NFL Nation: Dermontti Dawson

PITTSBURGH -- Given a chance to lobby for a tall wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a pass.

Roethlisberger
"Anything to help this team," Roethlisberger said on 93.7 The Fan when asked who he thinks the Steelers should draft in the first round. "That’s the mindset we all need to be in because 8-8 is not good enough and we need to get back to the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Whatever the higher powers decide can help this team that’s what I’m going for."

General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers plan to maximize Roethlisberger’s remaining years with the team -- Big Ben said earlier this week that he feels like he can play five to seven more seasons -- by surrounding him with talent.

One former Steelers great said the best way to do that is to bolster the unit that protects the Steelers’ franchise quarterback.

"I think in order for Ben to be successful we have to solidify the offensive line," said Pro Football Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson. "We have to get a big-threat receiver and we have to get a running game back."

The Steelers won’t take a running back until the third day of the draft since Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount are poised to get the bulk of the carries in 2014. They could take a wide receiver in the first round, though the position is so deep I think the Steelers wait a little later in the draft before addressing it.

Would the Steelers take an offensive tackle with their first-round pick?

The top three tackles in the class -- Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan -- are unlikely to slip to No. 15 in the draft. But Notre Dame’s Zack Martin could be available there, and he may be one of the safer picks in the draft as teams love his temperament and versatility.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay ranks Martin as the ninth-best player in the draft. He also has five tackles among his 16 highest-rated players in the draft (Virginia’s Morgan Moses is the other one).

It’s hard to see the Steelers using the first-round pick on a tackle given how many other needs they have.

But players they weren’t expecting to be available in past drafts have slipped to them so nothing can be ruled out here.
Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler, the two newest Steelers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, went in with a touch of class Saturday night.

Dawson, a seven-time Pro Bowl center, paid tribute to the player he replaced, the late Mike Webster, who is also a Hall of Fame center.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Jack Butler and Dermontti Dawson
Charles LeClaire/US PRESSWIREJack Butler, left, and Dermontti Dawson, right, became the latest Steelers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"Mike taught me how to be a true professional, whether he knew it or not," Dawson said. "I observed Mike each day and saw how he approached every aspect of the game. Mike used to be the first ones in the weight room in the mornings, first ones in the meetings."

Dawson added, "I tried to emulate everything Mike did. Mike had a profound impact on my life and even today I still try to lead by example and be like Mike. Thank you, my friend, for playing and living with honor. We miss you."

Butler, one of the best cornerbacks in the 1950s, could have stood on stage for as long as he wanted considering he waited 52 years to be enshrined. But his speech was the shortest of the night. It was 337 heartfelt words (as compared to Cortez Kennedy's 2,943-word soliloquy that included a shout-out to his childhood doctor).

"I never envisioned being here in Canton," Butler said. "This induction is the highest honor I have achieved in my professional career."

The 84-year-old Butler wrapped up by saying, "I am grateful and very proud to be part of this great Class of 2012, and I congratulate the five tremendous men who join me here. I am thankful to God for all that I have been given throughout my life. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends. ... Heck, I'm thankful I'm here."

To read the entire speeches, you can click here for Dawson and here for Butler.
CANTON, Ohio -- Dermotti Dawson, the fifth of six Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees to speak Saturday night, thanked his parents for the guidance they provided over the years.

The other modern-day finalists preceding Dawson at the podium -- Willie Roaf, Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy -- made similar comments.

Curtis Martin, the final enshrinee scheduled to speak, will tell a different story. He'll surely pay tribute to his mother, but so many other factors in his life worked against him. His father left the family when Martin was 4. His grandmother was stabbed to death in brutal fashion when Martin was 9.

Martin never dreamed of the Hall of Fame; at one point, his goal while growing up in a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood was simply reaching age 21. The speech he delivers Saturday night has the potential to pack a different type of emotional punch.
CANTON, Ohio -- New Orleans Saints players gave Cortez Kennedy a standing ovation early in the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement program Saturday.

They won't be sticking around for Kennedy's speech, however.

