Philly treats Brian Dawkins to an emotional homecoming, farewell

Eagles president Don Smolenski: 'He was a special player - ferocious, intense, fearless, intelligent - and an incredible leader'

Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins high-fives fans during a halftime ceremony for his No. 20 jersey retirement at an NFL football game between the Eagles and the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/The Express-Times, Matt Smith)

Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins high-fives fans during a halftime ceremony for his No. 20 jersey retirement at an NFL football game between the Eagles and the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/The Express-Times, Matt Smith)

From the unique perspective of having worked directly with thousands of Tiger athletes during his 35-year career in the Clemson sports information office, Tim Bourret pronounced, via a Facebook posting last week, a succinct and fitting tribute to one of Clemson's all-time football greats:

"No one represents the spirit of Clemson University better than Brian Dawkins, the single most respected Clemson graduate at the professional level I have met," Bourret wrote. "Sunday he will get his due from the fans of the Philadelphia Eagles."

Sunday evening, the Eagles paid tribute to the nine-time Pro Bowl safety by retiring his jersey No. 20 in a ceremony prior to their game against the New York Giants.

Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins reacts during a halftime celebration for his No. 20 jersey retirement at an NFL football game between the Eagles and the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/The Express-Times, Matt Smith)

Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins reacts during a halftime celebration for his No. 20 jersey retirement at an NFL football game between the Eagles and the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/The Express-Times, Matt Smith)

Dawkins joined Steve Van Buren (15), Tom Brookshier (40), Pete Retzlaff (44), Chuck Bednarik (60), Al Wistert (70), Reggie White (92) and Jerome Brown (99) as the eighth player in the Eagles' 80-year history to have his number retired.

Dawkins is just the third former Clemson athlete to have his jersey retired by a professional franchise, joining Dwight Clark of the San Francisco 49ers and Larry Nance of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Charlie Waters is a member of the Dallas Cowboys' Hall of Fame, but his jersey number was not retired.

Dawkins' accomplishments as a professional athlete speak for themselves.

A second-round pick out of Clemson in 1996, Dawkins started 182 games for the Eagles and recorded 34 interceptions, 21 sacks and 32 forced fumbles. Including his four years with the Denver Broncos, Dawkins had 37 interceptions, 26 sacks and 36 forced fumbles. He is the only safety in NFL history with 25 interceptions and 35 sacks. His 26 career sacks are second-most by a safety, behind Rodney Harrison's 30.

Had he chosen to play one more pro season, he would have singlehandedly owned NFL record for career longevity by a player at his position.

Dawkins, all agree, is about much more than his statistics and athletic accomplishments, however.

Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins reacts as he is introduced onto the field before an NFL football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Philadelphia. The Eagles are retiring his number at halftime. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins reacts as he is introduced onto the field before an NFL football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Philadelphia. The Eagles are retiring his number at halftime. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

His work ethic is legendary, an inspiration to both opponents and teammates, and his engaging personality allowed him to connect with the Eagles' fans at a rare level.

Sunday's ceremony at Lincoln Financial Field marked a career milestone that Dawkins fully appreciates. He told The Associated Press earlier this week that he expected it to be an intensely emotional moment.

"I've thought about it, and I just don't know - will I kick into game mode or will I be a mushy tear machine?" Dawkins said. "All I know is it's an awesome thing. Last time I checked, this is not a normal thing, for guys to get their numbers retired when they're yet young and alive. It's a tremendous honor...This is not something that happens every day. To know that the biggest sport in the U.S. and one of the biggest markets in the National Football League, that my number is now going to be retired there? Come on...

"It's going to be electric,'' Dawkins added. "When I got a chance to cross the threshold and ease out of the smoke, I never doubted what the atmosphere was going to be like on game day. And it's probably going to be even louder this time. I'm looking forward to that, definitely, one last time.''

Fans in attendance received a commemorative poster of Dawkins in the pose of 'Wolverine,' his personal favorite of Marvel Comics' X-Men superheroes.

The number of former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins is painted on the sideline at Lincoln Financial Field before an NFL football game between the Eagles and the New York Giants Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

The number of former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins is painted on the sideline at Lincoln Financial Field before an NFL football game between the Eagles and the New York Giants Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

"Every week, Eagles fans witnessed Brian transform himself from a humble, mild-mannered man to the fearless competitor that he was on Sundays,'' Eagles president Don Smolenski told AP. "He was a special player - ferocious, intense, fearless, intelligent - and an incredible leader."

Dawkins explains himself in less mythical terms.

"It's simple," he says. "I'm always striving to do more. Whatever I accomplish, it's not enough. I don't get satisfied. That's not my nature."

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