The hardest thing about making a list of Brian Dawkins' greatest plays is narrowing it down.
There are just so many of them.
Acrobatic interceptions. Massive hits. Huge sacks.
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For 13 years, Dawkins played safety at an elite level for the Eagles. On Saturday night in Canton, Ohio, he'll take his rightful spot alongside the greats in the history of the game when he's enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here are 10 unforgettable plays that helped get him there.
10. Welcome to the league, Cliff Russell
The Eagles finished the 2003 regular season with a 31-7 win over the Redskins, and late in the game, Tim Hasselbeck completed a short pass to a young wide receiver named Cliff Russell, who was playing in his third NFL game. Russell caught the ball in space and tried to juke Dawkins, but Dawk met him, stuffed him and then lifted him up and body slammed him to the ground. Russell only caught five passes in his career but is part of every Brian Dawkins highlight reel.
9. Picking off Romo
The Eagles led the Cowboys, 16-7, early in the fourth quarter of their 2006 game at Texas Stadium when Tony Romo, on a 2nd-and-3, spotted Terrell Owens near the back of the end zone. But Dawkins leaped high in the air, reached up, snagged the ball and tumbled to the ground just in bounds. It was one of the most athletic interceptions of Dawk's career, and the Eagles went on to win, 23-7, with Jeff Garcia outplaying Romo.
8. Doing it all
It was his only career catch and it came on a fake punt against the Texans. The Eagles led 20-7 in the third quarter and faced a 4th-and-7 at their own 43-yard-line. They lined up in punt formation, but instead of snapping the football to Sean Landeta, Mike Bartrum snapped to Brian Mitchell, who shoveled the ball to Dawkins. He took off through the confused Texans for a 57-yard touchdown. Dawkins that day became the only player in NFL history with an interception, sack, reception and touchdown in the same game. It was the Eagles' second-longest pass play of the season.
7. Going airborne
In the third quarter of the Eagles' playoff win over the Vikings in Minneapolis in 2008, the Eagles were clinging to a 16-14 lead with the Vikings driving inside Eagles' territory. On a crucial 3rd-and-6, Dawk sped past Matt Birk - a six-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman - and as Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson prepared to throw, Dawkins flew through the air and smacked his right arm, freeing the football for a strip-sack. The Vikings recovered the fumble but were forced to punt, and they never scored again. The Eagles won 26-14. It was the last game the Eagles won with Dawkins in uniform.
6. Embarrasing the Cowboys
One of the highlights of that wild 44-6 win over the Cowboys on the final day of the 2008 season - that along with three other fortuitous results improbably propelled the Eagles into the playoffs - was Dawk's savage hit on Marion Barber in the third quarter. The Eagles already led, 34-3, but the Cowboys were on the Eagles' 12-yard-line when Romo hit Barber on a short pass inside the 5-yard-line. Dawkins jarred the ball loose from Barber, and Joselio Hanson recovered and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown. It remains the second-longest fumble return in Eagles history and the longest ever against the Cowboys. Dawk also forced a Tony Romo fumble in that game that Chris Clemons returned 73 yards for a TD.
5. Getting the best of L.T.
One of the most underrated plays of Dawkins' career came late in the 2001 season when the Eagles faced the Chargers at the Vet. With the game tied at 7 late in the first quarter, the Chargers had a key 3rd-and-1 inside the Eagles' 40-yard-line, and QB Doug Flutie handed off to Hall of Fame tailback LaDainian Tomlinson. But Dawk was there to stuff L.T., knock the ball out of his hands, scoop it up and return it 49 yards for the only fumble recovery return touchdown of his career. Dawk actually out-ran L.T. all the way to the end zone. It was the only fumble of L.T.'s brilliant career that was returned for a touchdown.
4. Blasting Michael Vick
Technically, the play never happened. Don't tell Michael Vick. Late in the third quarter of the Eagles-Falcons 2002 playoff game at the Vet, the Falcons had a 2nd-and-10 on the Eagles' 20-yard-line, trailing, 13-6. Vick, who joined the Eagles seven years later, took off like a rocket up the middle and was nearing the end zone when Dawkins launched himself violently into Vick's midsection. Vick actually tumbled down into the end zone, where both Vick and Dawkins lay motionless for a couple minutes. Vick was even briefly replaced by Doug Johnson. As it turned out, a holding penalty on Falcons left guard Travis Claridge nullified the touchdown, and the Falcons wound up not scoring on that drive. Dawkins later intercepted Vick, and the Eagles had a 20-6 win.
3. Stripping Big Ben
The Eagles led the Steelers, 12-6, with 3 ½ minutes left in their 2008 Week 3 matchup at the Linc, and the Steelers had a 3rd-and-15 inside their own 25-yard-line. Ben Roethlisberger dropped back and was getting ready to unload the football when a blitzing Dawkins literally flew through the air past right guard Kendall Simmons and batted the ball out of Big Ben's right hand. Dawk immediately turned and recovered the ball, and an Akers field goal four plays later gave the Eagles a two-possession lead with 2 ½ minutes to go on their way to a 15-6 win over a 12-win Steelers team.
2. Picking off Favre
In the Eagles-Packers 2003 playoff game at the Linc, the legendary 4th-and-26 conversion and a David Akers field goal sent the game into overtime, where the Packers got the ball after an Eagles three-and-out. Dawk picked off Favre at the Eagles' 31-yard-line on the Packers' only snap of overtime, then returned it 35 yards to the Packers' 34 - the second-longest overtime interception return in NFL postseason history. Four plays later, Akers hit the game-winner, and the Eagles were off to the NFC Championship Game.
1. Crumpler crumpled
Just say the name Alge Crumpler and Eagles fans know exactly what you're talking about. Brian Dawkins' bone-crunching hit on Crumpler changed the course of the 2004 NFC Championship Game at the Linc between the Eagles and Falcons and is really Dawkins' signature play from his 16-year Hall of Fame career. Crumpler actually hung on for a 31-yard gain after getting walloped by Dawkins, and Warrick Dunn scored from 10 yards out for Atlanta on the next play. But the tone of the game had been set. "They did score there," Dawk said. "But it didn't matter. We had made a statement. I had delivered a message." Dawkins hit Crumpler so hard, he sent the 260-pound five-time Pro Bowler flying through the air and into a motionless pile on the ground. Dawkins would probably be suspended for a month if he made that hit today. "I knew it would be a big hit," Dawkins said. "I could see it coming because he never saw it coming." The Falcons never scored again and gained only 69 yards on their next six possessions, and the Eagles won, 27-10, to advance to the Super Bowl in Jacksonville. "To hit somebody, really hit somebody, there has to be something that's not right inside you. Because you're doing something a normal person would not do."
Here's my complete chapter on the Dawk hit on Crumpler from The 50 Greatest Plays in Eagles History.
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