Today’s GridFe Hall of Fame post focuses on arguably the most dangerous position in football, the center. The man in the middle: he touches the ball on every play, usually directs the line, protects against inside penetration, and serves as the pivot man in the run game. He also takes repetitive head shots on every down and doesn’t just put his body on the line; he literally puts his mind on the line for the team. We honor those men for their sacrifice on the field and celebrate their achievements. Ultimately, we inducted six centers and gave votes to four others.1
Hall of Fame Centers
Jim Ringo (1953-1967)
Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles
7 First Team All Pros; 2 Second Team All Pros; 10 Pro Bowls; 2 Title Wins; 1 Title Loss; 6 GridFe Iron Awards
Unlike many legends on the Packers dynasty, Ringo was already a decorated player before the arrival of Vince Lombardi. The coach valued his center’s great speed and quickness and designed his potent rushing attack with Ringo as its fulcrum. The deadly Green Bay sweeps required athletic linemen to execute pulls, and the innovative “do-dad” blocks necessitated an intelligent center to get everyone in position.2 Ringo was more than capable in those respects, and his ability to keep Bart Starr upright was an important part of the team’s offensive dominance.
Jim Otto (1960-1974)
12 First Team All Pros (10 AFL/2 NFL); 1 Second Team All Pro; 12 Pro Bowls (9 AFL/3 NFL); 1 Title Loss; 8 GridFe Iron Awards (AFL)
Double 0 began his professional career at a meager 205 pounds and was overlooked by the NFL and most AFL teams. The Raiders, with their legacy of taking chances on players, obtained Otto’s draft rights and got a member of Center Rushmore for their risk. He added enough weight and power to his stellar technique and outrageous toughness to play in 308 straight games and earn a first team all pro selection in each of his first twelve seasons. As a young player, he was successful in the wide open attacks of the early AFL. As a grizzled veteran, he held his own against established NFL defenders.
Mike Webster (1974-1990)
Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs
7 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 9 Pro Bowls; 4 Title Wins; 1 GridFe World Award; 5 GridFe Iron Awards
Iron Mike is best known for his fifteen seasons in the Steel City, capturing four titles as part of the Steelers dynasty. Webster paved the way for a dominant ground attack from Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, and he kept big-armed Terry Bradshaw clean while he set up for his legendary deep throws. Brawdshaw has said on many occasions that the team’s offense wouldn’t have functioned without his center. Perhaps on the small side for the position, Webster more than made up for it with incredible power and quickness. Often, he would brave the cold Pittsburgh winter and play with bare arms to keep defenders from grabbing his jersey. Anything to get an edge on an opponent.
Dwight Stephenson (1980-1987)
5 First Team All Pros; 5 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Loss; 1 GridFe World Award; 5 GridFe Iron Awards
Stephenson’s career was abbreviated by injury, but at his peak, he was the most dominant player in the history of the position. One doesn’t become a legend on the offensive line without power and technical acumen, but what set Stephenson apart was his unbridled explosiveness. Opponents likened taking a block from him to getting hit with a bolt of electricity. The great Howie Long said the Raiders actually crafted a defensive line gameplan around neutralizing the Miami center, which he claimed was unprecedented in his career. We can lament the career that might have been, but right now we choose to celebrate the career that was.
Dermontti Dawson (1988-2000)
6 First Team All Pros; 7 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Loss; 5 GridFe Iron Awards
Dirt Dawson combined uncanny athleticism with the gritty, blue collar mentality of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a true technician who could use perfect hand placement to mitigate the bull rush of larger defenders. Dawson possessed the power to handle nose tackles one on one, while most centers require a double team or a rub. He also had the quickness and agility to pull, which was rare for the position when he played. His unique talents in the run game helped establish the hard-nosed ground and pound attack on which the Steelers prided themselves. His combination of talent and relentless determination set the tone for the entire organization.
Nick Mangold (2006-2016)
New York Jets
4 First Team All Pros; 7 Pro Bowls; 4 GridFe Iron Awards
Mangold was a consistently dominant blocker who often went unappreciated as he toiled on lackluster offenses. He excelled at creating lanes for run-oriented coaches with outdated schemes, and he also executed his assignments superbly in pass protection. Despite playing in front of a bevy of passers who were bereft of pocket awareness, Mangold rarely allowed sacks or even pressures. He was by far the best center of his generation, and his relative obscurity highlights the problem faced by great linemen on bad offenses. Had he played his career just a few hours up I-95, he’d be a legend.