Brian Dawkins left everything he had on the football fields coast to coast for 16 seasons, 13 with the Eagles and three with the Denver Broncos.
He was one of the most feared and respected players in the game, a workaholic, a perfectionist. Invincible. He was "Weapon X."
But in his rookie season, Dawkins battled more than just opponents on the field. He was also waging war with himself — an issue few people knew about.
Recently, I spent a day at his home in Parker, Colorado, discussing his past, his career and soon-to-be Hall of Fame induction. Our conversation began with the shocking revelation of how he almost buckled under the pressures of his life and how he almost reached a point of no return. I asked him to describe exactly what he was going through.
"When you're a newlywed, that's tough in itself," Dawkins said. "You have your way of doing things and your spouse has their way, and there are some things that clash in between. But I also had issues growing up period with my anger issues. Not being able to deal with some of the things like the extra energy I had.
"I had troubles channeling that anger in the right direction. They would come out in outbursts, and because I'm a quiet individual, and as men, we don't talk … anyway, I talked even less, and so all that stuff was bounding up. When you don't have answers, it comes out in different ways. During that first year, I had a lot of pressures from family members, being a newlywed, my son, Brian, was born.
"We're new parents with a colicky baby, so there's no sleep, and then, there were pressures on the job. Emmitt Thomas (his defensive coordinator) was constantly on me pushing me to be better because he saw more in me than I was putting out, to be honest.
"Overall, I didn't have any outlets, and so I began to drink a little more than I needed to, and that quickly spiraled down into depression. I went through a real dark, deep depression. Alcohol was a tremendous crutch. There were times I didn't even want to be around my family, didn't want to be around my son.
"I just wanted to be in a dark room by myself with nobody. My room, I won't say was a frequent occurrence, but it was something I would do. My faith back then wasn't that strong, so I listened to the other voice in my head, and that's where suicidal thoughts came in, and then actually planning out how I would go about it in such a way that Connie (his wife) and my son would get the money from my insurance policy."
Thomas and his wife eventually aided Dawkins in getting help. Dawkins began to see a psychiatrist and also began taking medication for his depression. The meds helped calm him down, but he wasn't himself.
"The pain I was feeling was tremendous," Dawkins said. "But then, I found a way to control it. I rededicated my life. Being able to deal with that through my renewed faith. Going to more and more bible studies. Giving my life over to the Lord, completely helped me go on to become the athlete I became and the person I became."
Dawkins is winning the biggest battle of his life against depression.
"That feeling is always there to this day," Dawkins said. "It's just waiting for you to feel so sorry for yourself that you can come back down and start having those same feelings again. My faith is strong enough now that I can tell that part of me to shut up and that's now who I am."
To hear more of my conversation with Dawkins, tune into NBC Sports Philadelphia at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 1 for "SNC Special: Brian Dawkins Enshrined."
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential crisis counseling 24/7/365. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).