On Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio, Brian Dawkins will receive the ultimate individual honor. He will be recognized on the grandest of stages as one of the greatest to ever play the game of football with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Eagles fans, of course, did not need the sight of Dawkins in a gold jacket to know what kind of player he was and the impact he had during his time in Philadelphia.
Last week, Chase Utley was given a hero’s welcome back to the place he called home for the first 13 years of his career. The Phillies and Dodgers were two first-place teams doing battle, but the subplot was the city of Philadelphia’s three-day expression of gratitude to “The Man.”
Two athletes whose playing careers crossed over during their time here. Two that finished and are finishing up elsewhere, yet are as beloved as any who have ever played in these parts.
What’s the common bond? Heart. Both played the game as hard as it could be played. Both carried themselves with character off the field. One won a championship, the other came close. Most of all, Philadelphians saw themselves in both. All any fan of any team wants (in addition to winning) is for the players on their teams to care as much as they do. It’s easy to sniff out the ones who don’t. Dawkins and Utley personified the former. Hence the reason the duo pierced the hearts of the faithful.
Bernie Parent and Julius Erving leap to mind when you think about others who have captured the collective souls and minds of this town. Bobby Clarke and Allen Iverson absolutely warrant consideration. Wilt Chamberlain, Tommy McDonald and Richie Ashburn back in the day. Despite not winning a championship, Dick Vermeil struck that chord from a coaching perspective. The category is not necessarily reserved for the greatest players who have come through the city, although all of the above would fit that distinction. But there is an intangible quality that bonds Dawkins and Utley in a unique way.
With the exception of the “world f---ing champions” speech, Utley was a man of few words and flare. Dawkins' persona on the exterior was the polar opposite. From his tunnel introduction to Wolverine displays to his heartfelt speeches, Dawkins wore his heart on his sleeve.
Two different approaches, two very different men. But a common connection to the City of Brotherly Love.