the missed tackles, the slower feet, and he, too, wondered whether Dawkins' lengthy tenure here might be nearing its completion.

It had been a good run, but maybe it was time. Maybe it was over. Maybe the Eagles had squeezed every last drop of production out of the kid from Jacksonville, Fla., whom they drafted in the second round in 1996 out of Clemson.

And then, with the questions and criticisms mounting, Dawkins turned it around, defied gravity and Father Time and even his body. Maybe it was his faith that pulled him through, for Dawkins is a religious man, a prayerful man, a man who believes in God. Maybe it was his body's reaction to Dawkins' maniacal preparation in the gym. Or maybe he just wasn't ready for this to be it.

Whatever the reason, the old Dawkins reappeared. Against Pittsburgh in Week 3, Dawkins had seven tackles and one sack, and he forced and recovered a fumble that sealed the Eagles' victory. He was all over the place, in the backfield, harassing Ben Roethlisberger, crushing wide receivers, and his reward was being named NFC defensive player of the week.

Usually, such an effort isn't a big deal, but the significance was inescapable. Dawkins wasn't done. Not yet.

He looked reinvigorated, at least to those watching from the outside, but Dawkins would insist that he had never felt his time was up. He always had hope, always believed. And the results kept pace.

Eight tackles and a sack of Jason Campbell in Week 5 against Washington. Seven tackles and another forced fumble against the Giants on Nov. 9. Five tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in a must-win game against Arizona.

And Dawkins provided the intangibles. He called a team meeting after one loss to try to get everybody back on the same page, to get things off his chest, to facilitate the conversation about what really was wrong with a talented team. When the Eagles started their late-season push to the playoffs, Dawkins decided to grow a beard, and it spurred a movement that has grown to include Johnson, head coach Andy Reid, and even team owner Jeffrey Lurie.

Although the team fell short, Dawkins was as animated, as motivated, as outwardly exhilarated in the second-to-last game of the regular-season, against Washington. Even though he had made the Pro Bowl, even though he had redeemed himself after his early-season foibles, Dawkins wasn't ready for his Eagles career to end.

After that excruciating loss to Washington, it looked as if Sunday would be it for Dawkins. Seven Pro Bowls. A team-record 183 games played. Thirty-four interceptions.

And then life, sweet life. Thanks to Oakland. And Houston. And the Eagles.

Dawkins will play another day - this Sunday, to be exact. It will be his 16th playoff game. He's going for win No. 9.

"You can look at [the criticism] and say, 'You know, maybe they are right, maybe I am' " too old, Dawkins said, "or you can look at it as a challenge, and I look at it as a challenge. I know what I can do for this team, and I've said it. I know what I can still do. I've been blessed with a lot of abilities, and I still have these abilities built up inside, and I still can do it.

"So you look at it as opportunity, and all those things just add. You put more things on the pile for the field to burn and utilize it."

He might be old, but Dawkins isn't done. Not yet. He proved that this season.

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox

at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 1, 2009

Tony Hunt Name: Tony Hunt
Position: RB
Age: 22
Experience: 2 years
College: Penn State
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