John Clay: Lexington's Dawson enjoying 'warm-up' for Hall induction

jclay@herald-leader.com,JohnClayAugust 1, 2012 

  • Hall of Fame induction

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Canton, Ohio

    TV: ESPN

    Inductees: Dermontti Dawson, Jack Butler, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin, Willie Roaf

Dermontti Dawson has his speech written. It's four pages, printed out, ready to go. He wrote it himself. He completed it long before he left Wednesday for Canton, Ohio. This is arguably the most important weekend of his life. Dawson isn't leaving anything to chance.

"You take care of the small things," Dawson said Tuesday via phone from his home in San Diego, "and everything else kind of falls into place."

Saturday night, the former Pittsburgh Steelers center and University of Kentucky offensive guard will officially take his proper place as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I don't think it's sunk in just yet," Dawson said. "With all the different things and events going on, I really haven't had time to reflect on it. I think afterward it'll be a little more quiet and I can appreciate it."

Indeed, these past few months have been very busy for the Lexington native and Bryan Station High School graduate. He found out during Super Bowl weekend that after several considerations as a finalist, he was finally on the list of Hall of Fame inductees.

"I didn't find out until the announcement," he said. "It kind of blew my mind. I was here at the condo and I was going to go out and hit some golf balls. But in previous years they had told me to stick around the phone, so I did, but I didn't hear anything.

"I came back and turned the show back on and the next thing you know they were going through the announcement, and they said my name. It was kind of a shock."

If so, it was a shock only to the 47-year-old Dawson. A guard at UK, he was drafted in the second round by the Steelers and played 13 seasons with the club at center. He made the Pro Bowl seven times. He earned first-team All-Pro honors six times.

Some players star at a position, Dawson changed the position. He was the first center to pull, leave his spot after snapping the ball and swing out to block defenders on the edge.

"He was the quickest, most agile lineman that I've ever had the privilege of coaching," his former coach, Bill Cowher, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dawson was also among the more humble heroes of the NFL. He said he never thought of himself as a Hall of Famer and brushed off the pleas of those who did believe he belonged in that class.

"When you get to the NFL you just want to earn a starting spot and have a career," he said this week. "Never in my wildest dreams would I ever dream that I would be talked about that way, as a possible Hall of Famer. To be enshrined, it's a very humbling experience."

The inductees were required to attend a three-day orientation outlining what will happen in Canton this weekend. There is the Gold Jacket Dinner on Friday, the parade and enshrinement ceremony on Saturday and the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday. Just to name a few events.

"I'm not really sure the total count," Dawson said, "but I think through me and my mom and my family, there will be 150 or 160 people there, not including the ones who didn't go through me. We're having a party afterward and we think there will probably be over 200 people there."

It makes sense. This is an accomplishment you want to celebrate and share.

"It's a very exclusive club that I am going to be a part of now," Dawson said.

So he wanted to single out the man who first started him on the way to joining that club, his old high school coach at Bryan Station, Steve Parker. Dawson invited Parker to be his presenter.

"Steve Parker means the world to me," said Dawson of the former Paris High School star and UK linebacker who as a young coach saw Dawson in the hallway at Bryan Station one day and convinced him to play football. "If he hadn't stopped me in that hallway, you never know where your life would have taken you."

Now it has taken him to the biggest weekend of his life.

"They tell you it's like planning a big wedding, a huge wedding," he said. "It's been kind of taxing, but it's a good warm-up to what's going to happen."

Of course, when most fans think of Hall of Famers and induction ceremonies they think of the speeches given by the inductees.

"The speech is all my own," said Dawson. "I wrote it myself and then sent it to two people I trusted to have them look at it. I've got it typed out. I want to be prepared."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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