One of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s newest members, Dermontti Dawson, took time recently to talk with Pro Football Weekly about his journey through the NFL, life after football and how he almost never played the game to begin with.
Dawson, a second-round draft pick of the Steelers in 1988 who went on to be named All-Pro six times in his 13-year NFL career, was an intimidating force on Pittsburgh's offensive line as the starting center in every season except for his rookie year.
The University of Kentucky product started 181-of-184 NFL games in which he played and was named the starting center on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s.
The 47-year-old Dawson lives with his wife and two children in San Diego, where he works as executive vice president of sales at Prime Time West, a promotional products company.
PFW: Did you always know you were destined for the NFL?
Dawson: No, not at all. It was more of a surprise than anything — because I didn’t become a starter until my junior year of college, and played pretty well my first year starting. Then, my second year, I really excelled. But the thing was, for me, I wasn’t that big of a guard. I wasn’t a very big guy, I was only about 6-foot-3, 284-285 pounds coming out of college. A lot of people thought I was just too small to play guard.
PFW: What is the most memorable game or moment in your NFL career?
Dawson: Most memorable game was that first game, that first preseason game your rookie year — being a rookie coming out of college and then playing your first professional football game. It’s an amazing feeling.
PFW: Besides natural ability, what do you think was the key to your success?
Dawson: My key to success is dedication — dedication to the game and making sure I was prepared each and every day — and really work ethic. I guess you could round it up as work ethic, that’s the thing — that’s what kept me in the game. Work ethic.
PFW: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there anything you would have changed about your career?
Dawson: I would not go back and change a thing. It turned out pretty well just the way I did it.
PFW: What is your reaction to the “Bountygate” scandal?
Dawson: Really surprised in this day and age that somebody, coaches or players, would even get involved with a bounty on any player. The thing is, you jeopardize your whole career, which we’ve seen because the Commissioner is making a point to make an example out of these guys so it doesn’t happen again. It’s not needed in the NFL.
PFW: Do you agree with how hard Roger Goodell came down on the coaches and players?
Dawson: Yeah, I think it’s got to be a zero-tolerance (situation). The penalty has to be very stiff, and that’s what the Commissioner has done.
PFW: What do you think about retired players suing the league, claiming negligence regarding the game's concussion risks?
Dawson: Well, it’s a tough situation. We didn’t know exactly. We knew that you could get concussions but we didn’t know about the research that’s been done by helmet companies and everybody else. No one really told you about the long-term effects of concussions. We were just not really educated on that. I don’t know … it’s a double-edged sword.
PFW: Is the NFL handling it the right way? And have you experienced any problems since you’ve stopped playing football?
Dawson: Well, I do have short-term memory loss, and I do have some neurological things going on in my upper extremities, but, yeah, we’re all going to pay the price. What made me retire were the rupturing of the tendons in my hamstrings. You know the old saying "pain in the ass?" My ass hurts every day. I joke about it all the time, but it hurts every day. It’s aching right now as I’m sitting here, I’ve just been running around at a doctor’s appointment but, yeah, it’s aching right now as we speak.
PFW: Would you let your son play football today?
Dawson: I would. I don’t think there’s any way to prevent concussions. I mean, yeah, through education and making sure guys are not using thir heads as a weapon, I think you can kind of limit that — see what you tackle, see what you block. But, because it’s such a violent sport and guys are so big and fast, I don’t think there’s any way that you can completely eradicate concussions.
PFW: Who is going to present you, and why did you choose that person?
Dawson: My presenter for the Hall of Fame is going to be my high school coach, Steve Parker. The reason I choose Steve, Coach Parker, was because he was the one who came up to me in the hallway and asked me to go out for football. If it weren’t for Coach Parker, Marc Logan and Cornell Burbage, two of my track teammates at the time, convincing me and talking to me and saying I need to go out (for football), I never would of given it a second thought.
PFW: A unique fact about this Hall of Fame class is that none of the enshrinees won an NFL championship or Super Bowl. Did not being on a Super Bowl champion impact your legacy, and does being a Hall of Famer make up for it?
Dawson: No, I think people put too much emphasis on winning championships as far as being validated and being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I don’t think that should even be in the criteria. I think it should be what a person brings to the game, how they play the game and how consistent he was. I think it should be based on those factors as opposed to winning championships. A person makes a difference in a game, changes a game in a certain way, he’s contributed to the game. But, yeah, I think too much emphasis is put on winning championships to make that a validation for being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.