Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dermontti Dawson And Jack Butler: Hall Of Famers Defining Greatness

Historian and writer H.G. Wells once said that a man's greatness could be measured by 'what he leaves to grow, and whether he started others to think along fresh lines' with a "vigor that persisted after" him.

Certain men in the history of the NFL (players, coaches and owners) have done just that: some with pomp and braggadocio, and others with much quiet humility. Either way, their greatness couldn't be denied. For Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler, Saturday it no longer was.

Dermontti Dawson was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the University of Kentucky in the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft. Before taking over at center, Dawson actually played next to Mike Webster, a Steeler legend at center, starting five games at guard his rookie season. 

Drafted in 1974, Iron Mike anchored the Steelers offensive line, "Webster's Warriors", from 1976-1988, succeeding Ray Mansfield who had the job from 1966 until Webster took over. So, Dawson had big shoes to fill. Multiple big shoes. He would succeed in grand fashion.

Referring to the opening quote from Wells, Dawson would go on to succeed in just that way: leaving a vigor that persisted after him in the form of a plethora of linemen and coaches who emulate and praise him. 

“I think for us as offensive linemen we have an appreciation when you see someone that was special at that position," said Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks. "Dermontti was the greatest center I ever watched play. There were a lot of great centers that came through the Steelers organization and played in the NFL, but for us he was our standard for what offensive linemen, especially the center position, should be. He did what was unheard of at the time. He had a special ability, a unique ability. He was a big, strong guy but was so quick and could do things that now every offensive lineman is expected to do."

He added, “I think a lot of younger kids are looking at the type of player he was and you are seeing a lot more athletic centers in this league, pulling on screens and getting out and being a lead blocker. There are characteristics that Maurkice [Pouncey] has that Dermontti had." 

You simply never had a center pull like was referred to by Starks, until Dawson. Plainly put, he caused ones to "think along fresh lines" and changed how teams ran the football in the NFL. You can read of other linemen who extolled Dawson as well in an article posted back in February when the announcement of his enshrinement announcement was first made. - 

Ask also his former coaches about him and they are not at all reticent with regard their plaudits. 

Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher often sang Dawson's praises, but a different perspective comes from a Steelers defensive coach. Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh’s living legend of a defensive coordinator, shared this perspective with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

“He’s the first center I ever saw pulling and leading sweeps. They would lead Dermontti on what we called the ‘plus nose tackle,’ the guy who sat outside his shoulder with the play going to that side. His blocking assignment was to cut that guy out of that onside gap, almost impossible. But Dermontti could do it because of his quickness.”

Great Xs and Os type of assessment from a defensive coach. His first head coach also, though, spoke highly of him. The man who coached Webster through four Super Bowls.

“Dermontti is a much better athlete (than Webster)," Chuck Knoll said in a 1996 interview. "Mike had great strength and power. Dermontti has it all: smarts, strength, quickness and speed.” 

Finally, though, what vigor persisted after Dawson with his opponents? How your enemies respect you may be even more telling of you and your mettle than how those who love you revere you. 

Current New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick used to face Dawson and the Steelers twice a year when he manned the helm for the rival Cleveland Browns (1991-95). BB had this to say about DD: "He was one of the best players that we have ever played against at that position. He had exceptional quickness. I think that really the measure of a center is his ability to play against powerful guys that are lined up over him and try to bull-rush the pocket and collapse it in the middle so that the quarterback can't step up. Dawson had great leverage and quickness with his hands and his feet where he did a great job of keeping that pocket clean for...those [quarterbacks] who played behind him."

Dawson accepted his selection to be inducted with the same quiet humility spoken of at the outset of this article. He knows his legacy, but he never blew a horn ahead of himself. The ferocity with which he played is a juxtaposition to the docile and appreciative demeanor that makes the man and that was on display Saturday:


Jack Butler played defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1951-59. Years ago I didn't even know that. Three years ago that was all I knew. Not long after that I started voicing my opinion that he deserved to have his bust in the Hall of Fame. 

Last year, I put it down on paper, sort of, that Butler's absence from the Hall was a travesty that needed to be rectified. All that I truly have to say about him, therefore, I said here:

Between his playing days and BLESTO, Butler exemplified his career in the NFL with panache. Since Butler was short and sweet with his speech, despite all that he's done with and for the NFL, I will do likewise here and allow the presentation speech and then his speech close this out. -