Dawson overwhelmed by Hall of Fame selection

In the moments after Dermontti Dawson's name was read during the announcement of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012, a quick congratulations text was sent to him. Within seconds a thank you reply was received. Not surprising, that is the type of person Dawson is.

But as news spread of Dawson's selection, the messages were coming so fast and furious it shut Dawson's phone down within the hour after the announcement was made in Indianapolis, preventing him from being able to respond to all of the friends and family sending him well wishes.  

"My phone has not stopped since the selection," said Dawson. "It caused my phone to stop working I had so many texts and phone calls. I haven't even had time to look at the texts. I don't know how long it's going to take me to answer all of the texts."

Dawson, who learned he made it by watching the Hall of Fame show on NFL Network, also was busy preparing to catch a redeye flight from his home in San Diego to Indianapolis to be a part of a ceremony during Super Bowl XLVI.

Before Dawson took off, and while the phone was working for a few minutes, he shared his thoughts about being a member of the Class of 2012.

What was it like hearing your name read as a part of the Hall of Fame?
It's great. This is the ultimate accolade for a player. That is the ultimate when it comes to individual accolades, getting enshrined in the Hall of Fame. You are immortalized. Family can come and see you and read about your career and everything else.

How crazy has it been since you got the news?
Everything is overwhelming. I haven't had time to breathe. I knew it would be crazy. It's very tough with everybody calling and all of this.

How great is it going to be at the induction ceremony with two Steelers going in, as you are joining Jack Butler?
We have a loyal following. I have had people tell me even in advance I am going to be there front and center when you get inducted.

Who had the biggest influence on your playing career?The biggest influence on my playing career was Mike Webster. Having the privilege to play beside Mike my rookie year and then take over his position when he left to go to Kansas City. Just seeing how Mike approached each game, the way he practiced, the way he looked at film and took notes. He was the first in every drill. I tried to emulate that. His work ethic was unheard of. I think emulating what he did in his career helped me in my career.

Did Mike help teach you the aspects of what it meant to be a professional?He definitely taught me how to be a professional. Even though he was in his 15th year he took notes on everything coach said. He probably knew the offense better than the coaches, being the center and making adjustments. He taught me how to be a true professional. If you are going to be a leader you have to make sure you know all of the details as far as the game plan, the opponent, also the way you take care of your body in the offseason and the way you practice. Those things go hand-in-hand and make you a better player if you don't rest on your laurels and take things for granted. Even though Mike was in his 15th year he was always prepared for another season. He never took anything for granted. That was a big thing for me. No matter how many Pro Bowls I made, my goal was to make the Pro Bowl again. That started in the preseason getting ready and during the season playing at a high level. I tried to do that each and every year. There was always room for improvement.  

Was it intimidating taking over for a legend like Mike Webster?
It was big shoes to fill. Mike was a legend in his own right in Pittsburgh with what he accomplished as a player. There is always pressure when you follow a legend such as Mike. I remember when I first took over being asked about it. I said I haven't played center before professionally so just give me time and let me figure out what I am doing. You can never predict the future.

You re-defined the center position with the way you were able to snap the ball and then pull block. How did that all come about?
That was a judgment we made in 1992. It was during training camp. We were having a problem with I believe Cleveland doing different defenses where it was making it hard for the guard and center to get to the second level to block the backers. I said I am fast enough to get around there. I can take the guard's responsibility or I can try to reach the guy, the down lineman, or try to get through to the backer. I said I can make the call, a false call or a live call that only I and the onside guard know. He would take my responsibility and I will snap and pull. We started doing that. Coach (Bill) Cowher and (offensive coordinator) Ron Erhardt allowed me to do that. I was athletic and mobile enough to do that. It caused problems for defenses especially once we had that in as a part of our offensive system. That was just something Ron, Coach Cowher, and those guys allowed me to do. We practiced it first before we put it in a game to make sure we could execute it.

Did you ever think that it would be considered redefining the position?
What is strange is when you see guys, maybe at a college, or a young player, and they say our coaches used video from our teams to watch me pull to see if they can utilize it in their offense. That is a strange thing for me.

Other teams have tried to imitate it but haven't been able to. Is that a compliment knowing other teams have tried to emulate what you have done?
That is definitely a compliment. I think now, since we did it so successfully for years, a lot of organizations are still reevaluating the athleticism of the center. It puts a new wrinkle in the defense where they can come up with schemes to try and protect the second level of linebackers from the offensive lineman. Now it causes a whole other wrinkle where they can't keep you off of them. It makes it more even where you get man-on-man instead of a guy running free.

What was the highlight of your playing career?
Playing in Super Bowl XXX against Dallas and making my first Pro Bowl. That was my goal every year, to make the Pro Bowl. Those are the two highlights of my career. Also, looking back on my career the dependability and being there playing at such a high level for a long period of time. I prided myself on that.

How were you able to have that kind of durability, to play so many consecutive games? Was it being injury-free, your conditioning?
I think it was luck and a combination of everything. It's tough to stay healthy throughout the course of a season. Nobody is 100 percent as you are getting beat up in camp and in the regular season. It's a blessing. I think it was a combination of everything. It's preparation, keeping your body in shape, keeping strong, and being strong willed. All of those things are associated.

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