|Dermontti Dawson is arguably the best center in Steelers' history (Getty Images)|
Until a few years ago, the Steelers were known for their "three yards and a cloud of dust" run-first mentality. It's also an organization that prides itself on stability, having just three head coaches since 1969 -- Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin -- with six Super Bowls among them. But a huge part of that early success -- both in the running game and more generally, the championships -- was due to stability at the center position.
|2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame|
Hall of Famer Mike Webster manned the position from 1976 to 1988, succeeding Ray Mansfield, who had the job from 1966 until Webster took over. And on Saturday in Canton, Ohio, Webster's successor, Dermontti Dawson, will be recognized for what he accomplished during his 13 years in Pittsburgh, the only NFL team he ever played for.
The former second-round pick out of Kentucky actually started five games at guard his rookie season, playing next to Webster. In 1989, he moved to center where he was a fixture through the 2000 season. (Jeff Hartings, a capable center in his own right, replaced Dawson, and despite a three-year stretch after Hartings' retirement when the position was in flux, Pittsburgh landed their next great center when they drafted Maurkice Pouncey in 2010.)
Webster is generally considered the gold standard by which all other Steelers' offensive linemen are measured, both in terms of heart and tenacity, but there are some very smart football minds who give Dawson the head-to-head edge.
“Dermontti is a much better athlete (than Webster)," Chuck Knoll said in a 1996 interview (via CSNPhilly.com's Ray Didinger). "Mike had great strength and power. Dermontti has it all: smarts, strength, quickness and speed.”
And Cowher, in a 1998 Sports Illustrated story, noted that “Other centers snap the ball, then move,” Cowher told Sports Illustrated in 1998. “Dermontti snaps and moves. It's all one motion. He is so much quicker than everyone else.”
Recently, Cowher told the Courier-Journal that Dawson redefined the position.
“As a player, I think he really took the position of center to another level,” Cowher said. “His athleticism -- he would lead a basic run play we ran all the time. Dermontti allowed us to do blocking schemes that you never saw before in terms of a pulling center.”
It's one thing to draw rave reviews from teammates and coaches. But Dawson's abilities transcended Pittsburgh. More from Didinger: "In 1996, the Sporting News polled pro personnel directions around the NFL and asked them to rank the players by position. Dawson received more first-place votes than any other player at any position, more than Jerry Rice at receiver, more than Emmitt Smith at running back."
The difference, of course, is that Dawson's had to wait seven years to finally make his trip to Canton. That doesn't matter now. He's there and he's going to enjoy it. “I'll probably have more than 100 people, family and friends, coming to Canton,” Dawson said. “Black and gold nation will be there.”
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