They say you can’t go home again. They also say there's no place like home for the holidays.
Both are true in the case of Brian Dawkins, who, on Sunday, will once again walk out onto the field that he patrolled for 13 years.
Only this time, he will do so wearing colors other than Eagle green—Bronco blue, to be exact. And given his age and the whims of the NFL schedulers, it may just be the last time B-Dawk digs his cleats into the turf at Lincoln Financial Field.
Yet in a stadium where even the home team gets booed lustily at times, odds are better than excellent he’ll receive the biggest ovation of all.
And why shouldn’t he? For a baker’s dozen worth of seasons, Dawkins’ presence out in “center field” was the heart and soul of an Eagles defense that consistently ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL. He made seven Pro Bowls, nearly won a Super Bowl and became one of only four defensive backs in NFL history to record 30 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career.
But he’s hardly the NFL’s version of the Prodigal Son; in fact, he never wanted to leave.
When asked about his departure in a Wednesday conference call, Dawkins told reporters that “It was an emotional thing” that took time to get over, but he understands that “it is what it is … I’m a Denver Bronco now.”
Certainly, that’s understandable. Again, he’s one of the all-time greats and will most likely be enshrined in Canton by the end of the next decade.
But as current (and twice former) Eagle Jeremiah Trotter can attest to, all the success and loyalty in the world means nothing if Andy Reid and the Birds’ brass don’t think you can produce at a high enough level.
And so, on Mar. 1, B-Dawk found himself somewhere he had never been: A roster other than Philadelphia’s.
The Eagles were willing to offer him a one-year deal to retire as an Eagle, but Dawkins felt he could still play in this league. So when he hit the market and Denver offered him a five-year, $17 million deal, he had no choice but to take his game 2500 miles west.
Usually, the Eagles are right in this scenario. Bobby Taylor, for instance, was jettisoned at the ripe age of 30 after the 2003 season. He played one lackluster year in Seattle and retired while his replacement, Lito Sheppard, became a two-time Pro Bowler.
Jevon Kearse, who had 22 sacks in four years, was allowed to walk after an injury plagued final two seasons. He’s been a decent backup for the Titans, but his Eagles replacement (Juqua Thomas) has notched 16.5 sacks since taking over as the starting right defensive end in November 2007.
Even Troy Vincent, who had a decent couple seasons as Buffalo’s free safety after his release, had to change positions and leagues to stay afloat.
But in Dawkins case, he has so far proven to be the exception to this rule.
So far in 2009, Dawkins has two picks, 11 passes defensed and 100 total tackles, which is a career high. Perhaps more importantly, though, his addition (along with a few others) has helped turn the Broncos’ defense around.
Last year, the Horses were No. 29 in yards allowed and gave up the third-most points in the NFL. However, they will come into Philly this Sunday in the Top Six in both categories for 2009.
So could B-Dawk see a return to Philly a la Trotter, who came back after two seasons with the Redskins and then re-signed once again this fall?
Unlikely. While the Broncos can terminate his deal after next season, the situation is a catch-22. Dawkins will turn 37 next October, and if he is available, it means he’s declined enough for Denver not to want to give him the little money he’d be owed in 2011.
Even if he does stay, if the NFL’s current scheduling rules stay put, Denver won’t return to the Linc again until 2017. By then, Dawkins could have a permanent residence in Canton depending on when he retires.
That doesn’t mean he won’t forget where he came from, though.
“Just because you move on does not mean you leave all your family behind. I'm constantly talking with Quintin Mikell and [Brian] Westbrook and Sheldon [Brown] from time to time.”
In an Eagles’ season that has already seen several homecoming moments, the return of No. 20 might not leave a dry eye in the stadium—something that is uncharacteristic in the City of Brotherly Love.
As Mikell said to reporters this week, Dawkins’ return is “a chance for him to see what I've been able to do and what he's helped build here with me. It's almost like when your big brother goes away to college and he comes back.”
It will be emotional…until kickoff, when those same misty fans will witness something else they never thought they’d lay eyes on: An Eagle offense trying to dismantle “Weapon X.”
Hey, eventually the big brother has to be beaten, right?