By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
In his first year of eligibility, Brian Dawkins is one of 26 semifinalists for the Hall-of-Fame's Class of 2017 -- with the smart money on him making the cut to 15 finalists in January. But then the road to Canton steepens, and it's not so much the competition that becomes a speed bump as it is the position he played.
There are only seven pure safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the last one who played – Kenny Houston – retired after the 1980 season, or 36 years ago. And the last one elected? It was Paul Krause in 1998, or 19 years after his retirement, and he's the NFL's career leader in interceptions.
Sooner or later someone must break the barrier that keeps safeties out of Canton, and maybe, just maybe, it's Brian Dawkins.
But that's where the competition comes in. Former safeties John Lynch and Steve Atwater are in the queue, too, with both finalists for the Class of 2016. Atwater made it for the first time and didn’t survive the cut from 15 to 10. But three-year finalist Lynch did, which means he's in the on-deck circle for 2017.
Only that could be a problem. Reason: Simple. John Lynch was not an all-decade choice; Brian Dawkins was. Dawkins also had more tackles, more sacks, more interceptions and more forced fumbles. Both were nine-time Pro Bowlers, but Dawkins was a six-time All-Pro. Lynch was named to the team four times.
Both are Hall-of-Fame worthy, but let's be honest: If you're going to put one in, Dawkins is the logical choice. Except … except there are voters who insist on respect for the queue; that unless the candidate is a first-year slam dunk like, say, a Brett Favre, Joe Montana or Junior Seau, he gets in line and waits his turn.
Under normal circumstances, Dawkins might be that slam dunk. But there is nothing normal about what happens with safeties when it comes to the Hall, and there's always the possibility that Dawkins, Lynch and Atwater split votes – much as happened for years with wide receivers Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown -- guaranteeing that no safety goes in until Ed Reed and/or Troy Polamalu join the party.
And that would be a shame.
Look, Brian Dawkins was the glue and unquestioned leader of a Philadelphia defense that led the Eagles to four straight conference championship games and five in eight years -- with the defense ranked in the top Ten four times during that run and the top Five twice. Appropriately, Dawkins was in the middle of it all, a violent hitter who could cover, tackle and create takeaways that were the hallmark of former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's defenses.
In a 2002 game vs. Houston, for instance, he became the first player in league history to have a sack, an interception, forced fumble and interception return for a touchdown in the same game.
But he was more than a star player. He was a reliable one, too, starting 182 of the 183 games he played with the Eagles, and a team leader with a knack for making critical plays.
"What I tried to do," Dawkins said on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast last month, "was I tried my best to be a stat stuffer. I didn’t want to just be good in one area. I wanted to make sure in every area on the football field that (if) I could help my team win I was going to do it. If that meant getting interceptions, I would that. If that meant getting sacks, I could do that.
"The way the late, great Jim Johnson used me ... he allowed me to do even more things. I consider myself to be a contact safety. That’s why my caused fumbles accounts were so high. If you look at every stat category, I'm going to have something in it of significance, in my opinion.
"Once again, I did not want to have one weakness in my game. I wanted every part of my game to be a strength for my team to help us win ballgames. And I think I was blessed to do that for 16 years."
So do I. But there is a shortage of blessings for safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here's hoping Brian Dawkins can help end that. He belongs, and he belongs sooner rather than later.
(Brian Dawkins photos courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)