The inevitable canning of Eagles' defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott, has made me somewhat reflective on the state of my team's defense over the past few seasons post Jim Johnson. With two seasons of McDermott-ball under the belt and a high powered offense to support each time, we still get the same result: a first round playoff stomping.
Don't get me wrong, the firing needed to happen. My problem is it's just too easy to place all the blame on Mr. McDermott. True, his scheme did not effectively adapt the players he had under contract to the old scheme used by the legendary Jim. True, his youth probably didn't win him too much respect from his equally youthful players. True, the stats usually don't lie (especially the worst red zone defense in football). But if there was one thing this defensive unit truly lacked over the past two seasons it was on-field leadership: the kind us fans in Philly have come to take for granted. Don't forget, we had good old number 20 standing back there for us for more than a decade.
And that's when it hit me. This defense truly started to crumble once we saw the official departure of Brian Dawkins. His skills may have been eroding at the time of his release, but as we all know he was much more important to the team than simple physical skills. That brought me back down memory lane to an enraged letter I wrote to the Eagles front office way back when. Enjoy the memories and pray we find ourselves some kind of defensive leader in the off season.
Dear Philadelphia Eagles Front Office,
I write to you on behalf of native Philadelphians across this great nation who, with one prick of the skin, could produce a few drops of genuine green blood. As you must know by now, the citizens of your fair city have been riding the rollercoaster that is Eagles football since the team’s inception in 1932. They’ve danced in the glory of the triumphs and wallowed in the despair of many punishing defeats. They’ve faced disappointment so many times it’s become somewhat of a profession. They’ve cemented a name in sports history as the city who over-criticizes its heroes.
But you and I both know they only do this because they care. They care about community pride. They care about toughness and tenacity. They care about rising from the ashes time after time. And, most of all, they care about their football team. They simply want it to be the heartbeat at the very center of it all.
There is no one, in my mind, who has typified this attitude on the playing field more than Pro Bowl free safety Brian Dawkins.
If the city of Philadelphia could somehow sprout legs, strap on a helmet, and run out on the gridiron, it would surely take the form of old, reliable number 20. It would sit back in its safety position and deliver bone-crushing hits on unsuspecting receivers. It would break through the line at blazing speed and punish the quarterback. It would somehow develop an uncanny magnetism for the football and jar loose a fumble at just the right moment. It would appear on your television screen as if out of nowhere to snag an interception. And, each time, it would celebrate with a characteristic flex of the muscles and a flap of the wings.
I make this comparison because I want you to realize how important this guy was to his team and its fans. His track record on the playing field speaks for itself: seven pro bowls, 936 total tackles, 34 interceptions, 32 forced fumbles, and 21 sacks. That’s a lot of numbers to chew on.
But forget those.
Instead, let’s go back to a game in 2002 against the Texans when Dawk did it all. On defense he threw David Carr around like a rag doll, recording a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Then he caught a pass from Brian Mitchell on offense and scampered 54 yards for a touchdown.
Or we can think back to a certain 4th down connection from Donovan McNabb to Freddie Mitchell against the Packers in the 2003 Divisional Playoffs. No, Dawkins wasn’t playing offense this time around, but he did set up an Eagles win by picking off Brett Favre in overtime.
There was the unlikely run we saw two seasons ago. Dawk basically sealed a division title by ending games in Weeks 15 and 16 with interceptions in the end zone, first off of Eli Manning and then Tony Romo.
And this past season…is there anyone who could possibly downplay Dawk’s vital role in leading his team to a fifth NFC Championship game in the past eight years?
These are reasons enough for me to believe Weapon X still has a few more years left in the tank, both as a heavy-hitting playmaker at safety and as an emotional locker room presence
So how can you just chew him up and spit him out? How can you treat him like some ordinary player? Some chump free agent off the street?
The man gave his heart and soul to this team, to this city, to every fan who’s ever donned that midnight green number 20 replica on Sunday afternoons. The very least he deserved was to finish his career with the team who drafted him 13 years ago.
I’ve been a fan of this team for 30 years, and in that time I’ve endured repeated heartbreak. I’ve seen the team through stretches of perennial futility. I lived through the Kotite years. And each time I came back a stronger fan than ever.
But this time, I just don’t know.
The Sporting Scribe