We are all very proud of you. We have all been analyzing and critiquing your Arizona Cardinal Super Bowl run from afar throughout. Of course, some of us are closer to you than others – but even the most distant of Paint Branch High School alum have taken note of your career. I have been fielding questions about you with every snap of the football, interview, and television appearance that you have made. I assume that people believe that I am a credible source of information – since I graduated one year ahead of you, played football for a bit, and would show up at McKnew Road often to visit with my people.
The prevailing theme in these discussions has been your 180-degree maturation. We have witnessed you grow from an angry, reckless youth and into a composed gentleman. In spite of your NFL Football, 300+ tattoo, and dreadlocked ESPN Sports World celebrity – you will always be “Donny” to this deceptive corner of Montgomery County, Maryland where Silver Spring melts into Burtonsville.
We know your mannerisms – the maddening ability to pass gas at the most inopportune times, the jokester, and the brewing rage that lurks just beneath the surface. Yes, we recognize the source of your anger – and the tribulations that you have witnessed at such a young age would have easily destroyed many of our strongest compatriots.
“Darnell, you play too much” was the shouted theme of exasperation throughout the hallways of Paint Branch High School approximately 1,878 times per day.
Of course, your athleticism could never be denied. Many of our classmates that do not follow football were stunned by your ability to chase down ball carriers and harass Ben Roethlisberger all night. I informed them that at 6’3 270 – you were the fastest member of the Paint Branch team behind Gerald [Dixon] and Luke [Kim]. I remember running gassers, or endless series of sprints only to be left in the dust by Gerald, Luke, and a defensive lineman that was twice my size.
I knew that you were going to the NFL when we were set to play against Damascus High School as an inter league Montgomery County 3A scrimmage prior to the season. This game meant nothing and was merely a tune up to review the playbook, set the table for Coach Green and Windsor to yell at players, and schedule even more work and sprints at the following practice. Still, you were charged and behaving as if this meaningless game in front of the empty bleachers were actually the Super Bowl.
You wanted a piece of Damascus and Tim Falls. You wanted respect.
Tim Falls was the epitome of Montgomery County Football. The hulking left tackle represented the most decorated County lineman and was an All-Met selection heavily recruited by Penn State.
Germantown’s Seneca Valley, Damascus, and Sherwood dominated Montgomery County Football and the state of Maryland at-large with their imposing collection of manufactured, up county, corn fed brutes. I remember you telling jokes, farting, and slap-boxing with Big Mark McKie while declaring all out war against Falls. This is Darnell Dockett. Affable prankster meets fuming mad man packaged inside of jaw dropping size and athleticism.
Tim Falls got absolutely dominated that afternoon.
The performance rocketed you into the regional spotlight and the eventual 1998 Washington Post Defensive Player of the Year your following season as a senior. The headlines at the time also read “Darnell Dockett is the top rated defensive end in High School Football,” and Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles came calling to Burtonsville. We can only imagine the spectacle of Uncle Kevin matching wits with Papa Bowden.
Uncle Kevin was a no-nonsense Father Figure to all of Montgomery County east of Georgia Avenue. The truck company owner was prominent at Kennedy High School to support sharp shooting cousin Antoine “Lump” Wills at Kennedy and attended all Paint Branch athletic events in glowing support of his two sons – biological son, Kevin, and nephew-son, Donny.
Still, the otherworldly talent and questionable maturity pattern held at Florida State. ‘Ol Ball Coach Steve Spurrier lambasted you for allegedly attempting to break Earnest Graham’s legs underneath the football pile and a Peter Warrick – like athletic gear scheme had you posted up performing a bid of highway clean-up duty. Although your skills as an interior defensive tackle were indeed, sterling – these issues buried your draft stock into the third round with the Arizona Cardinals. Perhaps, Tallahassee served as the ultimate wake-up call during this process.
You have always been about battling for respect – but today’s fuel has been directed towards increased life and football production, rather than mischief.
You came up in East County, Montgomery and fought to prove yourself against the privileged powers of the I-270 corridor; you attended a swashbuckling Southern Football Power at Florida State that dismisses all football talent outside of the Bible Belt; and you were to be drafted by an organization that was to be mocked and ridiculed until the very end.
Nobody expected the Arizona Cardinals to arrive at the Super Bowl, nobody expected your Arizona Cardinals to lay the smack down on the vaunted third-ranked Carolina smash and dash James Stewart – DeAngelo Williams rushing attack combination that you were to sarcastically praise as the “Greatest 1,000-yard backs of all time,” and nobody expected the Arizona Cardinals to arrive at the Super Bowl and actually compete with the iconic six-title Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cardinals were supposed to show up, perform the “happy to be here” role, and lay down to make way for Matt Ryan, Donovan McNabb, Carolina, and this Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl coronation party.
Your rolling dervish Super Bowl play terrorized the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield. Pittsburgh’s interior linemen of Justin Hartwig, Chris Kemoeatu, and Darnell Stapleton rotated as surprising, overmatched fill-in imitators for Damascus’ Tim Falls. John Madden steadily waxed poetic – gushing over your intensity, quickness, and sheer football skill.
Although the clock expired with your team scoring the fewest points during this 60-minute matchup – we must salute you all as winners. This Super Bowl XLIII defied all expectations and the Paint Branch High School community relished every second of this Big Game and will continue to follow and respect your Pro Bowl career.
Donny, we are proud of you.
—’98 Paint Branch High School
Darnell Dockett’s Super Bowl XLIII Line:
6 Tackles (5 Solo) and 2 Sacks.