The Saints, scheduled to open their exhibition season against the Arizona Cardinals in the same Fawcett Stadium on Sunday, left their seats and disappeared behind the end-zone grandstands once former New Orleans tackle Willie Roaf finished his acceptance speech.

Roaf led off the Hall program. Jack Butler's time is now, followed by Chris Doleman and then Kennedy. Dermontti Dawson and Curtis Martin round out the proceedings.

Kennedy played for the Seattle Seahawks, but he works as an adviser to the Saints. He collected a Super Bowl ring with the Saints following the 2009 season.
CANTON, Ohio -- Welcome to Fawcett Stadium for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

I'll be blogging throughout the proceedings, as you might have noticed when this post went live a bit earlier. First, a look at the order for enshrinement and speeches for the program, which begins at 7 p.m. ET:
  • Willie Roaf: This one promises to be emotional, as anyone who witness the way Roaf's father, Clifton, hugged him during the Gold Jacket Dinner presentation Friday night. Clifton Roaf is presenting his son. The Hall encourages presenters to limit their comments to eight minutes in duration. That could be tough for the elder Roaf.
  • Jack Butler: Butler had to wait a record 50 years for enshrinement. He won't have to wait long Saturday night. The Hall has him going second.
  • Chris Doleman: The former Minnesota, Atlanta and San Francisco defensive end offered some thoughts Friday on the state of the game. I hope to share those a bit later.
  • Cortez Kennedy: The second career Seahawk to earn enshrinement will have some time to gather his thoughts. He's fourth in the order.
  • Dermontti Dawson: One of the greatest interior offensive linemen follows one of the greatest interior defensive linemen.
  • Curtis Martin: Bill Parcells is presenting Martin. Parcells could be back as an enshrinee before long. Parcells does have some star power. Having him go last wasn't a bad idea.

Should be a memorable night.
CANTON, Ohio -- Ninety-degree heat and 57 percent humidity could not stop Seattle Seahawks fan Jeff Evert from taking his seat at Fawcett Stadium two-plus hours before the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

[+] EnlargeSeattle Seahawks
Mike Sando/ESPN.comJeff Evert of Richland, Wash., wearing a Cortez Kennedy jersey, sits alone in the heat awaiting the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies.
Evert, visiting from Richland, Wash., regretting missing Steve Largent's enshrinement in 1995. He wasn't going to miss Cortez Kennedy's enshrinement with the 2012 class. Evert, wearing a newly purchased "Vintage" series jersey with Kennedy's name and No. 96, sat nearly alone in the stands for hours.

Evert toured the Hall of Fame and overdosed on Pittsburgh Steelers stuff. By the time he encountered the giant mural showing Steelers players dousing then-coach Bill Cowher with Gatorade, he'd had enough.

"I know I shouldn't be that way," Evert said, "but Seahawk fans have always felt like they got screwed over in that one Super Bowl."

They don't have to worry about it Saturday night, although the Steelers do hold a 2-1 edge over the Seahawks in 2012 enshrinees. Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler are joining Kennedy on the dais.

Update: As I'm looking down on Evert's seat, I notice two Steelers fans occupying the seats next to him.

HOF12: The experience of a lifetime

August, 4, 2012
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CANTON, Ohio -- Sights and sounds from a magical first 30 hours in Canton for festivities relating to the upcoming 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony:

Batting 1.000


[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
Cortez Kennedy was the person I hoped to see first Thursday night after unloading bags for check-in at the McKinley Grand Hotel. He was the 2012 enshrinee I'd covered years ago and gotten to know while presenting his case to the other Hall selectors. Having the retired Seattle Seahawks great step from the hotel's entrance before I could get my bags to the curb foreshadowed good fortune.

A trip to the hotel bar a couple hours later found the place mostly empty except for a couple reporters from Minnesota. I sat down with them and soon discovered Hall of Famer John Randle, Kennedy's teammate on the 1990s All-Decade team, seated across the way. Two-for-two and three full days in Canton still to come.

I'm not much of a drinker -- a six-pack lasts a year in our house -- so when tequila shots appeared unexpectedly on our side of the bar, visions of "Frank the Tank" from Old School came to mind.

