Class of 2018 Hall of Fame Weekend: Defensive Inductees

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 19: Former player Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles introduces former player Donovan McNaab at halftime Kansas City Chiefs at Lincoln Financial Field on September 19, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Chiefs won 26-16. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images)

Football is back. Those three words please many NFL fans, as they will be huddled around their TVs, eager to watch the annual Hall of Fame game Thursday night. While it is only a preseason game between the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens, Thursday night’s contest in Canton represents the beginning of the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities. The enshrinement ceremony is the culminating event on Saturday, August 4th, as the Class of 2018 receives the honor of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From dominant statistics to a plethora of awards and accomplishments, these inductees have made their mark on enhancing the quality of football with their presence. This article is part one of a two-part series, highlighting the impact the offensive and defensive players made to the game. Below is a closer look at the four defensive inductees who will be enshrined into Canton this weekend.

Defensive Inductees: The 2018 Hall Of Fame Class

Safety Brian Dawkins Rose Above Personal Adversity

In the era of more research and awareness regarding the impact of concussions, we are seeing a greater number of players speak out about their struggles with mental illness. With more knowledge and dialogue surrounding mental health, players experience less stigmatization when they come forward and reveal personal demons.

When one thinks of safety Brian Dawkins, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos, you think of a fierce competitor and fearless warrior. Known as “Weapon X,” he was one of the most feared players in the game, using his speed and physicality to dominate his opponents.

But leading up to the enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Dawkins has been open about his struggles with depression while playing in the NFL. In addition to competing against an NFL team each week, the safety would have to battle against his inner demons, often causing a distraction in his life.

“I had issues growing up with my anger issues. Not being able to deal with some of the things like the extra energy I had,” stated Dawkins.

In the early years playing in Philadelphia, Dawkins experienced a lot of pressure to exceed expectations, both on the field as a safety and at home as a husband to his wife, Connie, and newborn son.

“I had troubles channelling 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,” Dawkins said. “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.”

Even while Dawkins was becoming one of the best safeties to play in the NFL, he was constantly struggling with depression. His sadness got to such deep depths that he even considered suicide.

“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.”

The safety began to rededicate his life and thanks to an intervention from Connie and Eagles defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, Dawkins began seeking help and treatment for his mental health issues. At the time, it was an incredibly difficult thing to do, but Dawkins knew he made the right choice so he could live a great life post-football.

“It wasn’t an easy thing to do,” Dawkins stated. “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 into overdrive, who knows what would have happened.”

This weekend, Dawkins will get to put on the gold jacket, signifying he is the latest to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Remembered for his fearless style of play, he recorded 895 tackles, 37 interceptions and 26 sacks over 13 seasons with the Eagles and Broncos. He was named to nine Pro Bowls and was also a member of the 2000s All-Decade NFL team. Despite recording remarkable statistics, it will be Dawkins’ perseverance and determination to battle depression that will resonate long past the Hall of Fame weekend.

“That feeling is always there to this day,” the safety stated. “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.”

Robert Brazile Laid Foundation for Pass Rushing

In addition to Brian Dawkins, three more defensive players will be inducted this weekend into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Robert Brazile, Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis are all linebackers, known for their unparalleled physicality and intense intimidation that would consistently slow down opposing offenses.

Brazile, known as “Dr. Doom,” was the first linebacker to effectively execute the 3-4 defense. While many football experts praise former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor as the prototypical pass rusher, it was actually Brazile who was the first to run after the quarterback off the edge with success. Brazile played for the Houston Oilers, where he would consistently rank number one in tackles, performing well both in coverage and against the run.

The talented linebacker would end his career as a seven-time Pro Bowler, a five-time First-Team All-Pro and a member of the 1970’s All-Decade Team. He recorded 48 sacks, 13 interceptions and 1,281 tackles, which was the second highest tackle total in Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans history. As he gets enshrined this weekend in Canton, Brazile will be etched into NFL lore forever as the pioneer linebacker that laid the foundation for pass rushing.

Urlacher vs. Lewis: Whose the Better Hall of Famer?

The Hall of Fame will also induct two linebackers who played in the same era. Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will forever be remembered for their fierce intimidation and unwavering passion. They both energized their respective defenses. But the question many NFL pundits are posing heading into the Hall of Fame weekend is which linebacker was better?

When looking at the statistics, the linebackers aren’t that far apart. In 17 seasons, Lewis recorded 1,562 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and 31 interceptions. Urlacher, in just 13 seasons, generated 1,229 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 12 forced fumbles and 22 interceptions. Urlacher had a quicker rate of reaching these stats than Lewis did, doing so in only 182 games compared to Ray’s 227. While the two linebackers have an equal number of sacks, Urlacher was the more effective pass rusher, where he recorded over five sacks in five different seasons. But Lewis made his mark in the tackling department, where he had eight seasons with 100 plus tackles. 

Where Ray Lewis runs away in this debate is in the number of accolades. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion, being the face of the Baltimore Ravens franchise for 17 seasons. In 2000, Lewis was the captain of one of the most historic defenses in NFL history, which only  gave up 970 rushing yards (60.6 per game) all-year, an NFL record that has yet to be broken. He led his team to a Super Bowl XXXV victory, where Lewis won Super Bowl MVP. For Brian Urlacher, he only went to one Super Bowl, only to lose to Peyton Manning‘s Indianapolis Colts.

In terms of awards and honors, Lewis has made 13 Pro Bowls and was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Urlacher only made eight Pro Bowls and won the Defensive Player of the Year honor once in his career. With both players being premier linebackers that fully deserve their spots in the Hall of Fame, Ray Lewis’ stellar play and impact beyond the game make him the better linebacker when compared to Urlacher.

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