As Brian Dawkins spoke so eloquently and emotionally Saturday morning about his remarkable career and his place in Eagles history, a 23-year-old kid sat silently in the second row of the NovaCare Complex auditorium soaking up each word.
For most people, the draft is the best day of their life, Vinny Curry said. But growing up an Eagle fan, being blessed with the opportunity of seeing Brian Dawkins retire and give a speech here, this has got to be the best day of my life.
Curry, the Eagles third-round pick out of Marshall, grew up in Central Jersey as a huge Eagles fan.
When NFL Network asked permission to come to his house for the draft, he declined. Turns out he didnt want to have to get rid of all the Eagles memorabilia on the walls. The caps, gloves, helmets and most of all the Brian Westbrook No. 36 jersey.
I wasnt taking the stuff down, he said with a laugh Saturday afternoon. This was my last day, if I would have gone to a different team, of being an Eagle fan.
Curry cracked up as he talked about Freddie Mitchell and his championship belt routine. He talked about how the Eagles struggled in the late 1990s, before the arrival of Donovan McNabb who he got to meet Saturday. He spoke about Trott and Duce and Hugh. Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent.
He sounded just like one of us.
The only difference is that a bunch of his heroes were there Saturday to welcome him to the brotherhood.
Michael Vick told me if I ever need anything to call him, and hes going to take me under his wing and show me the ropes, Curry said. People here are so embracing, and its very humbling.
As a fan, you never really know the people outside the helmet. So you always wonder, and you come up with impressions of what that person is until you actually meet them and youre like, Wow, hes probably one of the nicest people I ever met.
As a fan, Curry never made it to an Eagles game. The preseason opener against the Steelers on Aug. 9 will be his first.
My dad couldnt afford tickets, he said. I just watched in the living room and pretended I was there.
Curry didnt have to pretend Saturday.
He was there for the show.
He watched spellbound as a video featuring Dawkins most crushing hits was shown on a movie screen. He watched Vick, Jeremiah Trotter, McNabb, Tra Thomas and several other Eagle greats walk onto the stage. He watched owner Jeff Luries historic announce that Dawkins No. 20 would be retired. And then he watched Dawkins riveting retirement speech.
It brought back some memories in my household as a kid, Curry said. Watching the Eagles game on Sundays, trying to rush home from Pop Warner games to see them boys play.
It was overwhelming.
To see his teammates come back, the way they embraced him, and the way they embraced me was really something special, Curry said. Its a moment Ill never forget in my life.
The symmetry was striking. Currys NFL career was starting on the same day and in the same room as the career of one of his favorite players was ending.
His passion for the game is similar to the way that I love the game, Curry said. He wears his emotion on his sleeves, just like I wear my emotions on my sleeve, if you watch the tape. When he was talking about sore losing and not wanting to shake the other teams hands, it sounded like me, but just an older version.
To just be here and meet him, its unbelievable, because I see myself in everything that he was talking about. I was really sitting back there and fighting back not to tear up. ...
I used to picture myself on Sundays and say, This is going to be me one day. To actually see everything come through, its mind blowing. Im a really positive guy, and I just want people in my hometown and all across the world to know, theres never a dream too big. As long as you stay positive and stay true to yourself, all things are possible.
And thats why Curry was so upbeat, so positive, so happy Saturday, even though he began the weekend as a projected first-round pick and wound up being selected very late in the second round.
I was upset that I slid, he said. But I slid into a perfect situation. Life if its 100 degrees outside and I slid into the pool.
Hours after Saturdays ceremony was over, Dawkins, McNabb, Trotter and several other Eagles and former Eagles were still mingling and laughing and sharing stories in the NovaCare cafeteria.
At one point, Curry walked in, and Vick pulled him aside.
He told me, Youre not an Eagles fan anymore, Curry said. Youre a teammate.