My hesitance must have been easy to spot. Randle rose from his chair and looked my way.

"Hey, you in?"

Enjoying the ride(s)

Trip One to the elevator produces a five-story ride with Thurman Thomas and his wife, Patti.

Leroy Kelly, Elvin Bethea and Roger Wehrli are along for the ride on a subsequent trip.

By then, my wife, Kim, and our two sons, Derek (10) and Cade (7), have arrived via red-eye flight from Seattle to Cleveland. We'd decided to make this a family trip, a mini-vacation for them, upon learning months earlier that Kennedy had earned enshrinement.

"We were just in the elevator with Gale Sayers!" Derek announced upon entering our room.

Heading to the Hall

The lobby was packed with Hall of Famers, most wearing their gold jackets, as they assemble for bus rides (police escorts included) to the Hall for a dedication ceremony. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. will be there when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Hall officials cut red ribbon for the new Pro Football Research and Preservation Center in Wilson's name.

Another chance meeting with Kennedy produces a lucky break. He graciously invites me to ride along in his car, along with Mark, an off-duty police officer from Las Vegas and Kennedy's friend since 1994.

The weather is already sizzling when we arrive, but it doesn't get much cooler than this: Hall of Fame corner Lem Barney, who averaged five picks per season for 11 years with the Detroit Lions, practically intercepts us as we get out of the car. He shakes Kennedy's hand. Mark and I get handshakes, too. Kennedy follows the red carpet to the special seating area for Hall of Famers.

All in the family

Mark and I wind up sitting next to Patti Thomas, Thurman's wife, in the front row of the general-seating area. Sayers and Joe Greene sit across the rope divider about six feet away. She's moved when Wilson, 93 and a World War II veteran, delivers a speech marked by self-deprecating humor after initially needing assistance to stand.

The Hall experience can be as much for the families as for the enshrinees themselves.

"I'm his wife and I'm blown away," Patti Thomas said. "These guys that you grow up watching ... my brothers come. They are huge sports fans. They're like kids in a candy shop. They've met 'em all and they're still like that, over and over again. Ninety-five percent of the guys are very outgoing. It's been an amazing thing. What a huge blessing."

Ray Nitschke Luncheon

From the Hall, it's off to the annual initiation luncheon, a chance for the new class to socialize with existing Hall of Famers in a private setting. Goodell is there, as are Hall officials, Class of 2012 presenters and some selection committee members. There are no wives or family members. And when lunch is served, enshrinees head into their own private room. No one else is allowed inside.

A microphone gets passed around, but the current class only listens. What happens beyond that, no one can say for certain.

"Thurman has so much fun when we come," Patti Thomas said. "He tells me his favorite thing of all is the Ray Nitschke Luncheon because it's only Hall of Famers, just the guys in there. And he said that is the coolest event because it's just us. Nobody else is allowed to come in there and he loves it."

A Butler and a dentist

Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Jack Butler waited 50 years for enshrinement, a record. His son and presenter, John, would give a guy the shirt off his back. John Butler did just that Friday. When one of the Hall of Famers showed up with the wrong shirt -- all were supposed to wear official blue Hall polos -- the younger Butler gave up his.

While the Hall of Famers were enjoying their privacy and camaraderie at the Nitschke luncheon, John Butler and Willie Roaf's father, Clifton, a retired dentist, sat down at the table I'd chosen in our less exclusive luncheon room.

What an honor it was for me, a first-time visitor to Canton, and the two other Hall selectors seated at our table.

I'd approached Jack Butler in the hotel lobby earlier in the day, congratulating him on his enshrinement. With Ted Hendricks, James Lofton and several other Hall of Famers gathering nearby, the elder Butler said "it's starting to have a meaning to it all."

"It's amazing, just incredible," John Butler said. "You think about it in the past, we would look at his numbers, ever since I was a kid, and say, 'Wow, his numbers match up.' But it's not like an expectation he'll get in. When it happens, it's overwhelming."

Gold Jacket Dinner

[+] EnlargeCurtis Martin
Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesBeing steady in his career and patient with his rushing attack earned Curtis Martin a Hall of Fame induction.
Kennedy, Roaf, Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman and Curtis Martin received their gold jackets during an emotional ceremony at the local civic center Friday night.

