By Teresa Varley
Former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010 for the second consecutive year.
"He set the bar for what a center should be and how a center should act on the field and off the field," said former offensive tackle John Jackson, who was a teammate of Dawson's for 10 seasons. "In general it's hard for offensive lineman, especially for a center to get in. But his credentials are definitely above everybody's and he definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
"He had such durability. Plus, Dermontti loves football. You can tell that just by talking to him. He was a competitive person. He didn't like to lose. He really enjoyed winning."
Jackson isn't alone in his feelings about Dawson as a Hall of Famer.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Dermontti should be in the Hall of Fame," said Tunch Ilkin, who played with Dawson. "Will he get in this time? It's hard for centers. I don't think the people that pick the Hall of Fame have the same appreciation that I do for great centers. If it was up to me, he would have been in on the first ballot."
Ilkin is speaking from experience when it comes to his knowledge of great centers. He played with one of the best in the game in Mike Webster and also saw Dwight Stephenson, another Hall of Famer, who played for the Dolphins in the 1980s.
"To me, the best was Webbie," said Ilkin of Webster. "Part of that is my own kind of hero worship of Webbie. I was a rookie and he was the guy I looked up to. He was a mentor. He was one of my heroes.
"The argument used to be back then in the early 80s who was better, Mike Webster or Dwight Stephenson. Dwight was a great center because he was so athletic. Webbie was a great center because he was so strong and tough and smart.
"You put those two guys together and you have Dermontti Dawson."
Dawson was drafted by the Steelers in the second round in 1988 from Kentucky. He played his entire 13-year career with the Steelers, taking over for Webster at center in his second season and remaining a steady force at the position throughout his career.
"Dermontti didn't have quite the strength Webbie had, but close," said Ilkin. "He had the athleticism of Dwight Stephenson. He could do things athletically that no one other than Dwight could do, but he was bigger and stronger than Dwight."
Dawson had a streak of 170 consecutive games played between 1988-99, ranking second all-time in Steelers history. He was an All-Pro selection eight times and was voted to the Pro Bowl an impressive seven times.
One of his strengths that allowed him to be so durable was definitely that athleticism.
"Dermontti could just crank you," said Ilkin. "He had the ability, the explosive strength and the athleticism to do it, to just knock guys out. He also had that stability to just take on guys. He was strong enough to just absorb a 320-pound nose tackle and not give ground.
"He had the athleticism that he could do everything wrong. He could duck his head, he could step wrong, he could almost fall over. He had the athleticism that if he got troubled, he always recovered."
Last year at media day for Super Bowl XLIII, current Steelers offensive linemen wore Dawson's #63 jersey to show their support for him.
"Marvel (Smith) told me stories about him and what a great person he is," said Trai Essex at the time. "I was a Steelers fan growing up and I followed the team closely. I couldn't help notice Dermontti Dawson. He set the standard as far as centers are concerned. I was a Dermontti Dawson fan growing up.
"He is the type of player I want to aspire to. The consistent greatness that he performed with year in and year out is rare. Not that many people can do that for that long. He is someone I want to be like. We are all part of the linage of the Steelers offensive line which has been a great tradition for years."
In addition, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was previously named a senior's committee finalist.
Center. . .6-2, 288 . . .Kentucky. . .1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers. . .13 playing seasons, 184 games. . .Steelers' second-round draft pick (44th player overall), 1988 NFL Draft . . .Second-team All-SEC at Kentucky. . .Started five of eight games played as a rookie at right guard. . .Missed eight weeks at midseason with knee injury. . .Became starting center in 1989 replacing future Hall of Famer Mike Webster. . .Doubled as team's long snapper, 1988-1993. . . Named Co-AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year (with Richmond Webb) by NFL Players Association, 1993. . .Selected as NFL Alumni Offensive Lineman of the Year, 1996. . .Played in 170 consecutive games before streak ended in 1999 due to hamstring injury. . .His exceptional speed and strength enabled him to do things not typical of a center. . .Named first-team All-Pro six consecutive years (1993-1998). . . Selected to play in seven consecutive Pro Bowls (1993-99). . .Anchor on offensive line that led Steelers to five AFC Central Division championships and one AFC championship. . .Born June 17, 1965 in Lexington, Kentucky.