Q. You wrote a piece recently citing five former Eagles that you felt deserved to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but weren’t. I don’t disagree with any of your choices, although I must admit Al Wistert was before my time. But I was shocked you did not include Brian Dawkins on your list. Don’t you think he deserves to be in Canton?
A. I should have made it clear that I was writing about former Eagles who were eligible for the Hall of Fame but were passed over. Brian Dawkins is not yet eligible. The rules are that a player must be retired for five full seasons before he is eligible for election. Dawkins won’t be eligible until 2017.
But in answer to your question, I absolutely believe Dawkins deserves to be in Canton. I feel he deserves to be voted in on the first ballot. Whether he is or not remains to be seen -- the voting can be very unpredictable -- but he deserves it. He was a great player.
I don’t have to make the argument to an Eagles fan. Anyone who watched Dawkins play for 13 seasons with the Eagles knows his impact. He could play the run, he could blitz as well as any linebacker (he had 21 sacks), he could cover a receiver one-on-one or in a zone, his mere presence could discourage an opponent from going across the middle.
Jim Johnson, the late defensive coordinator, referred to Dawkins as a Swiss Army knife because he could do so many things. The Eagles had some talented defensive players in those years -- Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter and Troy Vincent all went to the Pro Bowl -- but Dawkins was the key. Each opponent started its game planning by asking: “What do we do with No. 20?”
Dawkins changed the perception of safeties as second-tier players. He showed what a versatile and talented athlete can do -- and how many ways he can impact a game -- from the safety position. He was the prototype for the current wave of big-play safeties like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Earl Thomas. It is fair to say Dawkins pioneered a whole new approach to defense.
There are only 10 safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and three of those spent part of their careers at cornerback: Ronnie Lott, Mel Renfro and Rod Woodson. There hasn’t been a pure safety voted into the Hall of Fame since Paul Krause in 1998. So Dawkins is not a slam-dunk in the same way, say, Reggie White was. But Dawk was so good for so long I have to believe he will have his day in Canton.