Butler, Dawson elected to Class of 2012

And now there are 22.

With Jack Butler and Dermontti Dawson having been elected today into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers now will have 20 of their own enshrined in Canton, Ohio.

Butler and Dawson will join the other members of the Class of 2012 at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony to be held on Saturday, Aug. 4. The Class of 2012 was the 50th to be elected in the Hall's history.

Butler was elected after being nominated by the Hall of Fame's Seniors Committee, which reviews the qualifications of players whose careers took place more than 25 years ago. That is the same path used by Dick LeBeau when he was enshrined as part of the Class of 2010.

A Pittsburgh native, Butler joined the Steelers in 1951 as a free agent out of St. Bonaventure, and he played in 103 games during his nine seasons as a cornerback for the team until a severe knee injury seven games into the 1959 season ended his playing career.

With 52 career interceptions, Butler ranked as the NFL's second all-time leader in interceptions when he retired after the 1959 season, behind Emlen Tunnell, and he also had 10 fumble recoveries. Add in the fumble recoveries, and whenever Jack Butler took the field for a game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, 60.2 percent of the time he finished with at least one takeaway.

"The best pass defense is the respect of the receivers," said Butler. "If they know they're going to get hit as soon as they touch the ball, they're not so relaxed catching it."

Butler's interception percentage is 50.5 (52 in 103 games), and that becomes the best of any player in the Hall of Fame.

"Jack was one player," said Dan Rooney, "who could have played with the great Steelers teams of the 1970s."

Dawson, a second-round draft pick by the Steelers in 1988, played guard as a rookie, but in 1989 he took over at center for Mike Webster, and he re-defined the position with a level of athleticism that never had been seen from someone in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Dawson becomes the 12th center to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and even as great as his career was, he is in select company indeed.

Here are the other centers in the Hall of Fame, and six of these 11 were two-way players during their careers: Chuck Bednarik, Frank Gatski, Mel Hein, Jim Langer, Jim Otto, Jim Ringo, Dwight Stephenson, George Trafton, Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, Mike Webster and Alex Wojciechowicz.

The two-way players were Bednarik, Gatski, Hein, Trafton, Turner and Wojciechowicz.

Bednarik missed only three games in 14 years and was voted the NFL all-time center in 1969, but highlight reels remember him more for his ferocious play at linebacker; Gatski never missed a game on any level – high school, college, professional – and played in 11 championship games with eight wins; Hein was a 60-minute regular for 15 years and was voted All-NFL eight consecutive seasons; Trafton revolutionized the position by becoming the first player to snap with one hand; Turner was better known for his defense, with four interceptions in five championship game appearances; and Wojciechowicz played both ways for eight straight seasons.

Dawson was an iron man in his own right, with a consecutive games streak of 170, but what made him truly special was the athleticism allowing him to snap the ball, pull and lead a running back around the end, even in goal-line situations. He was strong enough to handle nose tackles – even the stoutest ones – by himself.

In 1992 the Steelers drafted nose tackle Joel Steed on the third round with the expectation of making him the anchor of the 3-4 defense being put together by Bill Cowher, Dom Capers, Marvin Lewis and Dick LeBeau. Steed was a raging disappointment as a rookie, to the point of being inactive when the Steelers hosted an AFC Divisional Round Playoff Game.

In 1993, Steed reported for his second NFL training camp, and it was more of the same. That is, until the team traveled to Barcelona, Spain, for a week of practices against the San Francisco 49ers to be followed by an American Bowl preseason game.

There, Steed seemed to blossom. Overnight, literally, Joel Steed started looking like a Pro Bowl caliber nose tackle, which he soon would become. Joel Steed dominated 49ers veteran center Jesse Sapolo, and that's when the Steelers realized that it wasn't so much that Steed was a bad draft pick but that it was Dermontti Dawson making him look like a bad draft pick.

Here is some statistical verification:

During Dawson's career, 1988-2000, Pittsburgh totaled 26,795 rushing yards as a team during the regular season, the second most in the NFL during that time span. Buffalo led with 26,867. The Bills had only 72 more rushing yards than the Steelers, but attempted 150 more running plays than Pittsburgh.

Both Jack Butler, because of the era in which he played, and Dermontti Dawson, because of the position he played, had to do without a lot of recognition for their NFL careers. Not anymore.

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