Our family purchased tickets and arrived with a group featuring Greene, Dave Casper, Tom Mack and others.

"Is that the ghost-to-the-post guy?" Cade, our youngest, asked later.

That was him. Of course, Casper accomplished much more for the Oakland Raiders than his famed overhead grab for a 42-yard gain against Baltimore on Christmas Eve 1977. A 7-year-old raised on NFL Films drama might not know that yet.

Dozens of previously enshrined Hall of Famers took their turn walking an aisle through guest tables before greeting the 2012 class on stage. My wife heard our oldest, Derek, gasp when Marshall Faulk's name was called.

The boys craned to see Warren Moon make his entrance.

The video highlight packages are what got me.

Dawson pulling from his center position and flattening the same defender twice on one play. Doleman forcing fumble after fumble with blind-side hits on quarterbacks. Kennedy beat the center and then dragging the guard into the backfield to stop a runner in his tracks. Roaf collapsing one side of the formation with devastating power. Martin setting up his runs with patience and accelerating away from trouble. Butler picking off passes, scoring as a receiver and lighting up opponents (I feared Goodell might fine him retroactively).

There were poignant moments, too. The elder Roaf hugged his son and wouldn't let go. When he finally walked away, leaving his son to sport his new jacket alone on the stage, Clifton Roaf squeezed the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb, as if to stop the tears.

The after party

Once the Gold Jacket Dinner broke, Hall of Famers and their families returned to the hotel for a reception.

My kids headed straight for the ice cream sundae bar, of course.

Not to worry, a nearby bartender offered. Bill Parcells, presenter for Martin, had done the same thing. A weekend such as this one makes all of us feel like kids.
video
CANTON, Ohio -- Two of the quickest interior linemen in NFL history are heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame together in the Class of 2012.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers center Dermontti Dawson and former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy were first-team all-decade selections for the 1990s. Both retired following the 2000 season. Each played his entire career with the same team.

Dawson went to seven Pro Bowls. Kennedy went to eight.

The symmetry of their careers struck me while listening to both men during a media session Friday featuring members of the 2012 class.

Dawson distinguished himself by moving as well or better than just about any center ever. He was quick enough to snap the ball and execute pulling blocks, giving the Steelers an edge in their running game.

Kennedy generated rare power and quickness. His 1992 season ranks among the greatest for any defender. Tackles weren't supposed to collect 14 sacks in a season, particularly while dominating against the run, as Kennedy did.

The video features Dawson's thoughts on Kennedy. Dawson also explains what helped him (Dawson) gain the notoriety that contributed to his selection for the Hall of Fame.

I'll be back in a bit with some thoughts from Kennedy. He tends to shy away from interviews, but I think he enjoyed this one, given the occasion.
Dermontti Dawson becomes the 12th center enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first since Dwight Stephenson in 1998.

This solidifies his legacy as one of the best centers to play in the NFL. But is he the best?

[+] EnlargeDermontti Dawson
US PresswireSome football minds, like Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau, say Dermontti Dawson was the best to ever play center in the pros.
It's a difficult argument for me because I never saw Jim Otto (1960-74) play and remember Mike Webster (1974-90) at the end of his career. My two thoughts on Dawson are: he's the best center over the past two decades and he revolutionized the position.

Dawson, the Steelers' center from 1989 to 2000, had a unique combination of being tough and athletic -- something that had never been seen before at that position. He was durable, playing 170 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in Steelers history. He was also agile enough to get to the outside after snapping the ball and fast enough to get downfield to block safeties.

"To me he was the best athlete to ever play that position," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "He was very powerful and explosive, just a rare combination of quickness, explosion, and he was a very dependable player."

Dawson was named to seven straight Pro Bowls (1992 to 1998) and was a six-time first-team All-Pro.

"He redefined the position," former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "When you look at the numbers we had in the running game, everything we did worked from the inside out, and to have a guy like Dermontti and such stability, that was a staple of every offense we had.”

