By Teresa Varley
Steelers.com Dermontti Dawson answered the phone and was his usual talkative self, chatting about the excitement of the Steelers going to the Super Bowl and asking how things were going in Pittsburgh.
And then, he got kind of quiet. And for a guy who is so eloquent in everything he says, he was basically rendered speechless for a minute.
"Are you for real?" was about all that Dawson could muster when I shared something with him, something that he found to be very special.
On Tuesday, as the team was at Super Bowl XLIII Media Day, every offensive lineman sported a #63 Dawson jersey after the team photo, their tribute to the man they firmly believe should be elected into the Hall of Fame this week.
"Well I'll be darned," Dawson was able to get out after another minute or so. "That's big. That is real big."
The idea to wear the jerseys came from offensive linemen Trai Essex and Willie Colon. They feel that Dawson, who is a finalist this year, should get his rightful spot in the Hall of Fame and they just wanted to let everyone know.
"We wanted to do our part to push Dermontti, one of the greatest centers to ever play the game, into the Hall of Fame," said Essex, who purchased the jerseys for all 13 linemen. "We thought he should be in there already. His credentials speak for themselves. He doesn't need this, but we want to do our part. We want to get one of our own in there. He is a very deserving guy."
And what is really amazing, is for the most part all of the linemen that wore the jerseys, never met Dawson but just know what a great player and person he is.
"Marvel (Smith) told me stories about him and what a great person he is and we want to do our part to help out," said Essex, who didn't get a chance to say hi to Dawson when he was an honorary co-captain for the AFC Championship game. "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."
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 Mike Webster at center in his second season and remaining a steady force at the position throughout his career.
Dawson, who is a finalist this year along with former cornerback Rod Woodson, had a streak of 170 consecutive games played between 1988-9. He was an All-Pro selection eight times and was voted to the Pro Bowl an impressive seven times.
"Any time you have a lineman from your team with the opportunity to go into the Hall, you always want to support him," said tackle Max Starks. "We have all heard of him and what a great guy he is. Linemen are a small fraternity of guys, we are the unknowns. We want to support him. What bigger way and stage than heading to Tampa.
"I have known about him since I was a kid. Learning about his career has been amazing. To play the games he has and starting consecutively is not a feat many can do. To do what he has done there is no reason he shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. He doesn't have the stats like other players do, receivers and the like, but his stats as a lineman are the best you can have."
Not far from the offensive line meeting room at the team's practice facility, there is a wall with large pictures of the centers that played for the organization. The linemen see Dawson's photo on a daily basis and know that he is one of them.
"We are all part of the linage of the Steelers offensive line which has been a great tradition for years," said Essex. "We are all family, connected some how, some way, being a part of this great tradition and football team."
Dawson was a semi-finalist for the Hall of Fame Class of 2006, his first year eligible, but this is the first time he is a finalist.
"It's hard to believe I had that kind of effect on them and they have that much respect for me," said Dawson. "Not to be around them personally and just hear about me from other guys. That's a big honor.
"To make it this year, with the Steelers in the Super Bowl, that would be the ultimate."