Brian Dawkins came home to teach a final lesson. He stood at the podium on the day his dirt-stained No. 20 was retired and showed every athlete who has played here (and ever will) how to create a lifelong bond with nation’s toughest sports city.
Tears running down his face, Brian Dawkins said goodbye with the same soul-baring emotion that punctuated his brilliant tenure as an Eagle. Let the record show that the same man who became the fire-breathing Wolverine before and during games walked away in the same intense and winning style.
Every wavering word he delivered rang true. Every tear was genuine. Dawkins said his coaches — especially beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson — knew he would “sacrifice a body part” in the service of the Eagles and their endless quest for a championship.
His greatest regret was that he couldn’t deliver the ultimate prize for Johnson and the fans. In a sports world populated by frauds, Dawkins is the real thing. He is the embodiment of every Philadelphia sports fan: ferocious in his desire to win, sickened by the notion of failure. No one has ever played in Philadelphia who was more open or honest than Brian Dawkins.
And that’s why, during his extraordinary farewell, the hardest thing to watch was Jeff Lurie gush over a hero the owner had coldly and stupidly banished to Denver three years ago. For a couple of million dollars, Dawkins could have spent his entire career here. Instead, the Eagles treated him like every other over-30 employee.
Brian Dawkins, who just a few days earlier had admitted he wasn’t sure he wanted to retire an Eagle, must have gagged inside when Lurie called him his all-time favorite Eagle. Can you imagine how Dawkins would have been treated three years ago if Lurie didn’t love him so much? True to form, however, Dawkins silently took the hit.
Like so many moments in his glorious career, he did it for the fans. Dawkins took his place among the immortals on the Eagles — Chuck Bednarik, Steve Van Buren, Tom Brookshier, Pete Retzlaff, Al Wistert, Jerome Brown and Reggie White — knowing that the fans wanted him to rise above the phoniness of an organization that didn’t fully appreciate him until he was gone.
Brian Dawkins wasn’t the only one crying on Saturday. So were the rest of us — crying that one of the true greats is gone, crying that we may never see another player who represented us so well, and crying that so few people in sports will grasp the priceless lesson he taught about honest emotion.
No love for J-Roll
At a time when the Phillies needed him most, Jimmy Rollins failed spectacularly. Called upon to earn the $33-million contract he signed last winter, he was a disaster as the No. 3 hitter in a lineup desperate for production.
During his 19-game audition as a middle-of-the-order guy, he managed no home runs and three RBIs, with an embarrassing .216 average. In other words, for three weeks he was a No. 8 hitter batting five slots too high.
Of course, his many loyalists will find excuses for this failure. They will say he has been a lead-off hitter his entire career, though Rollins has never embraced the patience required of that role. They will cite the lack of hitters around him. They will write it off as a slow start.
Well, here’s the brutal truth. Rollins is one of the most selfish players in Philly history. He plays not for the team, but for himself. Remember when Charlie Manuel sat him down and stressed the need to work counts more, to draw more walks? Rollins has walked five times in 88 at-bats.
When the Phillies shelled out all that money last winter, they were buying more than a fading 33-year-old .268 hitter past his prime. What they got instead is just one more reminder that the good old days are gone.
Orange and Black rule city
The impossible has happened. Hockey has surged past football and baseball to become the No. 1 sport in Philadelphia. With their talented youth and their crazy goalie, the Flyers have captured the imagination of a city that has almost always preferred the pigskin or the horsehide.
As a sports talk-show host here for 23 years, I can say with certainty that the most popular player in our city right now is Claude Giroux, the most admired coach is Peter Laviolette and the most anticipated games are the playoff extravaganzas against the Penguins and now the Devils.
It’s not hard to understand, really. The Eagles — kings of the city most of the time — aren’t playing, and were a dull and disappointing 8-8. The Sixers, hardly a blip on the fan radar since Allen Iverson left, are not even registering during their current — and probably very brief — appearance in the playoffs.
And then there are the Phillies. Most recently the object of the most attention and affection, they are one of our most boring sports teams in recent memory. Switching from the Phillies-Cubs game to Flyers-Devils on Sunday was jarring, like accelerating from 0 to 60 in three seconds.
For as long as it lasts, this is an amazing time in Philadelphia sports, a rare moment when the Flyers are not just beating the Penguins and Devils, but the Eagles and Phillies as well.
– Angelo Cataldi is the host of 94 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 to 10 a.m.
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