In 1987, Joe Greene and John Henry Johnson entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame together. Happy happenstance allowed the first Super Steeler to share this individual honor with a star from Pittsburgh’s SOS (same old Steelers) era.
- Greene and Johnson had little in common beyond having worn the Black and Gold.
Scribes in Steelers Nation might be tempted to say the same thing about this past weekend’s induction of Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler, but they’d be mistaken because the two men share a deeper, if latent, connection that spans several generations of Steelers football.
Dermontti Dawson – Successfully Succeeding a Legend
Men who follow legends generally fail, at least by comparison. Frank Pollard took Franco Harris’ place in Pittsburgh backfield, and while he did finish his career with a better yards-per carry average, Pollard’s sin was to be merely good instead of great.
Dermontti Dawson followed legendary Pittsburgh center Mike Webster, and in a very literal sense of the word, he succeeded his predecessor.
Success on offense starts with the offensive line but, in an ironic twist of fate, few metrics exist to evaluate offensive lineman. They accumulate no yards, score no points, make no splash plays. Instead, their efforts empower others to make plays.
Dermontti Dawson claims his share of success in this regard, because Dawson:
- Opened holes for 1000 yard rushers Jerome Bettis and Barry Foster
- Did road grading that allowed the troika of Erric Pegram, Bam Morris, and John L. Williams to help Pittsburgh to Super Bowl XXX
- Blocked and pulled open the door to Merril Hoge’s cult-hero status
“Pulling” is perhaps Dawson’s greatest legacy. Prior to Dawson, only guards pulled.
- Outside of quarterback, the center has the most difficult job on the offense.
He’s got to keep one hand on the ball, pay attention to shifts by linebackers and lineman, release the ball backwards, get the snap count exactly right, snap the ball backwards and then, in a split second, shift his attention to one or two 300 pound tackles with blood in their eyes.
- Dawson was able to do all that, then move outside to take on linebackers and defensive backs.
A single play suffices to illustrate Dawson’s excellence at pulling.
In January 1998 the Pittsburgh Steelers were hosting a playoff game vs. the New England Patriots. The two teams had fought a neck-and-neck battle that the Steelers won in OT after never leading in regulation.
The game was a pure chess match, and Dawson made the pivotal move.
Early in the game Kordell Stewart rolled out. It was meant to look like a pass, but it was in fact a designed run. After snapping the ball, Dawson pulled out wide to the strong side, and as Kordell began his advance up field, Dawson obliterated the closing defender.
- 40 yards later Kordell was in the end zone on a day when the final score was 7-6.
“Dermonti Dawson” doesn’t appear in the box score, but his ability to pull and then deliver a decisive block carried the day.
The Butler Did It
Jack Butler came from an era where the Steelers played third fiddle behind the Pirates and Pitt. He became a Steeler because Fr. Silas, St. Bonaventure’s athletic director, was Art Rooney Sr.’s brother.
Butler joined the Steelers in 1952, playing it wide out and the defensive end. Then, as a testament to how times have changed, a defensive back got hurt and Joe Michelosen put him in the game.
As Ed Bouchette detailed, in his second game, Butler took his first NFL interception to the house and never looked back.
In fact, Butler hauled in 52 interceptions – an incredible sum during an era when seasons lasted 12 games and a 200 yard passing game was considered exceptional. When Butler retired he held the number 2 spot on the all-time interceptions list. Over 50 years later, he’s still 14 on the list.
BLESTO, Butler, Noll and Dawson
Canton is honoring Butler for his achievements on the field, but he easily could have earned induction for his accomplishments off of it. From 1963 to 2007, Jack Butler directed BLESTO (Bears Lions Eagles, Steelers Talent Organization), the league’s first scouting combine.
Obviously, the Steelers were not the only team to benefit from Butler’s prowess as a scout.
- But four generations of Pittsburgh Steeler rosters can’t help but bear his figure prints.
And of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers won a few games during that time.
The key to winning those games, was of course the players. From 1969 to 1991 one man had the final word on draft day, and his name was Charles Henry Noll.
- Noll’s run of Hall of Famers selections in the 1970’s remains unprecedented.
But Noll’s drafting record slipped in the late 70’s, a tendency that worsened in the ‘80’s.
Many reasons those draft misfires, but a big factor was Noll’s inability to get along with effectively with Art Rooney Jr. (to better understand Pittsburgh’s drafting woes in the 80’s, click here to read the article Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh – Talent Evaluators.)
Tensions got so great in 1986 the Dan Rooney was forced to make a choice, and he fired his younger brother.
Ed Bouchette chronicled the move in his classic, Dawn of a New Steel Age, and concluded that Dan’s difficult decision failed to pay dividends.
The record suggests Bouchtte is mistaken.
- In his first post Rooney Jr. draft, Chuck Noll drafted Hall of Famer Rod Woodson
A year later he picked Dermontti Dawson
Even in his twilight of his reign The Emperor retained an uncanny ability to transform raw data from the scouts like Butler into draft day home runs.
And that’s what makes Jack Butler and Dermontti Dawson’s simultaneous induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame just a little extra special for Steelers Nation.