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Dawson: 'It was just phenomenal'

Posted Jun 20, 2017

Dermontti Dawson talks about playing for the Steelers, being a Hall of Famer and more.

Legends Series: Dermontti Dawson
Center
1988-2000

It’s not often a player comes along who has the ability to redefine the way a position is played. But it’s also not often a player like Dermontti Dawson comes along.

Dawson redefined the way center is played in the National Football League, something that came about as the Steelers were preparing for a game and he had a conversation with Coach Bill Cowher about becoming a center who could pull and get out and block.

“It’s an honor when people say that, that you kind of changed the position,” said Dawson. “But it was pretty much a whim. We were in training camp and we were preparing for a game. We were in practice and we were making some adjustments and we were having a problem with trying to block the linebackers at the second level. At the time they were doing gap defenses where they had their defensive tackles in the gaps and they were penetrating and it was causing problems for the offensive line to get out of the first level and get to the second level so linebackers were running free. I told Coach, I’m fast enough where I can snap the ball I can make a call between the onside guard and the backside guard and if I feel that I can get the guy that’s in the gap, because he could slant out and make it tough.  I told him if we make the calls and communicate with the front side and back side with the guards I can snap the ball and let those guys block my assignment and then I would run either straight through or I could pull around. So we started feeling around with that and next thing you know it became very, very popular.

“It’s an honor because now when I go back and see some of these college kids and guys in the pros now that play center, they say well, our coach used to show tape of you on trying to pull from the center position.”

Dawson was without a doubt one of the most athletic offensive linemen in NFL history, and he was durable and dependable as well, as his streak of 170 consecutive games played – second most in Steelers history – proves.  

Dawson was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and was a first-team All-Pro six times. He was also named to the NFL’s Team of the Decade for the 1990s.

Here is more from Dawson in this exclusive interview:

What was one of your best memories from your player career?
“My best memory from my playing career is probably Super Bowl XXX. It’s kind hard to pick out just one. But Super Bowl XXX was always special because that’s every team’s goal, making it to the Super Bowl. As far as a personal highlight making my first Pro Bowl. That was always my goal, it was to make a Pro Bowl and when I made my first one in 1992 that was it.”

When you go into the NFL you probably don’t always think about life after, but after your career, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is something that came along. What was it like when you made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
“It’s kind of surreal. You really don’t know how your career is going to go. You can be injured at any time. You can’t tell and forecast how your career is going to end up. You take it one year at a time. You can’t forecast the success you’re going to have. So when I got the call for the Pro Football Hall of Fame that was the ultimate, because you’re enshrined in Canton. When I leave this Earth, my family, anybody that I know or have a relationship with can go and see my bust in Canton, Ohio.”

Is it special when you have the opportunity to go back there and be a part of the next enshrinement class and welcome in new members?
“It really is because you’re in an exclusive club. I think you should go back and support the Hall of Fame each and every year. If you’re honored enough to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame you should go back and help support the Hall of Fame as well.”

Who helped you the most on the field, becoming a pro, getting acclimated to the NFL game?
“I attribute a lot of my success to just seeing Mike Webster my rookie year and having the opportunity and the pleasure of playing beside him that year. I used to consider myself early in the weight room, but Mike was always the first one in the weight room and I would come in thinking I would beat him in the weight room, but he was always in there first. Always first in line when it came to any drills. He wrote down everything in the classroom. I always asked Mike, you probably know the offense better than the coordinator, so why do you continue to write notes in your notebook. He said it’s so he can have it entrenched in my brain so it’s reinforced. So once Mike went to Kansas City in 1989, Chuck Noll came to me and said I want you and Chuck Lanza to fight it out for the center position, I started doing what Mike did. I would be first in line for drills, write everything down that coach was talking about and even after my first or second, even after my fifth year playing center and I knew the offense, I still wrote it down because I just saw how Mike conducted himself and I wanted to emulate that.”

What was it like to play for Chuck Noll?
“Playing for Coach Noll and the history of the Steelers, it was just phenomenal. He was a legend, a Hall of Fame coach who won four Super Bowls. He didn’t say a lot, but when he spoke, he spoke volumes. So it was an honor to play under him.”

Your other coach with the Steelers, Bill Cowher, was one that said more, wasn’t he?
“Coach Cowher, he was not at a loss for words. He was just a great coach. He came in an enthusiastic, young coach. He was a player’s coach, he related to the players. He was on the field during drills, almost getting hit, but he didn’t have pads on. He was fired up when we were doing Oklahoma drills. One thing I liked about Coach Cowher, players are the ones who have to play so he allowed us as players to have input. No matter what it was, play calling, blocking schemes, it didn’t matter. He allowed us to have a voice to where we can change things because we are the ones who have to go out and perform as players and I think that was very popular with the players. He knew how to relate to each player differently.”

What did it mean to you to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
“It was an honor to play for the Steelers. Pittsburgh was a team that took a chance on me and drafted me in 1988. It was an honor for me because of the rich history and the ownership here. That was important to me to be a one team player and have that team identity with a storied franchise.”

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