The Case for Dirt

The voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame have released the names of 17 finalists for the vote on Feb. 2. One glaring omission is former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson, who changed the way his position is played -- and was properly honored for it during his playing days, but not now.

Here we go again, trying to make a case for the great Dermontti Dawson.

Obviously stats aren't going to work, and we tried quotes last year. They wouldn't do much good here, either.

So let's try something new. Let's compare Dawson with his contemporaries. After all, isn't that what the Hall of Fame's all about?

The easiest way to accomplish this is by using the Associated Press All-Pro teams. Fans repeatedly argue the case for Art Monk based on his gaudy statistics, but in 16 seasons in the league Monk made the AP All-Pro team one time. In 20 seasons, cornerback Darrell Green made it once.

Why the AP All-Pro team? Well, the Pro Bowl doesn't quantify greatness the way the All-Pro teams do. First of all, the Pro Bowl's a popularity contest. Furthermore, players can make the Pro Bowl, sit it out with an injury, and someone else will be named. That way, four or five, say, running backs from each conference could put "Pro Bowl" on his resume.

There's no sitting out the All-Pro team from the AP, which – except for the years 1970-76 – releases a 22-man team (specialists have only been named recently).

In 1970-76, the Associated Press named separate 22-man rosters for the AFC and NFC. And from 1960-69, it named separate AFL and NFL teams. In the 1940s, with the AAFC, both leagues made up one team.

Dawson has been named to six AP NFL All-Pro teams. Of the finalists in this year's voting, only Randall McDaniel was named to more. The former Minnesota guard was named to seven AP All-Pro teams – but at a position at which two are named every season.

Also, Dawson was named All-Pro center six consecutive seasons. To understand just how impressive this stretch of domination is, read the following list of players who've been named to six consecutive AP NFL All-Pro teams:

Don Hutson, Jack Christiansen, Joe Schmidt, Gino Marchetti, Jim Parker, Bob Lilly, Alan Page, Ron Yary, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Youngblood, Mike Singletary, Anthony Munoz, Reggie White, Dermontti Dawson and Larry Allen.

Of those 16 players, 14 are in the Hall of Fame, with Allen still active.

That leaves Dawson – and he was the only player of the above 16 to play a position at which only one All-Pro is named per season. Yet, he can't even make it to the voting finals.

The ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia has a feature in which they add up the assigned point values of every news organization that released an All-Pro team in any given year. The winner is the "consensus" All-Pro. Dawson was a five-time consensus All-Pro, all in succession. In doing a little research (that lasted six hours), I found only six players who were consensus NFL All-Pros five consecutive years at one-player positions (center-QB-HB-FB-MLB-TE) on either an offensive or defensive unit. Here are those six players:

Otto Graham

Mel Hein

Jack Lambert

Mike Webster

Dwight Stephenson

Dermontti Dawson

Again, all but Dawson are in the Hall of Fame.

What's going on with the voters? Is it the Steelers blockade? This is the belief of the many who say Donnie Shell and L.C. Greenwood belong in the Hall. These conspiracy theorists have their own quotes from the Hall voters to make their case, but the fact remains Greenwood and Shell didn't dominate and/or impact the game to the degree that Dawson did. Neither did Rod Woodson. Neither did Jerome Bettis. Dawson not only changed the nature of his position, he dominated it during his career.

Randall McDaniel? Okay, I won't quibble with him. Ray Guy? Well, he is a punter. The Associated Press didn't recognize punters during Guy's heyday, and frankly neither should the Hall, but Guy did start his career with six consensus All-Pro selections (and never got another).

Of the current finalists, Russ Grimm and Gary Zimmerman follow McDaniel and Dawson on the All-Pro scoreboard with three each. But the guess is that Paul Tagliabue will be voted in this year because he was given the commissioner's job at the same time the game was exploding in popularity (and because, I believe, the voters grew into their "elite" positions during his tenure).

I'll guess that Green and Derrick Thomas (2-time All-Pro) will join Tagliabue in the Hall next August based on the positive memories that have been kept alive.

But, really, the only obvious choice is Dermontti Dawson. And for a center, it's a surprise that stats can be used so easily to make his case. For that alone he should've been a first-ballot choice.

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