Eagles

Eagles

When Brian Dawkins enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, Jim Johnson will be right there with him.

Johnson and Dawkins were quite a team during their decade together.

In fact, until he met up with Dawkins, Johnson was a highly regarded defensive coach but not well-known nationally and certainly not yet a legend. And until he met up with Johnson, Dawk was a very good safety but hadn’t made a Pro Bowl in his first three seasons.

Together? They were unstoppable.

The Eagles drafted Dawkins in the second round in 1996, and three years later, Johnson became defensive coordinator under new head coach Andy Reid.

For the next decade, Johnson and Dawkins brought out the best in each other.

Johnson developed a reputation as one of the greatest defensive coordinators in NFL history and Dawkins became one of the greatest safeties in NFL history.

Technically, it will be Dawkins going into the Hall of Fame Saturday night. But you know Johnson, proud as can be, will be standing up there, too.

“Without Jim using me the way he used me, I think I would have still had a good career,” Dawkins said recently.

“But if you look at my ability to affect the game in pretty much every statistical category, that had a lot to do with Jim running the defense kind of through me a lot of times, and that’s unheard of, for a defensive coordinator to run the defense through a safety.”

From opening day 1999 through the 2008 NFC Championship Game in Arizona, Dawkins and Johnson were together every step of the way.

 

During that 10-year period, the Eagles went to the playoffs seven times, reached five NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl and were the winningest team in the NFC at 97-62-1.

The defense was ranked sixth in the NFL during that span, recording the second-most sacks in the NFL and sixth-most takeaways.

After the 2008 season, Johnson died tragically after a courageous battle with cancer. Dawkins signed as a free agent with the Broncos after an acrimonious contract negotiation.

It was the end of an era, and it would be nearly another decade until the Eagles were once again an elite team.

But what we remember now of their decade together is that Dawkins and Johnson brought out the best in each other.

They're both legends in this town.

“Love talking about Jim,” Dawkins said. “I just know that with Jim and his imagination and his willingness to go away from some traditional thinking when it comes to the safety position he allowed me and my gifts (to come out),” Dawkins said.

“The things that Emmitt Thomas, the Hall of Famer who was my defensive coordinator before him, helped bring to the surface. Once Jim brought some of the confidence that I didn’t have to the surface for me to be able to do more things with the gifts that I had, Jim just opened the floodgates.

“He would show me different blitzes during minicamp, that potentially could go in, (and ask), do I like this, what do I think of that?

“He would ask me toward the end of the week what I thought of the gameplan or were there any things I wanted to change, and that relationship developed over the years of me suggesting things.

“And I would do everything he would ask me to do. But if there were something I thought could be done differently I would suggest it and a lot of times he would change it.”

Dawkins is the only player in NFL history with 25 sacks, 25 interceptions and 25 forced fumbles.

Including his years with the Broncos, he finished his brilliant career with 41 interceptions, 28 sacks, 37 forced fumbles.

Nobody who has ever played the game is close to those numbers.

"If I am going to build a football team,” Johnson once said, “Brian Dawkins is my free safety.”

Safe to say that without Johnson there is no Hall of Fame induction for Dawk.

We won’t see Jim Johnson on that stage at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio, Saturday night when Dawkins puts on his gold jacket for the first time.

But you better believe he’ll be right by Dawk's side. Right where he belongs.

Just close your eyes. You'll see him.

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