"That's the love of my life, man. To be the man I am today, a lot of that has to do with her and the things she wasn't going to tolerate. I had to change parts of who I was in order to be with her."
— Brian Dawkins on his wife, Connie
Brian Dawkins doesn't know where he would be today without his wife. Well, actually, that's not quite true. He does know.
He'd be dead.
He'd be in a bronze box in a cemetery somewhere instead of standing next to a bronze bust of himself Saturday night in Tom Benson Stadium in Canton, Ohio, making his acceptance speech for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Were it not for Connie Dawkins, there never would have been nine Pro Bowl invitations.
Were it not for her, there never would have been five first-team All-Pro selections and he never would have been the straw that stirred the drink for all of those great Jim Johnson defenses.
And he never would have become the only defensive player in NFL history to record 25 or more interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles.
"There was a lot of pressure on him after he was drafted by the Eagles," Connie Dawkins said in a recent interview. "Going to a new city. Wanting to be the best. The expectations the team had for him. The pressures of a new family — little Brian had just been born back then. I was sick with an infection.
"The pressures of suddenly having all of this money. The outside intervention with other family members. There just was a lot on him.
"He was still growing into a man at the time. Brian always was quiet and introverted. But when you have everybody pulling on you and you don't say anything back, they're going to keep on and keep on — me included — until you blow up."
The weight of that pressure took a toll on Dawkins. A very heavy, near fatal one.
He struggled with depression. He had debilitating migraines. He was drinking too much. The thermostat on his temper had stopped working.
Connie still remembers the day her husband got so angry that he ran full-speed into a door, ramming it with his head.
"I was very scared for him because I had never seen that side of him," Connie said. "That's when I said, 'OK, we need to do something.' "
"That's when I called Emmitt (Thomas, the Eagles' defensive coordinator) and said, 'You need to come get him. You need to talk to him. We have to do something.' Because I knew he was just pushed to the limit and didn't know what to do."
Dawkins said he came "very, very, very, very" close to ending his life back then. "I remember thinking of different ways to do it," he said. "I thought about ways to do it where Connie and the kids could still get the money" from the Eagles and his life insurance policy.
"That was real stuff in my life at that time," he said.
Together, Connie and Thomas, who would become a surrogate father to Dawkins early in his career, persuaded Dawkins to get professional help.
"It wasn't an easy thing to do," Dawkins conceded. "That's the macho world we live in as men. Especially in the black community. Men don't tell people they have problems. You suck it up, and you deal with it.
"But it was just something that, at that time, I couldn't handle on my own. If Connie and Emmitt hadn't helped convince me to go talk to somebody, then let my faith kick in to overdrive, who knows what would have happened."
Thomas, a 2008 Hall of Fame enshrinee, will be in Canton on Saturday night, sitting right alongside Connie and the rest of the Dawkins family as Brian enters the Hall of Fame.
"He was an intricate part of his life during that time period," she said. "Emmitt helped him deal with that and get him the help he needed. Now, ultimately, because of what he went through, Brian is able to help other people who are going through the same thing."
Brian and Connie celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary last month. The impact she has had on her husband's life and career has been huge. She is more, much more, than the mother of his four children.
"She's the centerpiece," said Dawkins' longtime friend, Troy Vincent, who will present him at Saturday's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "Everything came from Connie. His energy came from Connie. His direction came from Connie. She was the adviser, the coach.
"When someone has known you since middle school, high school, they know what makes you tick. That person loves you unconditionally."
Said former Eagles coach Andy Reid: "That's my girl right there. I'm a big fan of hers. He'd probably tell you she saved his life and kept him going in the right direction.
"I think there was a point in his life when he was young when he was going in the wrong direction. She kind of straightened him out. He owes quite a lot to her."
Yes he does.
Brian and Connie were high school sweethearts at William Raines High School in Jacksonville. He earned a football scholarship to Clemson, and after spending a year at the University of North Florida, she joined him there.
They were married by a justice of the peace the summer before their junior year at Clemson. Her grandfather gave them $100 to buy the wedding bands.
Connie, who describes herself as "an old soul," was the grownup in the room in the early days of their relationship and marriage. She kept Brian focused, kept him grounded, kept him from making the wrong decisions.
"When we would go back to Jacksonville in the offseason to visit, I would pull him back because I would say, 'B, you're not the same as you were. You can't hang out with the same people you used to hang out with,' " she said.
"I just didn't trust a lot of people. I didn't want anything to happen to him. It wasn't like I was being territorial. It was just that, well, we grew up in the 'hood. You can't go back to that once you have this and have that. You just can't do what everybody else is doing.
"I look back now, and most of his friends (from Jacksonville) are dead. I remember him wanting to go back and hang out with one person once and we found out that he had been shot down. I mean, that could've been Brian. He grew up with those people."
Thomas said Connie "was a very good support system for Brian." He said she made him study, kept him regimented and grounded.
"I just can't say enough about her," said Thomas, 75, who coached Brian in his first three seasons with the Eagles. "Brian had some issues. But Connie buffed them out for him, smoothed them out, and got him on the right path and kept him on the right path. She's a strong, strong lady."
Connie never has been afraid to speak her mind with Brian. Whether it was about life or football.
After games, the two of them used to watch the game film together.
"I'd critique him," she said. "I wanted him to make every tackle. When he'd miss one, I'd be, 'What happened? Why didn't you take a better angle there?'
"He'd be, 'You don't know what the play was,' or 'That wasn't my man.' I'm like, 'Go for the ball instead of the tackle.' He'd be looking at me like, 'Would you please be quiet?' "
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie still remembers a chat he had with Connie at an Eagles players' wives luncheon several years ago.
"I was sitting at the table with her and she said to me, 'You know what? My Brian is too stiff. You guys have to find a way to get him more flexibility. He won't listen to me. You have to find ways to increase his flexibility,' " he said.
"She really complemented what he needed, especially in those early days."
"She's not someone to back down from her beliefs and points of view," Brian Dawkins said. "She's very strong-minded. Even with football.
"She's always been there for me. In a relationship, change is going to happen. It's not always fun. It's not always easy.
"But when it's someone you care about and really, really love, you change yourself for them. And I can tell you I changed a lot of who I was to be with her and still be with her."
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.