|Ron Chenoy/US Presswire|
|Brian Dawkins (center) spent his final three seasons leading the Broncos' defense to cap off a 16-year career.|
When it came down to crunch time during Denver's memorable 2011 season, the Broncos often looked to Tim Tebow to finish things off. But it was always another man who first got things started: safety Brian Dawkins.
Before every game, while players prepared for kickoff in the locker room, it was Dawkins who led the pregame prayer, which always morphed into an impassioned sermon instead.
It was Dawkins who amped up the team with fiery speeches. It was Dawkins who pulled players -- both young and old -- aside to build confidence or motivate on a more personal note. It was Dawkins, as many players including Tebow would tell you, who served as the ultimate team leader in 2011.
So as we begin to digest Dawkins' impact on the NFL during a successful 16-year career -- particularly whether it is worthy of the Hall of Fame -- there's also something else to independently appreciate: The perennial Pro Bowler is retiring on a higher note than many might even realize.
No, Dawkins didn't cap his career with a Super Bowl. And sure, his final season might have been seemingly marred by a neck injury that sidelined him for four of the last five games. But that's not how anyone within Denver's organization will remember him or his influence on the magic of 2011.
Even though Dawkins was sidelined, he gave a stirring speech to his defensive teammates on the night before Denver's improbable win against the Steelers that resonated with players throughout the memorable Sunday that followed.
Although Dawkins' last season was his first without an interception, it was not void of impactful plays on the field (two sacks in Tebow's first start against the Dolphins stand out). And it certainly was not void of impactful moments off it.
Those moments, when Dawkins led his team in the locker room, might not receive consideration when his name comes up in Hall of Fame talks. But as it pertains to the memories developed during a stretch in Denver that will long be remembered because of Tebow's late-game magic, no player on last year's roster is likely to forget about Dawkins' influence, either.
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington