ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Brian Dawkins spent his first day of retirement at the office.
The veteran safety, who is calling it a career after 16 seasons in the NFL, dropped by Broncos headquarters Tuesday to say his goodbyes and thank management for allowing him to play three seasons in Denver after his bitter divorce from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009.
Dawkins went around the locker room gathering hugs and well wishes and then stopped by the Broncos draft room, where he jokingly covered his eyes, promising not to peek.
Team owner Pat Bowlen presented Dawkins with a framed No. 20 blue and orange jersey and Dawkins got one last chance to thank general manager Brian Xanders for bringing him to Denver and Broncos boss John Elway for keeping him here last season after an injury-filled 2010.
Dawkins promised not to be a stranger, then met with the media for 35 minutes before shaking everybody’s hand in the room.
Donning a stylish brown beret, Dawkins looked relaxed, just like you’d expect from somebody who 24 hours earlier had announced he’d no longer be punching a clock.
Monday had been difficult for Dawkins, filled with emotion as so many friends and former teammates called to congratulate the perennial Pro Bowler about his decision and reminisce about the good times.
“But today it’s a lot better,” Dawkins said. “Like I said yesterday, I’m at peace with the decision. It’s more of a joy to be able to see these guys.”
Dawkins reiterated his desire to help coach his son’s high school football team. Brian Jr. will be a sophomore next fall at Valor Christian in Highlands Ranch, south of Denver, where he plays receiver and cornerback.
And he pledged he was only a phone call away should the Broncos’ young safeties, Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore, have any questions.
Recently signed free safety Mike Adams tweeted that he’ll wear No. 20 in Denver in honor of Dawkins, adding that’s why he wore that number in Cleveland in the first place.
That touched Dawkins, who called it “kind of the ultimate as far as respect is concerned.”
“It always lets me know that I am up there in age, that I’ve played the game a long time,” Dawkins added.
Nobody played safety in the NFL longer than Dawkins, 38, who logged 16 seasons as the position, his first 13 with the Eagles, whom he’ll visit with on Saturday so he can bid farewell to Philadelphia’s fans, too.
“It’ll be tough and I know some of my teammates will come back, but it’ll be tough, you know, to go back there to kind of close the door on that chapter of my life and move on,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins, who declared Monday there was “always going to be pain” over the end of his 13-year run with the Eagles, said he still hadn’t decided whether he’d sign a one-day deal to retire as an Eagle.
“I just want to take some time to think about it,” he said.
Dawkins was known as much for his passion as his nine Pro Bowls. The humble, mild-mannered man would work himself into a frenzied, frothing hitting machine on Sundays.
Now, he said he’ll channel that energy and enthusiasm into his workouts and coaching his kid — but don’t expect to see him giving those crazed pregame speeches anymore.
“I’m more of a guy that encourages more, not a yeller or screamer, I’m not that type of a guy. I like to maybe take you to the side and explain it to you, really get into the details of what it is I’m trying to get you to understand,” Dawkins said.
What Dawkins said he’s really looking forward to is spending more face time with his family.
“That’s one of the main reasons that I decided to step down, was to spend more time at the house, spend more time with my son. He’s getting up there in age and being there for him is different when you’re playing the game of football,” Dawkins said.
“I spent so much time here. I spent a lot more time than the average cat. When I get here it’s dark and when I leave here it’s dark. So, I don’t get to spend a lot of time talking with him and now I’ll be able to do that a lot more.”
Looking back on his career, Dawkins said winning the 2004 NFC title game stood out and his late mentor, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson hugging him and yelling, “Dawk, we did it! We did it.”
Dawkins didn’t have nearly that kind of success in Denver, but he had memorable moments, like the time he first lined up with star cornerback Champ Bailey.
Thinking about the game plan and getting ready for his first snap with his new team, Dawkins couldn’t help but marvel over his new lot.
“I looked to my left and I saw Champ,” Dawkins recounted. “It’s going to sound crazy, but I’m like, `Man, I’m playing with Champ!”‘
Bailey said the feeling was mutual.
“That’s one of my highlights. I was fortunate enough to play with John Lynch. We all know what a special player he was, and I thought I would never play with a guy like Lynch again, and here comes Brian Dawkins,” Bailey said.
As a member of the NFLPA executive committee, Dawkins pushed for new league rules that limited full contact during camp and in the regular season, and he said he’s proud that part of his legacy is less hitting so that players’ careers can last longer.
Yet, he lamented the league’s crackdown on hard hits, which he suggested has had an unintended consequence with some defenders going after a guy’s knees for fear that a high tackle will result in a flag or a fine and maybe even a suspension.
Take a look at any montage of Dawkins’ hardest hits from early in his career and you’ll realize most of those wouldn’t be legal today.
“It’s going to be tough for guys to continue to play the way that my generation played it, because of the way the rules are set up,” Dawkins said. “And the thing I’m concerned about now is where the hit zone is going to be. My hit zone is no longer going to be in the chest, it’s going to be in the knees and you’re going to see guys getting hit in the knees a lot more.”
When he was coming up, those types of tackles were taboo. Now, it’s the other way around: the high hits are off-limits.
“So, that’s the one thing that worries me about going forward,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins’ teammates lamented the loss of their heart and soul but celebrated his decision nonetheless.
“I would have loved to have had him back,” Bailey said, “but it’s all about what’s best for him and his family. I’m just happy that he was able to walk away with a smile on his face.”
So is linebacker Joe Mays, who played with Dawkins in both Philadelphia and Denver.
“It was lovely, man, just to be in his presence,” Mays said. “The type of player he was, the type of person he was … those are some of the things that you take with you for a lifetime.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)