10/03/2012 01:30 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2012

The Legend of Brian Dawkins

Replacing the heart and soul of the defense was not going to be an option when Brian Dawkins, a fan favorite since his rookie days in 1996, left the Eagles to join the Denver Broncos after the 2008 season. That day a large part of the Philadelphia culture and the fabric of the defense left with him.

Fast forward four years and once again, 'Weapon X' electrified the home crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, as he barreled and scampered his way through the tunnel -- wearing his trademark snarl and familiar green jersey one last time.

Nearly 70,000 revved up fans in South Philly shook the stadium on Sunday night, welcoming one of their own back home.

In a city that gleefully vilifies most of its athletes, 'BDawk' tapped into the passion that defines the sports fanatics in Philadelphia. Dawkin's fearless style of leaving everything on the field resonated with even the toughest Eagles critics.

Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 1996 NFL Draft out of Clemson, Dawkins played like every game was his last for Philadelphia until his untimely release in 2009. He thrived in Jim Johnson's blitzing defense, built specifically around his skills, finesse and speed.

After 16 seasons, 9 Pro Bowls, and earning a spot on the NFL All Decade Team, Brian Dawkins finally walked away from the sport at age 38.

The halftime ceremony honoring the retirement of his number was befitting for one of the most beloved athletes in the City of Brotherly Love. During his moving speech, he showed why he was a true leader -- letting the images of his standout career on the big screen represent his
accomplishments. As he led an emotional rendition of the Eagles fight song, stadium workers, security guards, field personnel and tens of thousands of rabid fans united in admiration for a once in a lifetime player.

That the Birds won the game in the last waning seconds, only added to the magic of the evening.

Brian Dawkins, aka Weapon X, retires as a football icon, local hero and lock for the Hall of Fame. But to Philly fans, orange was never his color. #20 will always be an Eagle.