Monday, March 2, 2009

Safety Dance

For most of the last three decades, Eagle Fan has had a love affair with safeties. The Dick Vermeil Era had Randy Logan, who played in 159 consecutive games, went to a couple of Pro Bowls, and more or less managed the unique Philadelphia feat of never really getting blamed for much, since that could always be put on the corner. He also had tolerable hands for a d-back (23 career picks), was a sure tackler, and could still hurt a guy or two. And with Herm Edwards, who managed to rarely get beat because he was willing to let a guy catch 15 balls for 150 yards on short outs in front of him every game on the roster, we always had a better place to point fingers.

The Ryan Era cemented the idea that safety was going to be our favorite defensive position, as Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters were basically a heel tag-team come to life.

A brief word on the original Executioner, Wes Hopkins. If you didn't see him as a young player, before his serious injury issues, you missed a lot. Pre-Dawk, he was simply the best I ever saw in the laundry at that position. Imagine the guy you knew who killed people; now, imagine him as the fastest player on the field. Wes's wheels were so good, they used him to return punts, thought about him at corner, and tried to figure out ways to get the ball in his hands. The only problem was that he just seemed more interested in punishing the coverage team then making big yards. For those transition years before Buddy, he was the only reason to watch the team. If you only knew him for the Ryan years, you only knew about 70% of what he was: think pre-death Sean Taylor with a functioning brain. (Oh, and especially large kudos to Wes for managing to seat his wife next to his mistress so that they, too, could throw down during the game, which made the beat writers at the Daily News sick with happiness, back in the day. Moving on.)

Andre Waters (and no, no one in the area ever called him Dirty, such is the magic of the laundry) was death to knees and ankles and eventually himself, as he managed to be a feared hitter despite being more or less of a smurf. In games like the fabled "House of Pain" MNF match against the run and shoot and get concussed Oilers, they were a video game come to life.

And then, just when I was becoming convinced that we'd never see the likes of those two again, the team came up with Brian Dawkins... a man who combined exceptional coverage ability with mind-boggling hits. He was also, really, the first defensive leader that I've ever seen that was the true leader of the unit, which, given the way that the league has changed, is probably something to expect in the future.

Now, there are significantly bigger Brian Dawkins fans out there, even among the people who write on this blog. I'm too old to just adore a guy anymore, no matter how cartoonishly focused and freakishly effective he might be. To me, Dawk is simply the mirror opposite of Donovan McNabb, in that he's the best to ever play the game at his position and in this laundry, but still human, and prone to criticism/mistakes.

And unlike QB, safety is a position where age comes up fast. In recent years, Dawk seemed to pick his spots more, to lead with the helmet as he tried to will his team to victory by any means possible, and to engage in bizarre Wolverine moments on plays where it didn't seem to matter. This was on the field; off of it, he spoke in tongues, performed spasmodic dance routines, screamed at teammates and generally behaved as if his life depended on winning the game. Is there any wonder we all loved him? He was, mentally, what every fan wants every player to be.

The famous flying leap he threw at Plexico Burress, shown above, was at the end of third-down completion for a first, didn't actually make much contact with Plax, and at the time, just seemed silly. Now, of course, it might be the defining image of his tenure.

The rest of the Eagle writing blogosphere is deeply bent over the idea that Dawk isn't going to retire in harness, but to me, it's almost better. I don't want my memories of the man to be clouded with his last days, where he's getting smoked in coverage, receiving media mouth jobs on plays where he gets to the pile late, and getting lauded for his pre-game hype session like that's an in-game contribution. Leave that, please, to Ray Lewis. Our guy has more class than that.

Rather, instead, see him for what he is today: an aging player in a position where age is exposed with cruelty. The Eagles are better off giving time to the Quentins (Demps and Mikell) at this point, and the big money to someone else, given the large number of holes that are on the roster. If you believe in the young linebackers, you're better off locking those guys, rather then paying off the final days of the Dawk Appreciation Tour.

And I write all that with the full knowledge that lightning is going to strike me dead any minute now, because Dawk might be the most beloved defensive player since Jerome Brown. (We like our heroes to be infallible in this town, and you don't get any more mistake-free then dead.)

Meanwhile, Dawk's new team is in severe upheaval, given that Jay Cutler is throwing a snitfit over being shopped in Cassel-Gate, and Brandon Marshall is getting arrested (again). Dawk's going to wind up playing his final days for a mediocre team in a terrible division, for a coach that's younger than he is, and probably watching Eagles games on satellite with a bored Correll Buckhalter. I suspect he's already regretting the decision. Being the new John Lynch is just kinda sad.

Finally, I'd like to say something about the original point of the piece: Eagle Fan has come to expect some things from their safeties. First, that they will last longer than the usual in-and-out member of the secondary. Second, that they will hit like a man fighting for his life. Third, that they will play with emotion. And fourth, that if they fail in coverage, it's probably the corner, linebacker, or line's fault for not knowing the assignment and/or not getting to the QB in time.

It will be highly interesting to see if the same rules apply to the next wave.

No comments:

Ads In This Size Rule