Even before Dawson was voted into the Hall of Fame, his legacy has been honored by Pittsburgh. While the Steelers don't officially retire numbers, they haven't given out Dawson's No. 63 since he left in 2000, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"You never had a center pull until Dermontti Dawson," said Merril Hoge, a former Steelers running back who is now an ESPN analyst. "He revolutionized and changed how teams ran the football in the NFL. ... Who knows if the Steelers would have evolved to where they are today in terms of running the football? It was because of him."

The one thing Dawson was unable to accomplish was winning a championship. In fact, none of this weekend's enshrinees won a Super Bowl.

"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," Dawson told Pro Football Weekly. "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."

HOF12: Finding 'Tez' in Canton

August, 3, 2012
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CANTON, Ohio -- One second you're driving along Interstate 77 from Cleveland to Canton. The next second you're face to face with the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.

It's a sight for any football fan to behold.

Football's hallowed Hall sits closer to the interstate than I would have imagined. Exterior lighting illuminates the colorful posters featuring each new enshrinee's mugshot. Jack Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf on public display.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The enshrinement ceremony isn't til Saturday, but each new Hall of Famer has been building to this moment since his selection in early February.

A glance at the rear-view mirror while approaching the Hall late Thursday night revealed no cars in sight. I touched the brakes on my rental car to process the visual.

From there it was on the McKinley Grand Hotel, where the Hall of Famers are staying.

Security officials have limited access to guests only. At least one Hall of Famer was sitting on a bench out front when I arrived, a gold jacket revealing his status as one of the very best to ever play the game. Darkness had fallen and I couldn't positively identify him.

A familiar face awaited near the hotel entrance. Kennedy has cut so much weight, he looks more like a big linebacker than the defensive tackle with the most Pro Bowls during the 1990s (eight). I'd guess he's in the low 260s, down from the 300- to 320-pound range during his playing days.

"Kennedy!" shouted a fan standing down on the corner, behind the security line.

My role as the Hall selector for the Seattle market included the honor of presenting Kennedy's credentials to the other selectors during our annual meeting one day before the Super Bowl.

The process had provided an opportunity to speak with Kennedy regularly and know him better. He was always grateful for any efforts on his behalf, but he never campaigned for support. That wouldn't be his style.

I'd gotten to know Kennedy a little while covering the Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune during his final three seasons, ending in 2000. Polite and reserved, Kennedy wasn't much use for reporters. He wouldn't speak off the record, said little on it and seemed determined to keep a low profile. His play would do his talking.

I've found Kennedy to be much more engaging outside the player-reporter context. He's got a sense of humor and the cackle to go with it. Kennedy has been a happy man during the six months since learning this would be his year, but he's continued to lay low. There has been no media tour.

Kennedy and the other new Hall of Famers are scheduled to give nationally televised speeches at the enshrinement ceremony Saturday. Kennedy doesn't like to talk about himself, but I'm thinking he'll enjoy the moment.

It's not every day your face flies on a banner atop the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Curtis MartinCraig Melvin/US PresswireRunning back Curtis Martin finished his Hall of Fame career with 14,101 rushing yards.
Every NFL player could learn from Curtis Martin.

The former third-round draft pick was never the fastest player, nor the biggest nor the most athletic. But it was Martin's heart, work ethic, character and dedication that made him the NFL's fourth all-time leading rusher with 14,101 yards.

Martin's football journey will end this weekend in Canton, Ohio. He is part of the 2012 Hall of Fame class that also includes Willie Roaf, Cortez Kennedy, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman and Jack Butler.

Martin overcame any physical deficiencies with intangibles. He was smart and very durable. Martin also had longevity and was consistent, which are all key elements to get into the Hall of Fame. Martin put together 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. In 2004, he became the oldest player to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,697 yards at age 31, when most running backs hit a wall. That season cemented Martin's legacy and made him a lock for Canton.

Martin is also on a very short list of Bill Parcells' favorite players. Parcells was notoriously demanding and difficult to play for. Yet, the Super Bowl-winning coach calls Martin one of the greatest players he’s ever coached. Parcells made it a point to have Martin on his team in both New England and New York. Naturally, Parcells will be Martin's presenter on Saturday during his enshrinement. The two would have it no other way.

