Dawkins makes emotional return vs. Eagles

Brian Dawkins was so worried about sapping his energy and

emotions early that he couldn’t even take the field with the rest

of the Denver Broncos for pregame warmups.

So Dawkins patiently waited in the locker room, a thunderous

stadium flooded with No. 20 jerseys waiting his arrival.

He didn’t disappoint, acting more like an Olympic gymnast than

Pro Bowl safety in his first game back at Philadelphia.

Dawkins was introduced last on Sunday when the Broncos defensive

starters were announced. He dropped to one knee, pointed to the sky

and flexed. Dawkins then somersaulted, and turned a reverse

somersault into a handstand. Dawkins nearly took out a cameraman as

he charged through the line and chest-bumped his teammates.

“It’s just real, real nerve-racking,” Dawkins said. “I’ve

been in a lot of big games before. I was just trying to control my

emotions. It was real tough for this game, mainly because we needed

this game so bad.”

Dawkins has played better games at the Linc than in Denver’s

30-27 loss against the Eagles that hindered the Broncos’ playoff

chances. The Eagles inched closer to an NFC East title in a game

that doubled as Dawkins’ Appreciation Night.

Some fans wore his Broncos or Clemson jersey with Eagles hats

and jackets. Others just pulled the ol’ Eagles No. 20 jerseys out

of the closet in what could be the final time they’ll get to honor

one of the franchise’s all-time greats.

The 36-year-old Dawkins was the face of the Eagles and one of

their most inspirational players over a 13-year career. He wanted

to return to Philadelphia, but couldn’t turn down a better offer

from the Broncos.

He insisted his only thoughts were about helping the Broncos win

and getting engulfed in nostalgia.

“Once it was snapped, it was about playing football,” Dawkins

said.

But it wasn’t easy to forget all the memories and friendships

forged over an Eagles career that included multiple trips to the

NFC title game and a Super Bowl appearance. Some of his former

teammates, such as safety Sheldon Brown, pointed toward Dawkins

during the game out of gratitude and respect.

“Those are the types of things I expected from some of the guys

over there,” Dawkins said. “We went to battles, we went to war

for many, many years. We built something.”

Brown wasn’t surprised Dawkins skipped warmups. He’d seen up

close Dawkins silently prepare in the locker room before big games

because he was worried about wasting all his pent-up

aggression.

Brown, who keeps in touch with Dawkins and watches Broncos

games, joked that Dawkins “would have to come out and have an IV”

if he tried to play after warmups.

Dawkins wasted little time taking aim on his former teammates.

He dragged down running back Brian Westbrook from behind with a

grab at the ankles.

He appeared to blame himself for missed coverage on a 47-yard TD

pass from Donovan McNabb to Brent Celek. Dawkins pointed at his

head, then chest after the score that seemed to indicate he knew he

blew the play.

His illegal contact penalty on Philadelphia’s first possession

nearly proved costly. The play wiped out a sack that would have

forced a punt, but the Eagles eventually turned the ball over.

“Too many mistakes,” Dawkins said. “Early one, we weren’t

making the mistakes we’re making. It seems like we’re going through

growing pains at the wrong time of the year.”

It almost seemed like a scene right out of another playoff

celebration after the game. Dawkins hugged McNabb and Westbrook,

kneeled in the prayer circle, then soaked in the cheers from the

fans who stuck around to show him some love one more time.

He blew kisses to the crowd, pumped his fists, and waved to the

fans who haven’t stopped adoring him even though he plays for

another team.

“We did some things together that I’ll remember forever,”

Brown said.

So will those hardened Philly fans turned softies when Dawkins

came back to say hello.