*The Steelers currently have 22 former players, coaches or contributors in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that number will increase to 23 later this summer when Jerome Bettis is inducted as a member of the Class of 2015. In advance of his induction Steelers.com will share the stories of the 22 Steelers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: 2012
It's not often a player comes along who has the ability to redefine the way a position is played. And lucky for the Steelers, when Dermontti Dawson came along, they found him.
Check out photos of Steelers' Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson
Dawson redefined the way center is played in the National Football League, and that is why he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"What Dermontti did, which is what Mel Blount did, was change the game," said ESPN analyst and former Steelers running back Merril Hoge, who played with Dawson from 1989-93. "You never had a center pull until Dermontti Dawson. He revolutionized and changed how teams ran the football in the NFL. I played with Mike Webster in my first year with the Steelers, and I never thought I would be able to say someone was better than Mike Webster at center. But Dermontti changed how we ran the ball. Who knows if the Steelers would have evolved to where they are today in terms of running the football? It was because of him."
Hoge left the Steelers for the Chicago Bears via free agency following the 1993 season, and when he arrived there the coaches picked his brain about what made the Steelers running game so successful.
"When I went to Chicago they asked me to show them how we ran the football," said Hoge. "I drew it up and said, 'We pull the center.' They said, 'We can't do that.' I told them, 'Well then you can't run the ball like we did it in Pittsburgh.'"
Dawson was drafted by the Steelers in the second round in 1988 from Kentucky. He played his entire 13-year career with the Steelers, and he took over for Mike Webster at center in his second season and remained a dominant force at the position throughout his career.
It wasn't an easy task replacing the legendary Webster, but Dawson's unique talents and leadership ability made him the perfect fit.
"He had all of the physical tools that were necessary – balance, strength, everything," said CBS color analyst Dan Dierdorf, himself a Hall of Fame offensive tackle, at the time of Dawson's induction. "The one thing that always impressed me was his ability to handle a nose tackle by himself. The majority of centers who play the game almost always need some sort of a double-team, or a rub from the guard next to them. The great centers, and there aren't many of them, block the nose tackle all by themselves, and Dermontti was one of those guys. That's what makes him so special."
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.
"Dermontti could just crank you," said former Steelers tackle Tunch Ilkin, who played with Dawson from 1988-92. "He had the ability, the explosive strength and the athleticism to do it, to just knock guys out. He also had that stability to take on guys. He was strong enough to just absorb a 320-pound nose tackle and not give ground."
Ilkin has seen his share of great centers, also having played with Webster, a Hall of Famer, and he also watched Dwight Stephenson, another Hall of Famer, who played for the Dolphins in the 1980s.
"The argument used to be back in the early 1980s about who was better, Mike Webster or Dwight Stephenson," said Ilkin. "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, always a fan favorite even at a position where players don't get attention from fans, was thankful to all who supported the Steelers throughout his career and beyond during his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech.
"I took great pride representing the Steelers and the great tradition and the high standards," said Dawson. "Being a Steeler meant being a blue collar worker with an unwavering commitment to excellence, and that's what being a Steeler meant to me. I hope I made the Steelers Nation proud.
"Thank you to the fans because you guys are what this game is all about. Thank you for your years of support and dedication you have shown to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL. Without you, there is no NFL."