Martin set a great example that the NFL is not all about draft status or pure athletic ability. Martin got the most out of himself every year, and it landed him in Canton.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Thirteen modern-era NFL players were finalists for enshrinement Saturday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Only one was named offensive or defensive player of the year during his career.

That was the Seattle Seahawks' Cortez Kennedy. His eight Pro Bowls, all-1990s selection and overall dominance made my job as his presenter quite simple. State the facts and let Kennedy's career do the talking. Picking the final five out of 15 modern-era finalists is always tough, however, because it usually requires leaving off worthy candidates.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The 43 other selectors and I met for more than seven hours before identifying Kennedy, Chris Doleman, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf as the class of 2012. Jack Butler made it as a seniors candidate.

A few thoughts on the process and the results:

  • This class made it through at a good time. Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Bryant Young, John Lynch and Steve McNair become eligible for the first time in 2013. Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren join the list in 2014. Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Junior Seau, Chris Samuels, Kurt Warner, Ty Law and Orlando Pace are among those eligible beginning in 2015.
  • Former St. Louis Rams
    and Arizona Cardinals
    cornerback Aeneas Williams should feel great about cracking the final 10 in his first year as a finalist. Williams had 55 career interceptions and scored nine touchdowns. He was a big-time playmaker for bad and good teams alike.
  • The situation at receiver remains a mess and it's not going to get easier with Harrison becoming eligible in a couple years. Voters are having a tough time deciding between Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Both made the final 10 this year. Reed made the final 10 last year as well. Having both crack the final 10 this year made it harder for one of them to break through. Voters were more likely to choose one wideout when forced to pick only five players.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. did not make the reduction from 15 to 10. I think it's tougher for voters to quantify how owners and even coaches -- think Bill Parcells, who missed the cut from 10 to five -- contributed to their teams' success. The discussions for Parcells (55-plus minutes) and DeBartolo (42-plus minutes) were more than twice as long as the discussions for other candidates. Hall bylaws prevented voters from considering the legal troubles and suspension that preceded DeBartolo's exit from the game.
  • DeBartolo was a finalist in part because he hired Bill Walsh, promoted a winning culture, cared tremendously for his players and helped win five Super Bowls. He spent this weekend with former 49ers player Freddie Solomon, who is in the final days of a battle with cancer. The 49ers' renewed success this past season also reflected well on DeBartolo, who has become a tremendous resource for current team president Jed York, his nephew.
  • Electing one pass-rusher (Doleman, who spent part of his career with the 49ers) to the Hall could give former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Charles Haley an easier time in the future. But with Strahan joining the conversation in 2013, Haley faces stiff competition again. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene did not make the final 10 despite 160 career sacks.

It's been a whirlwind day. Hall bylaws prevent me from sharing specifics about what was said in the room during the proceedings. The Hall also asked voters not to reveal their votes outright. I voted for five of the six players enshrined on the final cut and supported others. As always, however, reducing to only five in the end required leaving off candidates I hope will make it in the future.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dermontti Dawson was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame tonight and Jerome Bettis was not. The reason: Dawson stood out because he redefined his position.

Dawson
Dawson, the Steelers' center from 1988 to 2000, had a unique combination of being tough and athletic -- something that had never been seen before at that position. He was durable, playing 170 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in Steelers history. He was also agile enough to get to the outside after snapping the ball and fast enough to get downfield to block safeties.

Dawson becomes the seventh pure center of the modern era to reach the Hall of Fame. But his impact on the position hasn't been an immediately recognized one by the Hall of Fame selectors. This was his eighth year of eligibility.

Playing center was filled with pressure for Dawson. He followed Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, and he outperformed him in many ways. Dawson was named to seven straight Pro Bowls (1992 to 1998) and was a six-time first-team All-Pro.

For Bettis, this is the second straight year that he failed to make the Hall of Fame. He was one of 15 modern day finalists but he didn't make the cutdown to 10 finalists. Bettis ranks sixth all time in the NFL with 13,662 yards rushing. Martin is fourth with 14,101, 439 more yards than Bettis.

