By Mike Greger
Watching Brian Dawkins play football was an honor and a privilege – and those were the exact words I chose to utter to the greatest safety in Eagles franchise history at his retirement ceremony at the NovaCare Complex on April 28, 2012.
In one of the most emotional and touching tributes I have ever witnessed. Dawkins, stylishly adorned in a yellow suit and hat, let the tears flow down his face without warning. They rose up out of his dark, wise-beyond-his-years eyes quickly, rapidly, like water climbing out of the LOVE Park fountain. There might never be a more beloved and gracious player to suit up in the City of Brotherly Love. There might never be a more beloved and gracious person to suit up in the NFL.
Following an emotional speech – one that would have produced a flash flood warning at Dick Vermeil’s house – Dawkins gently worked the room, shaking hands with the assembled media, thanking everyone, while embracing his former coaches and teammates. He treated each person the same, whether they covered one game or all 183 of his unforgettable games in midnight – or Kelly — green.
As he approached me, seated somewhere in the middle of the large conference room, I felt a sudden jolt of nervousness. I had joined the Eagles beat at the start of the 2008 season, a campaign that saw the Birds go on an improbable and wild ride all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
It turned out to be my only season covering Dawkins’ illustrious career.
“Get it together, Greger, I thought. You are a professional.” Easier said than done.
This was a man I had cheered wildly for as a fan growing up, a player I had stood in the blistering cold to watch play on Sundays – and that one Saturday in January 2003, enduring a 20-degree wind chill, just to see No. 20 lead the Eagles to a playoff victory.
On that evening, a drunken night with my best friend, Rob Weiss, I had painted my face green and pounded an ill-advised amount of alcoholic beverages – and, as I approached my dad’s section, good old Section 242, across the entire stadium, I knew he was going to give me shi*. I wanted that shi*, all of it. He knew I was drunk, but he didn’t judge me, save for a Taylor Swift-esque eye roll and – in my humblest and booziest opinion — a nod of fatherly approval. But that was many games ago, many Lagers ago.
Now, as Brian Dawkins came near me, ironically to say goodbye, I had to say something profound. What I mustered, legitimately fighting tears and thinking back to that cold January day at the Vet, with my dad, was this: “Mr. Dawkins, I only got to cover you for one season … but it was both an honor and a privilege. Thank you.”
Brian Dawkins didn’t flinch. Not once. He saw my outstretched hand, flapping in the breeze, ready for a firm handshake. He ignored it.
“Bring it in brother, bring it in,” fired back Dawkins in that raspy Wolverine voice. Then, the greatest safety in Eagles franchise history wrapped me up in a bear hug for the ages.