As Dermontti Dawson took his turn at the microphone during Taste of the Steelers at Heinz Field on Saturday night, a part of the team’s alumni weekend, he spoke about the fans, his former teammates, and what it was like to play for Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.
He also shared stories about the man who was his mentor, his idol, someone he looked up to, the late Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster.
As he warmly recalled what he learned from Webster, he paused for a moment and he just couldn’t hold back the tears, couldn’t keep his emotions in.
“Mike was a great player. I sometimes get a little emotional,” said Dawson, his voice cracking. “Mike had a great influence on me. I am very thankful I had him in my life. He had such an impact on my life. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Mike. His memory will always last in my life. I don’t know what else to say.”
No more needed to be said, as his emotions told the story that every former player attending the alumni weekend conveyed … that those they played with truly were family, sharing a bond that nothing could break.
“The greatest thing for me is the relationship we formed over the years with our teammates,” said receiver John Stallworth, who played from 1974-87. “I had the chance to compete with these guys and they are still my friends. I look at all of these guys and I think they have the same disease that I have – they have the pride of being a part of the greatest organization ever.”
The event is part of the team’s 80th Season Celebration, bringing together players from different decades, including Bill Priatko, who played for the team in 1957, through Chris Hoke, who just retired this past year after 11 seasons.
“There is so much love and camaraderie,” said running back Willie Parker, who played from 2004-09. “We are a band of brothers. We always stay in touch. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
They were joined by former players Dick Hoak (1961-70), Joe Greene (1969-81), L.C. Greenwood (1969-81), Lynn Swann (1974-82), Tunch Ilkin (1980-92), Louis Lipps (1984-91), Craig Wolfley (1980-89), Dwayne Woodruff (1979-90), Jerome Bettis (1996-05), and Josh Miller (1996-03) and Steelers President Art Rooney II for a night of sharing stories with guests while raising money for the UPMC Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program and the Cancer Caring Center.
“It’s a good time, a good function, especially the cause,” said Greenwood. “Something like this is always great.”
Greene, a special assistant in the Steelers Pro and College Personnel department, shared the story of how he didn’t want to come to the Steelers when he was first drafted in 1969 because they had never been a winner, to the joy he has looking back at what the teams he played on accomplished, winning four Super Bowls.
“We accomplished quite a bit during that time,” said Greene. “I go back to when we won only one game and I was fortunate enough to be here when we won our first Super Bowl and our fourth. It was magic. You can’t duplicate that anywhere else. I was so happy looking back having played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
The players all took their turns sharing stories from their playing days with the crowd, with plenty of cheering going on and even a little good natured booing when Bettis admitted he was a Dallas Cowboys fan growing up, but that quickly turned back to cheers when he talked about what playing for the Steelers meant to him.
“When I came here there was a standard and an expectation to be great. That was set by these men behind me,” said Bettis, pointing to the players who all played before him. “You hear about these guys and they are legendary. When you look at football you think about these Steelers players who were larger than life. To spend time with them is great.
“Every day we walked by the Super Bowl trophies and understood what the expectations were, to work hard, to understand who you played for and when you put the Steelers uniform on it meant something. I am proud to have helped extend that legacy so the players that play today understand what is expected of them when they put the helmet on. They know what it means to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.”