Along with Allen Iverson, Brian Dawkins is my favorite Philadelphia athlete ever. They both arrived in Philly in 1996, right when I left. And they both played with complete disregard for their own personal well-being, willing to do absolutely anything to win a game. There was nothing outside of the sport they were playing, nothing else mattered. And, as anyone from Philadelphia can tell you, that quality is valued most over almost any other. I would watch Sixers and Eagles games whenever I could. And whenever Iverson would go rampaging through the lane or Dawkins would separate a wide receiver's soul from his body, I would just think to myself, Yup. That's my hometown.
But where everything about Iverson's game seemed very much rooted in the real world — representing an entire culture and a whole generation with every cross-over dribble — Dawkins, who announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday, seemed to be from another world. Which is exactly the way he wanted to be perceived.
I don't remember when I first saw the below NFL Films piece on Dawkins.
I know now that part of the "transformation" Dawkins made himself go through — to go from mild-mannered, deeply religious Brian Dawkins to speaking-in-tongues, berserker "Weapon X" — was probably necessary for him to play the game the way he did. He was basically a human ICBM. God knows how many head injuries he doled out or accrued himself.
Dawkins, knowingly or not, was tapping into something very primal for sports fans. He seemed to know that we wanted them to be larger than life. Whether they were heroes or role models was immaterial; we wanted them to do the things that we could only dream of. Who hasn't dreamed of roaming the defensive backfield like a vengeful god? Who hasn't dreamed of being an almost nuclear power source of belief and confidence for his fellow teammates? Who hasn't dreamed of being such a shadowy, intimidating force that opposing receivers would probably openly beg not to run crossing routes against you? I mean, come on who hasn't dreamed of being Wolverine?