It was October of 2004, and Brian Dawkins was making an appearance at a small sports bar in Bucks County on a Monday night.
It was the day after another Sunday win during a Super Bowl season, and the turnout was insane. More than 500 people showed up at a sports bar that fits about 150. Those who didnt arrive early were turned away at the door. Among them was a little girl, about 8 years old, who stood at the entrance with her dad, crying her eyes out.
She had spent hours and hours making a huge Brian Dawkins collage with photos from throughout his career, and all she wanted was for her hero to see it. But the doors were slammed shut. The place was dangerously packed. She and her dad had no chance of getting in to see her hero.
Word of the sobbing girl and the collage got back to Dawk, who was already inside, surrounded by screaming fans and trying to have a quick dinner before signing autographs to raise money for the Eagles Breast Cancer Awareness drive.
There was simply no room for one more person inside. But Dawk wasnt going to leave the girl out there crying. He couldnt.
How can I meet her without starting a riot? Dawk whispered.
A plan was hatched.
Dawk was brought through the kitchen out into a back alley, and the girl and her dad were quietly escorted from the front door to the back.
And there, surrounded by dumpsters and trash, behind a non-descript strip plaza in Middletown, Pa., a little girls tears turned to joy.
She stood there in awe, holding this enormous collage almost as big as she was.
Dawk walked over and got down on one knee so he was even with her and said, I heard you have something you want me to see.
She didnt say a word. Just held it out for him to examine.
You did a great job with this, he said.
The girl stood there spellbound. Speechless.
Dawk signed the collage. Brian Dawkins, 20.
The girl mustered up the courage to say Thank you, and walked away with the memory of a lifetime. And Dawk went back inside to finish his dinner.
And somewhere in Bucks County, theres a girl whos 15 now and has an autographed Brian Dawkins collage on her wall and will never forget the day Dawk met her out by the dumpsters.
And if you multiply that moment by 365 days and 13 years, you start to get a sense for exactly what Brian Dawkins meant to Eagles fans. And what Brian Dawkins meant to Philadelphia.
And thats why today is such an emotional day. Even though he left here for Denver after the 2008 season, Dawk will always be an Eagle and will always be a Philly guy.
Dawk announce his retirement on Twitter on Monday morning after 16 brilliant seasons, the first 13 in Eagles green. Hes one of only five players in NFL history with at least 25 sacks and 25 interceptions, one of only two safeties with at least 25 sacks.
Nine Pro Bowls. Only two safeties in history Ken Houston and Ronnie Lott were selected to more. Both are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Eagles will honor Dawkins on Sept. 30 at Lincoln Financial Field before a game against the Giants and add his name to the teams Honor Roll. Owner Jeff Lurie has said nobody else will wear Dawks number as long as he owns the team, and it would certainly be deserving if the Eagles formally retire No. 20.
Dawkins would be an all-timer just based on what he did on the field. But his career and his impact on our community goes far beyond a bunch of sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles.
Some athletes connect. Some dont.
And Dawk connected with this city in ways that very few Eagles, very few athletes in any sport, have ever connected.
It wasnt just the way he played. Ferocious every snap. It wasnt just the way he was accessible to the fans. Warm and cordial every day. It wasnt just the way he led in the locker room. Fiercely supportive of his coaches and teammates during even the most challenging times.
He cared as much as we did, and thats rare. You knew he brought the pain home with him after devastating losses. And you knew he shared the citys joy after huge wins. He wanted to win a Super Bowl for the city and the fans more than for himself.
And in an age where so many pro athletes seem disconnected with their sport and the fans and the city and never seem to let their guard down, Dawk spoke honestly and openly and passionately. He said what fans wanted to hear. And he said what had to be said. Always.
He was one of us. And theres no greater praise you can lavish on a Philadelphia athlete.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org
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