ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --In 16 NFL seasons, Brian Dawkins got one shot at the Super Bowl.
After three straight NFC Championship Game defeates, Dawkins' Philadelphia Eagles got over the hump and made it to Super Bowl XXXIX.
But the New England Patriots left that game with the Lombardi Trophy.
"I'm proud of the NFC Championship ring that I have. Very proud of that," Dawkins said. "I still wear that ring from time to time now. But I would have loved for that to be a Super Bowl ring any day."
The former Broncos safety spoke to the team after Friday's practice about that experience.
Earlier in the week, Head Coach John Fox asked players and coaches with a Super Bowl appearance to address the club. He asked Dawkins to add to that message.
"For me, it's just my experience of understanding what the process is to get to this point and that the process has to even go to greater extents in preparation to win this ball game," Dawkins said of his message. "Finding the balance to enjoy -- without over-enjoying -- the Super Bowl and weeks prior to it, especially next week when you go up there. Just really to be patient and allow the football game to happen. Not force it so much, even before the game, getting too amped up."
The safety didn't necessarily follow that last piece of advice when he made his Super Bowl appearance.
In fact, he said he didn't even enjoy the trip because he was so focused on the game.
For this year's Broncos, Dawkins said, it's about handling the emotions that lead up to the game along with all of the media attention that goes with it. The group will have plenty of advice on how to handle any situation they could encounter in the lead-up to the game -- and even in the game itself -- but it's up to the players to heed that advice.
"You always get good information. But can I now apply that good information when the pressure comes?" Dawkins said. "When you get down there, you have the opportunity to go to all these different places. Now can I then apply the knowledge that I was given and then make myself do what I need to do in that situation? We'll see if these guys can do it. I believe they can. I believe they're focused enough to understand that this doesn't come around all the time."
That faith in this year's team started at the very beginning.
Dawkins addressed the club on the final day of training camp. At that point, there was "no doubt" in his mind that the Broncos had a chance to be the last team standing at the end of the season.
The entire team that Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway put together impressed Dawkins, but it was the leadership that quarterback Peyton Manning brought to the offensive side of the ball -- and subsequent competitiveness that would bring out in defensive players to make sure he didn't get the better of them in practice -- that he believed would push them over the edge.
Still, it was up to the team to weather those expectations.
"That was one of my messages to them: remain the hunter," Dawkins explained. "A lot of times, when you are expected to do something, you kind of take a position of, 'Oh, I want to hold on to this.' No. Remain the hunter. Understand that I can still hunt those people that are trying to hunt me. And so, that's what I think they've done throughout the duration of this year. They've remained the hunter -- especially on the offensive side of the ball."
He watched the team throughout the season, and said he couldn't be prouder of how some of his former teammates have grown.
He pointed to running back Knowshon Moreno and everything he's been through. He noted that some people might have viewed Demaryius Thomas as "a bust" as he dealt with injury in his first two seasons. He thought of Tony Carter, who wasn't on an NFL roster for part of the 2011 season and has since bounced back and played "an oustanding game" in the AFC Championship Game.
"It's different guys that you see that have had to go through some things and grow up, and they're doing a good job of it," Dawkins said. "Very proud of them. When you say you're proud of somebody, it sounds like you're an uncle or somebody looking down, but it's just knowing that I went to quote-unquote 'war' with these guys."
Dawkins, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, said he believes the Broncos will win Super Bowl XLVIII, but held off on predicting a score.
And if Denver does hoist the Lombardi Trophy, Dawkins said he has no doubt what his reaction will be, particularly when thinking about the journey of another well-tenured defensive back -- Champ Bailey.
"Tears of joy comes to mind," he smiled.