When Dermontti Dawson looks around at his fellow inductees for the Hall of Fame's class of 2012, he can't help but smile.
"It is kind of neat and very special to have four linemen, two defensive and two offensive, go into the hall the same year, and for them to have played in the same era," Dawson said. "Chris (Doleman) and Cortez (Kennedy), I went up against them. And Willie (Roaf) on the same side of the ball as me."
"He was such a competitive guy, but another thing is always he was so positive," said former coach Bill Cowher, now an NFL analyst for CBS. "He had this really upbeat attitude, you enjoyed talking to him, there was a sense of joy to him. He enjoyed the games, the big games, the pressure. He never really changed. Dermontti is a special guy, very unique talent."
Dawson was that rare center that every team seeks, but few find. He combined speed, strength, knowledge and leadership skills, anchoring Pittsburgh's offensive line for five AFC Central championships and one AFC title. He made six straight All-Pro teams (1993-98) and seven Pro Bowls.
"As a player, I think he really took the position of center to another level," Cowher said. "His athleticism -- he would lead a basic run play we ran all the time. Dermontti allowed us to do blocking schemes that you never saw before in terms of a pulling center."
After being selected 44th overall in the draft, Dawson was unsure how he would fit in Pittsburgh. When coach Chuck Noll plunked him at guard, Dawson was a backup, not starting until his fourth game. He wound up starting five games that year.
"Coach Noll came up to me in the hallway in the stadium after (the season) and said, 'I want to switch you to center in '88.' I knew Mike (Webster) was a legend, but once Mike wound up leaving for Kansas City, they gave me the nod in training camp."
And he held the job for 170 straight starts until being sidelined by a hamstring injury in 1999.
"Even when I had the injury and the Steelers had to cut me and I had to retire after 2000," he said, "I still had some teams that wanted me to play for them. They knew the situation with the hamstring tendon and still wanted me. But I had a great career in Pittsburgh. Why mess that up? I was proud to play with one team the whole career, and that's a testament to the Steelers. They know the guys who really contribute and who are dedicated to the team and they take care of them accordingly."
Dawson is well aware there will be plenty of black-and-gold Steelers jerseys at Fawcett Stadium for the inductions. Pittsburgh is only 77 miles from Canton, Ohio. "I'll probably have more than 100 people, family and friends, coming to Canton," Dawson said. "Black and gold nation will be there."