Dawkins returns to Philly on Sunday

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - December 23, 2009

With good reason: The Pro Bowl safety poured everything he had into every play during a tremendous 13-year run in the City of Brotherly Love.

His devotion was appreciated and admired.

Still, Dawkins understands team loyalty runs deep. So if he draws a smattering of boos when he returns to Philly on Sunday as a member of the Denver Broncos, he won't take it personally.

That's just Philly fans.

"They are die-hard for their team," Dawkins said Wednesday. "If you're on the opposing team, you are no longer on their team. I don't expect 100 percent cheers out there."

It will be close, though. He's still that respected and revered in Philadelphia and Eagles coach Andy Reid predicted fans will greet Dawkins warmly, if not the Broncos.

When Dawkins signed with Denver in the offseason, there was rebellion as angry fans flooded the phone lines of radio stations in Philly to voice their displeasure. They also gobbled up Broncos jerseys with his familiar No. 20 on the back.

Something about his play just resonated with the fans. He grew on them, and they on him.

"Philly is a blue-collar place," the 36-year-old Dawkins said. "They work hard for what they have. ... They want someone to care as much as they do. If they don't feel like you're giving your all, if they don't feel like you're pouring yourself out on the field, then they're going to let you know about it."

That was never an issue with Dawkins. He was the emotional leader of the Eagles, the spark that helped drive the team to five NFC championship appearances in his tenure, including an appearance in the Super Bowl following the 2004 season.

The Broncos brought him in to fill a similar role, and they haven't been disappointed. The seven-time Pro Bowler has added a nastiness to the defense that's been missing in recent years.

The Broncos defense already marches to his beat.

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb figured they would. "He's a great player ... in Denver and you see why people loved him here in Philadelphia," McNabb said.

Dawkins doesn't want to deal with the feelings surrounding his return.

Sure, it will be emotional. Very much so.

But he's got more pressing concerns - like leading Denver to a much-needed win. The Broncos (8-6) made their path to the playoffs a whole lot more challenging by losing to Oakland in the final minute last weekend, giving several teams renewed hope in the AFC wild-card race.

"This is not just about me going back home," Dawkins said. "This is about the Denver Broncos going into Philadelphia, a tough place to play, against a very good football team. That's where our focus needs to be."

Dawkins will make sure it is.

This may be his homecoming, but he refuses to allow it to become a distraction. He's all business - like always.

"Brian plays every play like it's the last play," said Reid, whose team has won five straight. "That's what you love about him. It is 110 (miles per hour). For him to be doing that the way he's doing that at his age is just a tribute to what a great player he is."

So, do the Eagles (10-4) regret letting him slip away?

"I'm not going to get into that," Reid said. "I'm happy for Brian and this is a great situation for he and his family. It's a great city that he's playing in."

Broncos tailback Correll Buckhalter also will be making his return to Philly. Not even a bum ankle can prevent Buckhalter from missing this contest.

"I told myself, 'I'm going to be back for this game no matter what,"' said Buckhalter, who sat out the loss to the Raiders. Buckhalter thinks he and Dawkins will get a "pretty good reception" on Sunday.

"I think the fans will probably embrace us," said Buckhalter, who spent eight seasons with the Eagles. "At the same time, we play for Denver now."

And the fans do like their booing, providing quite a difficult environment for opposing teams.

"A lot of guys talk about the Black Hole," Buckhalter said of the fans in Oakland. "I played in the Black Hole this year and I was like, 'No, it's nothing on Philadelphia.' It's a whole different level."

What makes the place so hostile?

"Rowdy fans," Buckhalter said. "You have to have thick skin to play in that city."

You also have to play with extreme intensity. That was Dawkins' way - leave everything on the field.

"I've always played with my emotions on my shoulders," Dawkins said. "I've always been that way. I think that connected with (the fans)."

That's why he's so beloved in Philly, and why it's going to be emotional going back, even as he tries to downplay his return.

"Once the ball is snapped, it's football," Dawkins said.

"It's a very important game for both of us."

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