Linemen respect and admire Dawson

Posted Feb 20, 2012

It’s not just those that played with or against former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson that admired the way he played the game, but also those that came after him.

Today’s Steelers’ offensive linemen share that admiration for Dawson, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012.

They have so much respect for him that when the Steelers played in Super Bowl XLIII, the offensive linemen all wore Dawson jerseys to media day as a tribute to him being a Hall of Fame finalist then, in hopes he would have been elected that year. 

“It bewildered me he wasn’t in the Hall of Fame yet so we wanted to rally all of the offensive linemen to wear his jersey at Super Bowl XLIII and do our part,” said Steelers lineman Trai Essex, who helped organize wearing the jersey. “He later thanked me for what we did with. He was so gracious about it. Dermontti Dawson knew who I was, that was a very humbling moment in my life and I will always remember that as a player. Just talking to him was great.”

Essex, along with tackle Max Starks and center/guard Doug Legursky, wore the jerseys and recently talked about their admiration for Dawson, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August along with former Steelers defensive back Jack Butler.

Trai Essex on Dermontti Dawson:

“Being a Steelers fan since I was young I knew all about Dermontti Dawson and the legacy he left with the Steelers. Just the great lineage of centers that started with Mike Webster, continued with Dermontti and now continues with Maurkice Pouncey. Dermontti Dawson defined the position of center. Not only was he big and could snap the ball, he was an athlete.

“It’s beyond respect we all have for him. We looked up to him. We want to model our games after him. He was the epitome of greatness at that position, a perennial Pro Bowler, a perennial All-Pro player. He was also a great mentor. I hear how Tunch (Ilkin) and Craig (Wolfley) talk about him and not only marvel about how athletic he was, but talk about how great a teammate he was, how he helped younger guys out. He even helped Pouncey, gave him words of wisdom.

“Before I was an offensive lineman I used to always watch the skill players because that’s what you did as a kid, you watched where the ball went. Even then I remember some of the great plays he made at center, he would be blocking defensive backs down field and you would wonder, ‘Who is this big guy with all of these receivers and running backs running 30 yards down field finishing blocks?’ I watched him then and once I joined the Steelers I went back and watched film. He was a great athlete but he was a great technician and he was very sound in his fundamentals. The little things he did every day to become who he is, that was an inspiration to me.

“It was due time for him getting in the Hall of Fame. When you walk through the halls at the Steelers facility and see all the great centers and linemen that played here, being a Steelers offensive lineman there is a responsibility and a tradition that you try to live up to.”

Max Starks on Dermontti Dawson:

“I think for us as offensive linemen we have an appreciation when you see someone that was special at that position. Dermontti was the greatest center I ever watched play. There were a lot of great centers that came through the Steelers organization and played in the NFL, but for us he was our standard for what offensive linemen, especially the center position, should be. He did what was unheard of at the time. He had a special ability, a unique ability. He was a big, strong guy but was so quick and could do things that now every offensive lineman is expected to do. It’s the standard because of what Dermontti did. He set that standard and laid the foundation for offensive line play and interior line play.

“We felt he should have been in there as soon as he was on the ballot. I am happy he got in, that he finally got the due respect he deserves. He is a great person, a great man and deserving of being in the Hall of Fame. I look forward to his speech.

“He was a professional both on and off the field. He is a very kind, mellow, honest person. I met him before games and in the locker room. He is so nice, open. He always shied away from the compliments. He is a gentleman. He is a guy a lot of us in the offensive line room have looked up to and want to be like and be on the same level as him.

“I think a lot of younger kids are looking at the type of player he was and you are seeing a lot more athletic centers in this league, pulling on screens and getting out and being a lead blocker. There are characteristics that Maurkice has that Dermontti had.

“When you compare it to the NBA, Michael Jordan was the standard and you wanted to be like Mike. I think at the interior line position, especially the center, you want to be like Dermontti.”

Doug Legursky on Dermontti Dawson:

“The level that he played at and the years he played inspires me to be a better player. You look back at film and watch the intensity he played with, the attention to detail. It’s unparalleled. I am glad he is finally in the Hall of Fame. Even the short amount of time I spent with him in our training camp practices when he came out and helped us made me a better player. I am grateful to him for doing that and am glad to be a part of him coaching me some.

“I learned the little things, the stuff most players don’t even think about. The little tricks to help us fake out the defense, the attention to detail, head placement along with hands, tricks to get your hands on the opponent faster, how to set your feet a different way that may help you out. The stuff players overlook that made him a great player.

“We pass by his picture in the hallway every with all of the great centers the Pittsburgh Steelers have had. It really brings it home for us that we are part of something great. For him to finally get in the Hall of Fame makes us want to work that much harder to live up to the legacy.

“Every time I walk by those pictures I look at all of them. I always take a second to think of the legacy I am following. That makes me work that much harder to live up to it.”