By Dejan Kovacevic, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, February 5, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS — That richly traveled road from Pittsburgh to Canton gained four more followers Saturday with the Pro Football Hall of Fame elections of center Dermontti Dawson and cornerback Jack Butler of the Steelers, running back Curtis Martin of Allderdice High School and Pitt and defensive end Chris Doleman of Pitt.
Still no Bus on that road, though.
Jerome Bettis, who barreled his way to the NFL's No. 6 all-time rushing yardage with 13,662, fell short of election in his second year of eligibility. The 44-member selection committee, which met yesterday at the Super Bowl XLVI media hotel, doesn't release vote totals, but Bettis fell short of the 80 percent needed to join the class of six that also included offensive tackle Willie Roaf and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy.
Enshrinement will be Aug. 4 in Canton.
Bettis didn't even make the cut of 10 out of the 15 modern-day finalists entering the day. Martin, like Bettis in his second year of eligibility, had the edge with a committee that was reluctant to add two running backs in the same class. In Bettis' first year, Marshall Faulk got the nod.
No more than five modern-era candidates can be elected in one class.
Dawson, 46, was seen by many in the football community as woefully overdue, finally making it in his eighth year of eligibility. He was born in Lexington, Ky., where he lives and works as a real estate developer. After a brilliant career at the University of Kentucky, he became a six-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection in 13 seasons with the Steelers, retiring after 2000.
"It's a great honor to be elected," Dawson said. "I never would have thought I'd be in this position. I feel very fortunate. It's something my kids and grandkids can see, to take a look at what their granddad did."
Following the Hall of Fame footsteps of Mike Webster, Dawson might have been even better. His streak of 170 consecutive games was second-longest in franchise history, and his extraordinary athleticism for a big man - he was nationally ranked in discus and the shot put in high school -- afforded him a then-rare ability to lead sweeps and execute blocks as far downfield as the safety.
"Kudos to Dermontti," former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "He played center better than any other during my 22 years of coaching. A true professional and better person."
Before Webster, Ray Mansfield held the Steelers' center position in 1966-75, making for a three-player, 35-year run unlike any in NFL history.
"I learned a lot from Mike Webster in my first year, how to take care of yourself, how to prepare," Dawson said. "That's something I always valued, and it means so much to me to join this group."
As friendly off the field as he was fiery on it, Dawson was held in such high regard that the Steelers' offensive linemen showed up at the Super Bowl's Media Day in 2009 wearing his No. 63 jerseys to support his Hall induction.
The elections of Dawson and Butler, the only choice of the Hall's senior committee, raised the Steelers' Hall total to 20 who spent significant time with the organization. Dawson joined cornerback Rod Woodson (2009) as just the second player from the post-dynasty era.
"They're both deserving of this honor for all they've done throughout the years to help build and continue our rich tradition," Steelers president Art Rooney II said.
Butler, 84, was born and raised in Oakland near Forbes Field before starring at St. Bonaventure, then for 103 games in 1951-59 for the Steelers. His 52 interceptions - including four in one game Dec. 13, 1953, against the Washington Redskins -- were second-most in NFL history at the time of his retirement. He was All-Pro in his final five seasons before a knee injury ended his career.
"It's an honor and privilege," Butler said. "Everybody knows that. But I love this. I love being here."
Even if it took a half-century.
"I never, ever thought I would be here. I just didn't think this was reality. When I was a kid, I dreamed about being a football player. And here I am, Jack Butler from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, going into the Hall of Fame. I can't believe it."
Butler went on to work 44 years for the Steelers as a scout/manager.
Martin, 38, also was a Pittsburgh native, growing up in Homewood, Wilkinsburg and Duquesne before finally joining the football team at Allderdice High School as a senior. He was an immediate sensation at running back, linebacker, even quarterback, before the secret was out with four flashy years at Pitt.
In 1995-2005 with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, Martin amassed the NFL's No. 4 all-time rushing yardage - two notches ahead of Bettis - at 14,101. He won a rushing title in 2004 and was a three-time All-Pro.
"This is one of the most humbling feelings I've had in my life," Martin said. "I'm so grateful to all my coaches and teammates."
Martin has been deeply active in community endeavors, including in the Pittsburgh area. That prompted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to say upon his retirement, "Curtis Martin represents everything an NFL player should be."
Martin spoke emotionally of being raised by a single parent.
"Football was something I did just to stay out of jail back in Pittsburgh. Shows what can happen if you do the right thing."
Doleman, 50, had 150 1/2 career sacks over 15 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers. Before that, the York, Pa., native excelled in four years at Pitt with 25 sacks, still sixth-most in school history.
This was his eighth year of Hall eligibility, and he and Kennedy emerged from a pack of formidable pass rushers.
"When they call your name, you're absolutely numb," Doleman said. "There are times you wonder if you've been overlooked, but I've always had the respect of my peers. I always went out and played for God, family and friends. It is a big payoff, I'll tell you that."
The elections of Martin and Doleman give Pitt eight players in the Hall, along with Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka, Russ Grimm, Joe Schmidt and Rickey Jackson.
The rest of the 17 finalists yesterday who didn`t make it were former Steelers linebacker Kevin Greene, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Charles Haley, Andre Reed, Willie Roaf, Will Shields, Aeneas Williams, Bill Parcells and Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
Enshrinement will be Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio.