Two centers, three guards — from 50 years of football. No pressure, eh?
It was a tough chore narrowing down such a vaunted group, and yet one that often gets overlooked amid the muck inside. I tried best to separate reputation from as much fact as possible, as difficult as that was.
But here are my Team for the Ages interior offensive linemen of choice:
Growing up in New England in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were not a lot of New England Patriots you had to know. But Hannah was one of them. He was just such a dominant force on some bad teams, one of the few truly reliable assets they had back in those days as a pulling guard and smashmouth run blocker. Sports Illustrated called him “The Best Offensive Lineman Of All Time,” and that was prior to his sixth NFL season.
My first year out of college I got a job at Sporting News, and I knew I was in good hands when they ran a list that had Hannah as the second-best offensive linemen in history after Anthony Munoz.
The first time I saw Allen play it was his rookie year playing right tackle, blocking Reggie White. The next time I watched him, he was starting at right guard. I also remember the year he was forced to play left tackle on a flawed Cowboys team in 1998 when John Madden was explaining Allen’s dominance. Then, by the time I covered the NFC East for PFW, he moved to left guard — and was dominant there, too.
Seven. Straight. All. Pro. Teams. At three different positions. That about wraps that one up.
Upshaw was before my time, and yet every year on Super Bowl Sunday, they would show old highlights of the Raiders’ incredible offensive lines, led by Art Shell and Upshaw. I never really realized how lean he was — by today’s standards, anyway.
But it was his athleticism, his ability to rip around the edge and clear huge paths, that always struck me. That and his toughness. You never saw a left guard move the way he did from that era. Colleagues say that his 11th year in the league, 1977 at age 32, might have been his finest hour.
Webster’s post-career demise is one of the sadder tales you’ll hear. But it shouldn’t cloud all his accomplishments as a player and what he did to fundamentally change the position — especially as an undersized (and frankly not all that athletically blessed) center.
Few combined the cerebral and physical the way Webster did, starting games all the way up until age 38.
There was a play I wish I could find that blew me away. It was 1989, Dawson’s second year in the NFL, and the Steelers played the Patriots late in the season. They ran some kind of end around to Louis Lipps, if memory serves, and what I do recall is that Dawson — from center — had pulled out and was leading the way on the play. Here he is 20 yards downfield swatting Patriots defenders aside like they were mayflies and just opening a freeway for Lipps.
The play stuck with me and every time I watched the Steelers play over the next decade, I made sure to glue my eyes on Dawson, who was just an unbelievable player for so long.
Now it's your turn to vote on your top 50 modern era players in our "Team for the Ages" contest, which automatically enters you to win great prizes, including a free trip to the title game in Atlanta next February.