The Steelers had a second member in the Hall of Fame Class of 2012 with defensive back Jack Butler. A senior nominee, he was a four-time Pro Bowl player in the 1950s and was named one of the 33 greatest Steelers of all-time in 2008.

Willie Roaf deserves HOF spot

February, 2, 2012
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By the end of the day Saturday, Rickey Jackson could have some company.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans Saints tackle Willie Roaf
US PRESSWIREWillie Roaf was named All-Pro seven times and was an 11-time Pro Bowl pick in 13 seasons.
At the moment, Jackson is the only player to have spent most of his career with the New Orleans Saints that is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That could change very soon because offensive tackle Willie Roaf will be a finalist when the voters gather Saturday.

Roaf also was a finalist last year and reportedly came very close to selection. But Roaf’s chances in this class might be even better than they were last year. There is no slam-dunk first-time candidate and that could open the door for Roaf.

His resume already does a pretty good job of that. Roaf played for the Saints from 1993 through 2001 and finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, from 2002 through ’05. During those 13 seasons, Roaf was an All-Pro seven times and a Pro Bowl choice 11 times. He also was a member of the All-Decade Team for the 1990s.

The biggest obstacle I see for Roaf’s selection this year is that Dermontti Dawson and Will Shields also are on the ballot. That makes three strong offensive-line candidates from the modern era, but I’d take Roaf ahead of the other two.

It’s hard to quantify offensive linemen because you can’t trace their statistics as easily as you can those of skill-position players. You look at things like longevity, All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections and how their teams fared.

If you go by that, I think it backs up my belief that Roaf is the best candidate. First off, he was a tackle. That’s a more difficult position than center, which Dawson played, and guard, which Shields played.

Dawson and Roaf each played 13 seasons and Shields played 14, so the longevity issue is basically a draw.

Roaf’s seven All-Pro selections might be the strongest argument for his candidacy. Making All-Pro is a much bigger deal than making a Pro Bowl squad because it means you’re among the best in the league, not just in your conference. Dawson was All-Pro six times. Shields got the honor three times.

Roaf also made 11 Pro Bowls, while Shields went to 12 and Dawson six.

Some people may look at the fact that Dawson played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and give him a big edge over Roaf and Shields. The Saints and Chiefs were far from dominant teams when Roaf played for them. He was part of a division champion only twice. Shields, who spent his entire career in Kansas City, is in the same boat. Shields played for four division champions. But the Chiefs never won a Super Bowl or an AFC title while he was there.

But the fact Dawson played for Pittsburgh shouldn’t give him as much of an edge over Roaf and Shields as some people might think. Although the Steelers have been good for most of their history, they weren’t particularly dominant during Dawson’s time. They did win five division championships and one conference title. But Dawson never was on a Super Bowl champion.

So the fact Roaf didn’t play on great teams shouldn’t hurt him. The fact he was one of the best tackles ever should land him in the Hall of Fame.
The San Francisco 49ers' resurgence this season recalls the team's greatest years.

How appropriate, then, that Eddie DeBartolo Jr. has emerged as a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the first time. DeBartolo and former St. Louis/Arizona defensive back Aeneas Williams add NFC West flavor to the proceedings as first-time finalists for the Hall. I'll be among those casting votes when the selection committee gathers during Super Bowl week.

No more than five of the maximum 15 modern-era finalists can qualify for enshrinement in a given year. That makes handicapping a candidate's chances difficult. Worthy finalists miss the cut every year, in my view. They must wait their turn while other worthy finalists gain enshrinement.

Without slam-dunk candidates such as Emmitt Smith or Jerry Rice on the ballot this year, the door could open for some who have waited their turn recently. Cortez Kennedy, Charles Haley, Jerome Bettis, Chris Doleman and Kevin Greene are among the finalists with ties to franchises currently in the NFC West. Kennedy made the final 10 last year.

Also among the modern-era finalists: Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin, Bill Parcells, Andre Reed, Willie Roaf and Will Shields. Jack Butler and Dick Stanfel are eligible as seniors nominees. Their enshrinement would not come at the expense of the maximum five slots for modern-era finalists.

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