Editor's note: This is part of a week-long look at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018, focusing on plays, moments or defining characteristics of the inductees.
Brian Dawkins’ ferocious hit on Alge Crumpler during the NFC Championship Game following the 2004 regular season between the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons is legendary in the City of Brotherly Love. Crumpler learned this firsthand when he returned to the scene of the crime several summers ago.
“I went to a football camp in 2014 for [fellow tight end] Anthony Becht in Philadelphia, and a little 10-year-old kid comes up and tells me he remembers that hit," said Crumpler, beginning to laugh. "It happened in [January 2005]. That I’ll never forget. I said, ‘Your parents have been training you well, young fella.'"
Key details concerning that play have faded from the storytelling over time, including that it resulted in a team-high 31-yard completion for Atlanta. “No one remembers that I held on to the football,” Crumpler said. Or that the Falcons scored a touchdown on the very next play.
Isolated and honored is the hit -- a torpedoing, shoulder-to-chest crack that stopped the 260-plus-pound Crumpler in his tracks, sending him hard to the turf late in the second quarter while invigorating an Eagles defense that played at a fever pitch the rest of the way.
The Eagles went on to beat the Falcons 27-10, advancing to the Super Bowl at last, after being turned away in the championship game the three previous seasons. Dawkins’ hit on Crumpler is the most celebrated play of that game and is considered one of the defining moments of a now Hall of Fame career.
With Dawkins set to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 4, we spoke to him, Crumpler and longtime Eagles play-by-play man Merrill Reese about the sequence:
Dawkins: “It was going to be a physical contest. We knew that going into it; we talked about it all week long amongst ourselves. I felt personally disrespected to be honest with you. They were talking too much about how things fell into Atlanta’s hands: it was snowing, they were a running team, they were going to run over us ... their defense is better. I kept hearing that over and over again. To me, that’s disrespect -- you come into a man’s house talking about what you’re going to do in his house. It just so happened that Alge was the one that got the brunt of the blow when it comes to the frustration and anger I felt.”
Quarterback Donovan McNabb had just engineered a touchdown drive to give the Eagles a 14-3 lead, adding to the urgency as Michael Vick and the Falcons' offense took the field late in the first half. A roughing the passer call on Philly set Atlanta up with a first-and-10 from the Eagles’ 41-yard line.
Crumpler: “We were trying to get something going. From what I remember, [the play] was a Sluggo Seam: a slant-and-go on the outside, a seam on my side. I kind of got a late jump off the ball, so the play took a little time to develop. And as Mike pumped the slant-and-go on the outside, I just have to trust that the safety gets moved off the pump. So, as I stand on my landmark and I catch the ball, I think I’m scot-free.
Dawkins: "The hit really shouldn’t have happened. ... If I did what I was supposed to do, he wouldn’t have thrown it.
“I bit a little bit on the slant, thinking they were going to go slant-and-go over the top [on the opposite side], and that opened that window up for Mike to throw it in there. And once he threw it in there, I was just trying to get myself in position to deliver the biggest hit that I could legally, so that I wouldn’t hurt my team but hopefully put some hurt on Alge.”
Reese: “Crumpler was a very, very powerful tight end. It was on the left sideline. And I remember Dawkins coming up at full speed and just crunching him. It was a frightening hit.”
Crumpler: “I’ve never been a part of a play where I’m running full speed and my next step never hits the ground.
“I held on to the ball and immediately went to the sideline. Our team was excited because our team scored the play after, but I didn’t see any parts of it because I was trying to recuperate.
“It completely took the wind out of me. Michael Vick, he comes over, he’s excited, and I just wanted to get to the sideline so I could catch my breath. All I remember is getting to the sideline, bending over, and a minute later our team is excited, and that kind of rejuvenated me. At least it counted for something.”
Dawkins: “It hurt [me, too]. He was probably about 270 at that time. It hurt. If you go back and watch the film, I was wobbly when I hit him. My leg kind of buckled when I hit him because that’s a lot of pressure, a lot of force. That’s why I always say most defenders have a screw loose, especially linebackers and safeties ... you have to have a screw loose because you know it’s going to hurt, but you don’t back down, you don’t slow down -- you go as hard as you can, you deliver as big of a hit as you can to send a message, every time.”
Reese: “Dawkins played with total disregard for the welfare of his body. He would do that time and time again.”
Crumpler: “I always had the confidence that I’m a big guy; as long as I’m running full speed, it’s going to hurt them as much as it hurt me. And I know it took a lot out of him. Whatever it took out of him, it kind of magnified defensively for his team for the rest of the game, because we couldn’t get much going after that.”
Dawkins: “During that week, we knew we were going to be physical. They’re a physical football team, but we were going to go out to make sure that everybody knew, when the game was over with, that the Philadelphia Eagles, that particular defense, was one to be reckoned with in that game. So it wasn’t just me. Hollis [Thomas] had a huge hit on Michael Vick ... Trot [Jeremiah Trotter] had a huge hit on Mike. ... It was a continuation of hits. We wanted to punish, punish, punish as much as possible. That just so happened to be the hit that everybody thinks about as being the hit that set the tone, and I think it did set the tone [in part], but I think the tone was already set. That was just the exclamation point on how this thing is going to be the rest of the game, and everyone fed into it.”
After that series, the Falcons were shut out the rest of the way, managing just 64 yards of offense over two-plus quarters. The Eagles were on their way to the Super Bowl.
Dawkins: “For us to finally get over the hump to have a chance to play in the Super Bowl after failing three times at that point to reach that plateau; to see the emotion that spewed out of [head coach] Andy [Reid], that spewed out of [defensive coordinator] Jim Johnson, hugging my neck, crying, ‘Dawk, we did it. We did it.’ Seeing their families on the field. That was a game that was the most memorable of my career.”