There are actually two questions regarding Brian Dawkins now that his NFL career is officially over.
The first question is the easier of the two: Is he Hall of Fame worthy?
Assuming you answered yes and I have to believe every Eagles fan did that brings us to the second question: Will the Hall of Fame selectors vote Dawkins in?
Thats a tougher call.
I say yes on both. I feel Dawkins deserves to be in the Hall and I believe it will happen for him, although it is far from a sure thing. It is not his fault. It is the nature of the safety position and how it is evaluated by the Hall of Fame selectors.
There are only ten safeties in the Hall and just seven are pure safeties, that is, they played their entire career at that position. Ronnie Lott, Mel Renfro and Rod Woodson played both cornerback and safety and were outstanding at both.
Emlen Tunnell, Jack Christiansen and Willie Wood were safeties who also returned kicks. Yale Lary was a safety who led the league in punting. That versatility probably helped them in the eyes of the voters. They werent just safeties.
Dawkins didnt play cornerback and he didnt return kicks. He was a safety, pure and simple, and it is tough for a safety to get through the door in Canton. A select few did it Kenny Houston, Paul Krause and Larry Wilson but it wasnt easy.
Consider the case of Krause. When he retired, he had more interceptions than any player in NFL history (81), yet he had to wait 14 years before he finally was voted into the Hall. Among the true safeties, only Houston and Wilson were first ballot Hall of Famers.
Thats a hard question to answer. I was a Hall of Fame voter for 16 years so I sat in that room and listened to the discussions. It just seemed as though some voters saw the safety position as less impactful than other positions such as cornerback and defensive line. As a result, safeties werent valued as highly.
I argued against it, but it didnt make much difference. Some outstanding safeties -- Steve Atwater, Kenny Easley and Darren Woodson are eligible every year but never one even mentions their names.
So when Eagles fans say Dawkins is a sure Hall of Famer and maybe a first ballot Hall of Famer, they arent considering the history of that position. It is not an easy hill to climb, but I do think Dawkins will make it and heres why.
The safety position has a much higher profile today than it did a decade ago. Players like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu are marquee guys. Coaches design game plans around them. The TV cameras isolate on them. Fans come to games wearing their jerseys.
As the game has evolved so has the safety position. Today, it requires a more versatile athlete, tough enough to play the run and quick enough to cover a wide receiver. There was a time not so long ago when teams could take a cornerback who had lost a step or two and hide him at safety. Not anymore, not with all the spread offenses in the game today.
Now people are looking at safeties differently. They see players like Reed and Polamalu and Earl Thomas as game-changers. And, really, it was Dawkins who helped bring about the change.
When Jim Johnson took charge of the Eagles defense and saw what he had in Dawkins, he made him the centerpiece of the defense. He played him in the box. He played him in man coverage. He blitzed him off the corner. He played Dawkins in zones where he made even the toughest receivers blink when they came across the middle.
Every team that played the Eagles began its offensive meetings by drawing a circle around No. 20. They had to locate him before every play or risk having him blow it up.
As more teams saw the Dawkins impact, they started looking for safeties that could do the same things. They began scouting the position more closely. They started selecting safeties higher in the draft. Dawkins helped bring that about so he deserves some of the credit for introducing the era of the star safety.
That is why I think Dawkins will make it into the Hall. Whoever makes his case to the board of selectors can start with the fact that if we view safeties differently today and no doubt we do it is largely because Dawkins redefined the position. If the voters feel Ed Reed belongs in Canton and Im sure they do then Dawkins belongs, too, because he was the prototype.
Unlike Donovan McNabb, I wouldnt expect Brian Dawkins to tell us that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Even if we asked, he wouldnt tell us, thats not his style.
But he deserves it, without a doubt. And I believe it will happen.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.