On Thursday, The Athletic kicked off a series on the Top 100 players in NFL history, and lo and behold, Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center Dermontti Dawson was one of the first players named, coming in at No. 99. Oddly enough, Dawson might not have taken up football at all, if not for a chance encounter with his high school’s head coach, this according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic.
“I ran into him [after a class] and he said ‘Where have you been all of my life?’ and that I needed to be playing football,” Dawson told Kaboly from his home in San Diego. “I would have never have played football if it wasn’t for him,” added Dawson, who says he had been planning to pursue college scholarship offers for track and field.
“I had more scholarship offers for track and field than I did football,” Dawson also told Kaboly, hardly surprising in that he was a state champion at both the shot put and discus, good enough at those events to have Olympic potential. “But I choose football.”
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Dermontti Dawson Faced the Challenge of Replacing a Legend
The University of Kentucky and the Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly glad he did. Dawson played three seasons for the Wildcats at guard and center, and was named All-SEC following his senior year. The Steelers—looking for someone to follow future Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Webster—selected him in the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft (No. 44 overall).
During his rookie year Dawson played guard. Then he transitioned to center in 1989, and for 10 consecutive years he started all 16 regular-season games. But it wasn’t until Bill Cowher took over for Chuck Noll as head coach in 1992 that his career truly took off.
During a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles that summer, Pittsburgh found itself unable to run the ball effectively. Kaboly relates how Dawson suggested to then-Steelers offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt that he start pulling, so he could get out and block linebackers on the second level.
“Pulling centers weren’t new, but the way Dawson did it was. He would take the guard’s responsibilities on the ‘Ride 38’ or a ‘Toss Crack’ to get to the edge so the guard could block down,” explains Kaboly.
That bit of innovation helped running back Barry Foster set a team record with 1,690 yards in 1992. Meanwhile, Dawson earned Pro Bowl honors in seven consecutive seasons, and was first-team All-Pro every year between 1993-99.
All told, he played in 184 career games for the Steelers, with 181 starts, his last year coming in 2000. During that time frame the Steelers finished No. 1 in the NFL in rushing twice (1994 and 1997), and were No. 2 in the league once (1996).
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