ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Week 1, 2009.
Brian Dawkins, then a 14th-year NFL veteran, was fully in Weapon X mode -- completely engrossed in the game at hand, a battle against the Cincinnati Bengals.
But right before Cincinnati's first snap, he looked to his left in the secondary.
"I saw Champ (Bailey)," Dawkins recalled. "It's going to sound crazy, but I said, 'I'm playing with Champ!' I actually said that. This is the snap and I'm thinking about the gameplan and I look over and I really said, 'I'm playing with Champ' as I'm about to play. That's something I'll always remember. Knowing how much respect I had for this dude when I came here, to get a chance to play with him, that's a blessing."
It's that humble nature, combined with his energy, knowledge and presence both on and off the field, that teammates will remember most about Dawkins.
“Everybody knows how hard he hits, the passion he brings to the game," said Bailey, who recalled the first moment he saw Dawkins lined up beside him as one of his career highlights. "Just playing with him, you get to know how good of a leader he is and how much he loves the guys around him. He pours his heart out on the field. That’s all I ask for from my teammates. To have a guy that you don’t have to worry about on the field with you, it was a special time that he was here.”
Dawkins contributed plenty to the Broncos on the field in his three seasons in Denver.
A team captain all three years, the safety accumulated 233 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions, 21 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
In the process, he made his eighth and ninth trips to the Pro Bowl and helped lead the Broncos to an AFC West championship in his final season.
But there was more to Dawkins' leadership than that.
When he missed four of the team's final five games in 2011, he essentially served as a coach on the sideline, helping the club's young safeties and inspiring the rest of the team.
Off the field, he was constantly helping in the community, from donating Thanksgiving meals through the Salvation Army every year to speaking to a group of children in need from The Denver Children's Home.
“It was lovely just to be in his presence,"
"We used to have to run him off the field after practice," he smiled. "He never wanted to quit and never wanted to give up."
"He's a guy that you look at him and say, 'That's the guy I want to play football like.'"
For all those reasons and more, Mays said Dawkins will be an irreplaceable presence on the Broncos. Rather, it will take everyone on the team stepping up to take on a little bit of his role.
But Woodyard said he's confident he and his teammates will continue Dawkins' legacy, giving everything they've got on every play "like he taught us to."
It's that attitude play-in and play-out for 16 seasons that gave Bailey confidence Dawkins will eventually be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dawkins will be eligible for the class of 2017.
“I don’t think any safety has played as well as he has for as long as he has, and his numbers speak for themselves," Bailey said. "The guy’s a special player. There’s nobody like him. When you’re that unique, the Hall of Fame, they’ve got to notice that. There’s no doubt he’ll be in there.”
Bailey was the first player to talk to the media after Dawkins, and the two players embraced as they traded places in front of the podium.
The mutual respect Bailey and Dawkins had for one another makes the latter's departure all the tougher -- but Bailey understands.
“It’s bittersweet, because I look back at what he’s done, and he doesn’t have anything else to prove or anything like that," Bailey said. "I think every player would love to go out on top. Who goes to the Pro Bowl in their last year and walks away from the game like that? Not a lot of people can do that. I’m happy for him. I would have loved to have had him back, but it’s all about what’s best for him and his family.
"I’m just happy that he was able to walk away with a smile on his face.”