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fordfixer
02-05-2010, 01:43 AM
Former Steelers star Dawson awaits Hall call

By John Harris, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, February 5, 2010
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 65731.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_665731.html)

All it took, Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Dermontti Dawson recalled, was some smooth talking on his part, along with his coaches' willingness to listen.

The year was 1992, and Dawson, entering his fourth season as a starter on the Steelers' offensive line, approached first-year coach Bill Cowher and new offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt about a better way to utilize his rare blend of strength and quickness by allowing him to become a pulling center.

Up to that point, centers were mostly stationary linemen who dropped into pass-blocking formation or thudded into defensive linemen to open holes in the running game.

What Dawson proposed was radical. On certain runs, Dawson would execute multiple blocks downfield, taking out linebackers and defensive backs.

Dawson's idea worked so well that he made seven consecutive Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro six years in a row.

"I was the one who kind of thought it up, who said, 'I'm fast enough, so why don't we try it in practice and see what happens?'" Dawson said. "Traditionally, guards and tackles would pull. They'd never seen a center who had the athleticism I had."

Dawson's impact was so immense that he was named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1990s. He made 170 consecutive starts second-most in franchise history before hamstring injuries limited him to a total of 16 games in his final two seasons.

The 2010 Hall of Famers will be announced Saturday in Miami, the day before Super Bowl XLIV. If he gets in, Dawson would become only the fifth center to make the Hall of Fame.

"It blows me away knowing that people respected my game and my consistency and how I kind of changed the way people view offensive linemen," Dawson said. "I wasn't the biggest center, but guys who are fast and strong play much bigger than they really are. I was much more agile than your average offensive lineman."

Said Will Wolford, who played on the line next to Dawson for three seasons (1996-'98): "Dermontti was as quick as you could possibly be at that position. And he was one of the most powerful players I've ever seen play center. He combined an incredible amount of God-given talent with an unmatched work ethic and the desire to be the best. That's what a Hall of Famer is."

Dawson learned from one of the best. He replaced Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, his teammate for one season. As a rookie, Dawson played guard next to Webster.

Off the field, Dawson soaked up everything he could from Webster, who played 15 seasons with the Steelers.

When it was determined that Webster wouldn't return in 1989, coach Chuck Noll asked Dawson, who played guard at the University of Kentucky, to make the switch to center.

Dawson said being around Webster, even for a short time, had a big impact on his career.

"I was in awe of him because of his work ethic," Dawson said. "He was first in every drill. In the morning, I would get there pretty early, but Mike would already be in the weight room, lifting.

"Another thing I learned from Mike was how he conducted himself in meetings. Even though Mike had been in the system for 15 years, he wrote everything in his notes. Even though he may have known the blocking scheme or his assignment, he always wrote it down. That's one thing I took pride in, making sure I wrote everything the coach said in meetings."

Dawson hit his stride in 1992, his fourth season as a starter and the year he became a pulling center. The Steelers that season ranked fourth in rushing and No. 9 in total offense, up from No. 17 in rushing and No. 20 in offense the previous year.

"Coach Cowher would select captains because we were the voice of the players," Dawson said. "We could go to him if there were things we wanted to add that would make us more efficient. The players have to execute, so we knew what would work and what wouldn't work."

Almost everything worked that year. Running back Barry Foster led the NFL with 390 carries and paced the AFC with 1,690 rushing yards -- establishing team records in both categories. It marked the first time the Steelers had a 1,000-yard back since Hall of Famer Franco Harris rushed for 1,007 in 1983.

From 1992 until Dawson retired following the 2000 season, the Steelers finished in the top 10 in rushing eight times, including a No. 1 ranking in 1994 and '97 and a No. 2 ranking in '96.

The Steelers also featured four top-10 rankings in total offense during that same span.

"We had some good offensive linemen," Dawson said. "We could wreak some havoc on defenses because all of us could run. It was a fun time."

Linebacker Levon Kirkland said taking on Dawson in practice was a measuring stick.

"One time when he went to block me, I hit him, and he kind of fell down. I (thought): 'I might have a chance to go to the Pro Bowl this year,'" said Kirkland, who went to the Pro Bowl in 1996 and '97. "I never worried about other centers in the league, because we had the best."

High praise for a player who was all set to attend college on a track scholarship until football recruiters spotted him while scouting some of his high school teammates in Lexington, Ky.

"The NFL was not even a thought (at the time)," said Dawson, who eventually became a second-round pick.

Dawson said it's an honor just to be considered among the best ever in the NFL.

"It was great playing for the Steelers because of their history of those Hall of Famers before you," he said. "It was great to be part of a team that had those players."

All that remains is for Dawson to join that select group.

The Dawson File

Played in seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1992-1998

Six-time All-Pro from 1993-1998

Member of NFL 1990s All-Decade Team

Started 181 of 184 games, including 170 in a row

Started in three AFC Championship games and Super Bowl XXX

NFL Alumni Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1996

Seeking to become only the fifth center voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

steelblood
02-05-2010, 08:59 AM
I don't think he'll ever get in. And, that is a shame.

SteelBucks
02-05-2010, 09:08 AM
I don't think he'll ever get in. And, that is a shame.

I think he'll eventually get in but it might take the veterans committee to do so.

stlrz d
02-05-2010, 09:39 AM
He took over for Webby and actually played better. This should be a no brainer...he should have been in a long time ago.

RuthlessBurgher
02-05-2010, 01:22 PM
I read Gregg Easterbrook's TMQ column on ESPN.com this week, and he referred to Jeff Saturday as a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Saturday is a solid player, but he cannot hold Dawson's jock. If Dermontti cannot get into Canton, the only way Saturday would get it would be to buy a ticket (although with how much Peyton Manning is revered, I wouldn't be surprised to see stupid football writers deifying someone like Saturday simply because the almighty Peyton put his god-like hands under Saturday's crotch at the start of every play).