Brian Dawkins' message to Gary Papa

Brian Dawkins
September 28, 2012 12:20:48 PM PDT
The Philadelphia Eagles will honor Brian Dawkins this Sunday. A career full of passion, intensity and hard hits will be remembered and celebrated.

Dawkins' accomplishments on the field are what make him one of the greatest athletes in Philadelphia history. But, on one frigid day in January of 2009, I witnessed the true Brian Dawkins - not the football player, the man. It is something I will never forget, something that transcended sports.

It was a glimpse at what makes Brian Dawkins a true legend.

It was January 11th, 2009, and the Eagles had just beaten the New York Giants to advance to the NFC Championship game. The Eagles locker room was jubilant, except for one player - Brian Dawkins.

The long season had taken its toll on Dawkins. He was beaten up and exhausted after the win. My job that day was to produce our Eagles postgame show for 6abc and we needed Dawkins to do a postgame interview with our legendary sportscaster Gary Papa.

Gary, like Dawkins, was exhausted after the game. Gary was in the final battle of his long fight with prostate cancer. He was having trouble walking, in constant pain, and fighting severe fatigue.

This would be the last Eagles game that Gary was able to cover.

Dawkins emerged from the locker room barely able to walk, his face clearly reflecting the pain he was in. He asked me where we were going to do the interview. I explained that Gary was waiting for him, but it was a long walk to the other side of the stadium. That was as far as Gary could make it before he needed to sit and rest.

A quick discussion ensued between myself, Dawkins and Eagles media relations manager Ryan Nissan. It was quickly determined that Dawkins was too hurt to make the walk. We would have to cancel the interview. That is, until I said one simple thing to Dawkins, "Gary's in bad shape, he's having a really rough day."

Dawkins looked me in the eye and said, "Let's go."

The walk down the hallway through the bowels of Giants Stadium took forever. Dawkins was limping and silent the entire way. We finally got to Gary, who was sitting down and still gathering his strength. Dawkins walked up to Gary and helped him out of the chair.

Then the two embraced.

Both men, two of the toughest I've ever met, began to sob in each other's arms. It went on for what seemed like forever. I then noticed that through the entire embrace, Dawkins was whispering in Gary's ear. I'm not sure that whispering can be described as intense, but that's what this was.

Dawkins was giving Gary a pep talk, a pregame speech before a tough game. It was vintage Dawkins.

I never knew what Dawkins said to Gary that day, but finally had the chance to ask him about it today. Dawkins said:

"I could just see what he was going through and that put a halt to anything that I was feeling. I wanted to get down there and do that for him, to give him a hug and to whisper the things that I whispered in his ear. I know I told him I loved him. That wasn't about me at that time, it was about helping him out."

It is a moment I will never forget. To me it defined two men; Gary Papa, as the ultimate fighter, wanting to do the job that he loved until cancer robbed him of the ability. And Brian Dawkins, as one of the toughest men to ever play in the NFL but more importantly, one of the most compassionate and inspirational people I've ever had the chance to meet.

So celebrate Dawkins the football player this weekend, but remember the man behind the mask. The one who cried with Gary.

He's the true legend.

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Mark Meany is the Executive Producer for Action News Sports.

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