‘Star-struck’ ESPN NFL analyst Brian Dawkins shares time on SportsCenter with idol Barry Sanders

What began as a run of the mill suggestion in a Wednesday SportsCenter meeting turned into an opportunity that left NFL analyst Brian Dawkins nearly speechless.

“If I seemed a little star-struck, it’s because I probably was,” said Dawkins, a 16-year NFL veteran and nine-time Pro Bowl safety. “It was my first time truly meeting Barry Sanders. I’m a huge fan of his, both how he played on the football field and how he carried himself in a humble manner. I love that about him. He was so humble and then he would be absolutely dominating on the football field.

“He’s one of the reasons that I wore No. 20,” Dawkins said. “He made it look cool — like something that I wanted to wear — and a lot of that was because of the respect I had for him.”

During their daily show preparation meeting, the 1 p.m. ET SC team was throwing around ideas on how to treat the segment with Sanders. Producer Rick Angelo asked the group if Dawkins – who was the NFL analyst assigned to Wednesday’s SC, but not in the meeting — had ever faced Sanders.

“At that moment, I looked on my phone to check if their careers coincided,” said coordinating producer Manny de la Fe. “They did for three years. Then I looked up the Lions schedule for those three years and saw Dawkins’ Eagles had faced Sanders’ Lions twice over that time, which is rare for teams in different divisions. So, we decided in the meeting to add Brian to the segment to bring insight into how he prepared to face the great Barry Sanders.”

Preditor (Producer/Editor) Marc Franklin found video of the 1998 game, including Dawkins missing a tackle against Sanders as well as Dawkins recovering a Sanders fumble.

“Safe to say that when we told him,” de la Fe said. “Brian was very excited about this segment with Barry.”

The segment began with anchor David Lloyd talking to Sanders about his Hall of Fame career. After some questions about retirement and his son, a running back at Stanford, Lloyd tossed to the video of the game versus the Eagles. While the video played on air, Dawkins joined them on-set and surprised Sanders with his story about why he wore No. 20.

“To meet him [Wednesday] in this setting, it was a blessing for me,” Dawkins said. “He was very gracious to allow me to heap those praises on him. I know that’s not always an easy thing for guys to hear.”

“It’s not every day you see an NFL All-Pro defensive star be awestruck and sit next to his idol,” de la Fe said. “I don’t think this segment happens without the discussion that started in the ideas meeting – a discussion started by sports fans, for sports fans.”

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