For 15 Days we will be counting down the Top 15 Greatest Steelers of the Bill Cowher Era. The list will have both offensive and defensive players, and in doing the list no kickers or punters were selected. Below is our number choice of the day building towards the number one Steeler of the Cowher Era.
Dermontti Dawson C 1988-2000
The Pittsburgh Steelers under Bill Cowher ran the ball better than any other team in the National Football League, and one reason for that was due to an offensive line that was built not only for power and being able to get off the ball, but also with big men who could move, and no other lineman had those traits under Cowher more than future Hall of Fame center Dermontti Dawson. The former center comes in at number three on our list of the top 15 players under Cowher, as without Dermontti, who knows what type of shape the Steelers O-line would have been in for the 12 years that he played in the Steel City. Dawson was a quiet leader on the line, never one to be loud or have an attitude, but when it came to being a steady leader, Dawson was there each and every Sunday to call the blocking assignments on the line and make sure whoever was under center would get the ball and be protected at the same time.
Dawson was taken in the second round by the Steelers in the 1988 draft, and within a year took over the center spot for another Hall of Famer – the late, great Mike Webster. Many Steeler fans were stunned when Webster left Pittsburgh for Kansas City, but the Steelers knew what they were doing, and they knew that Webster was quickly heading towards the end of his career, and it was time to give the starting center spot to Dawson, who played elsewhere on the line his rookie year despite knowing that the center spot would soon be his.
He right away fit in as the anchor of Chuck Noll’s O-line, and despite never getting the attention he deserved, Dawson was there, each and every Sunday, opening holes for backs like Merrill Hoge, Tim Worley and Barry Foster, as well as protecting quarterbacks Bubby Brister, Todd Blackledge and Neil O’Donnell. The Steeler teams in Dawsons first three seasons under Noll went a combined 21-27, but they did reach the second round of the playoffs in 1989, and their lack of success was not due to the play of Dawson, who was consistent and solid at the center spot.
Things changed quickly under new head coach Bill Cowher in 1992, and Dawson quickly started to get the pub that he deserved as one of the top linemen and centers in the National Football League. With new offensive coordinator Ron Earhardt, the Steelers became a running team with a conservative approach to throwing the football. The backfield would consist of Hoge playing the fullback/blocking back role, and the halfback would be the bruising Foster, who in Cowher first season shattered records in carries and yards. It was the Steelers O-line, led by Dawson, that opened the holes for “Bananas” Barry, and it was that 1992 season that Dawson was named to his first Pro Bowl.
The Pro Bowl became an annual stop for Dawson, as from 92 to 1998 he was named to seven straight, and played in 171 consecutive games, becoming the rock of the line that saw the team year in and year out either lead the league or be near the top in rushing. You could count on number 63 each and every Sunday out there ready to play and his quiet, effective demeanor is what Steeler fans loved about him. His teammates nicknamed him “Ned Flanders,” after the character from the Simpons due to his personality.
The run of Pro Bowls and games played though stopped almost as quickly as his career took off. In 1999, he was forced to miss nine games due to a hamstring injury. The severe hamstring also forced him to miss seven more games in 2000, and following that season the team made a tough decision, opting to release Dawson. Instead of trying to overcome the injury quickly and sign with another team, the quiet leader of the Steelers O-Line for 13 seasons decided he had enough, and retired. The Steelers do not retire numbers, but in respect of Dawson have never given out the number 63.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will come to Dawson someday. In 2005 he was one of 25 finalists, as well as in 2006. “That’s the greatest accomplishment you can achieve when it comes to a career,” Dawson said in a 2005 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You talk about validation — that’s validation. Oh man, making it to the Hall of Fame, that would be huge. I never thought about it at all during my career. You come into the league, all you want to do is make it in the league, make it a few years. You retire, and then you think about it.” It may take some time, but trust me when I say that when people look back at the career of Dawson, they will see that he is what Steelers football was all about in the Cowher Era. Now living in Lexington, he is a real estate developer, and also runs the Dermontti Dawson PRO Foundation, which was established to benefit at-risk children.
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