Dawkins connected with fans like no one else

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Dawkins connected with fans like no one else

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 rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

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Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

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Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — At least Odubel Herrera was honest about it.

“I didn’t expect to hit it that far,” he said with a big grin on his face late Wednesday afternoon.

A couple of hours earlier, Herrera helped key an 8-5 Phillies’ win over the Detroit Tigers with a towering home run into the right-field seats against Anibal Sanchez (see Instant Replay).

Herrera unloaded on the hanging slider and finished with his bat high.

As the bat reached its apex, Herrera didn’t just let it go. He flipped it in the air as if to say, ‘Uh-ah, I crushed that one.’ In the annals of bat flips, it wasn’t quite Jose Bautista quality, but it wasn’t far off. The flip was so dramatic that Herrera admitted after the game that he would not have been surprised if a Tigers pitcher had retaliated and stuck a pitch in his ribs later in the game.

Retribution never came. And Herrera left Detroit with a smile on his face and yet another big day for the Phillies. He is leading the club with a .327 batting average and his .440 on-base percentage is second-best in baseball.

Herrera's big home run helped make a winner out of Aaron Nola and the Phillies on a day when they really needed a win. After all, they had lost four of their previous five and are headed into the den of baseball’s best team, the Chicago Cubs, on Friday.

“For me, it was a must-win,” said manager Pete Mackanin, whose club is 26-21. “We’d lost four of five and I felt like we needed to come out of here with a win.

“The guys battled the whole game. To me it looked like they played like they had to win this game, which was nice to see. It looked like they played knowing we had to win. They were grinding and coming up with hits. Call it what you want, it was just the feeling I got.

“I’m not going to say I’m anxious to see the Cubs; they’re a hell of a team. But I’m hopeful we can take two out of three.”

The Tigers are one of baseball’s best hitting teams.

The Phillies are one of the worst. They entered the day scoring just 3.2 runs per game.

But on this day, the Phillies out-hit the Tigers, 12-10, to salvage one game in the series.

Nola went six innings, allowed four runs, a walk and struck out six. He left with a 7-4 lead. Things got hairy in the seventh, but Hector Neris cleaned up things for David Hernandez, and Jeanmar Gomez registered his majors-leading 17th save.

In between, Peter Bourjos had a couple of big hits, including his first homer of the season. Andres Blanco started at second over Cesar Hernandez and had a couple of big hits, as well. Bourjos and Blanco even hooked up on a double steal with Blanco becoming the first Phillie to swipe home since Chase Utley in 2009. (An off-line throw to second by Tigers catcher James McCann helped.) 

“We have to try things,” Mackanin said. “We can’t bang it out with most teams so we have to try that kind of stuff, take chances.”

The Phillies actually banged it on this day.

Bourjos’ homer in the seventh provided some valuable cushion.

There are no cheap homers in spacious Comerica Park. Bourjos’ homer traveled 401 feet according to ESPN’s play by play.

Though Bourjos claimed he did not see Herrera’s bat flip in fifth inning, he was aware of it. For the record, Bourjos did not flip his bat on his homer. He put his head down and ran.

“I don’t have that kind of swag,” he said with a laugh.

Bat flips make some folks, particularly old-schoolers, uncomfortable. Bautista’s famous bat flip against Texas in the playoffs last season led to simmering tensions all winter and eventually a brawl between the two teams two weeks ago.

Mackanin actually seemed a little uncomfortable talking about Herrera’s flip.

“I did not see it,” Mackanin said. “A lot of players believe that they should be able to celebrate. But I didn’t see it. I wish you never brought it up.”

Herrera explained that he always flips his bat, even when he makes outs. This one had a little extra oomph, he said, because, "I didn’t expect to hit it that far.”

And how far did he hit it?

Well, ESPN’s play by play said it traveled 409 feet. MLB’s Statcast said it went 427.

Either way, that’s a long Uber ride.

Herrera was asked what was more impressive, the flip or the homer?

“Both,” he said with a laugh.

Herrera has become a more demonstrative player in his second year in the league. He’s letting his emotions show. On Monday night, frustration over a poor at-bat got the best of him. He did not run out a ball back to the pitcher and was benched.

On Wednesday, his emotion was more triumphant, hence the bat flip. But sometimes that can make an opponent angry. There were no repercussions Wednesday and probably won’t be because the Tigers and Phillies don’t see each other again this season. But down the road?

“I’m not worried,” Mackanin said.

“It was nothing personal,” Herrera said. “It was natural.”

Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

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Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

DETROIT — The Phillies have an off day Thursday.
 
It will come in handy for Maikel Franco.
 
The third baseman suffered what was termed a sprained right ankle while sliding into second base in the top of the seventh inning Wednesday. He hobbled off the field before the start of the bottom of the inning.
 
After the game, both Franco and manager Pete Mackanin stressed that the sprain was mild.
 
Franco received treatment after coming out of the game and he will again on the off day. Mackanin said he would exercise caution in determining Franco’s availability for Friday afternoon, but did not rule out playing Franco.
 
Franco was adamant. He’s playing.
 
“It’s a little bit sore, but it’s fine,” he said. “It already feels better. I’ll be ready for Friday. With the day off, I know I’ll be OK.”
 
If Franco can’t play, Mackanin would insert super-sub Andres Blanco into the lineup. He had two hits, including an RBI double, and scored two runs in Wednesday’s win over the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Franco had a pair of singles and is 7 for 15 in his last four games.

Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

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Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

After the Eagles drafted quarterback Carson Wentz, head coach Doug Pederson declared that Sam Bradford was still the No. 1 quarterback.

Pederson reiterated it when a scowling Bradford chose to skip some voluntary workouts and did so again after Bradford returned to the team.

But Pederson's assistants haven't been so clear.

On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz discussed the topic when asked how he brought along QB Matt Stafford — the first overall pick in 2009 — while serving as head coach of the Detroit Lions. 

"Don't judge him on somebody else, and then also don't predetermine the results of the race," Schwartz said. "Just let him go play. Don't put pressure on him."

At the moment, it certainly seems like the results of the race are predetermined. It's Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz ... right? 

On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Frank Reich was on 94-WIP and was asked by Angelo Cataldi about the "impression" that Bradford is the No. 1 QB and there isn't an open competition. 

“No, I would actually say that’s probably not the right impression. I'll tell you why,” Reich said. “I’ve been around this business a long time as a player and as a coach, and one of the things I’ve really come to appreciate is it’s not a contradiction to say that you’ve got to have order. Because if you don’t order it’s chaos. 

"So if you’re the head coach you, gotta come in and you’ve gotta establish order. There has to be organization, there has to be order, but the other thing that, as coaches, that you’ve got to establish is a culture of competition. I mean this is one of the most competitive industries in the world — and so, to say that there’s not competition, that’s just the furthest thing from the truth.

“So I don’t see the problem with creating order and competition at the same time, personally. Every one of us as a coach and a player, you’re working harder to get better, but in that process you have to establish order, and things have a way of working themselves out.”

So there has to be a order — hence Pederson's QB depth chart — but there also has to be competition.

In other words, there is a depth chart, but it's written in pencil. And a big eraser is nearby.

Let the saga continue.

Training camp is still two months away.