Iron Awards 1946-2017

Named in honor of the legendary Iron Mike Webster, the Iron Award goes to the league’s top center each season. The best centers will excel at protecting against an interior push in the pass rush, often make difficult run blocks from awkward angles, adeptly move to the second level and engage more athletic linebackers, and, usually, make line calls as the maestro of his unit. From what I have seen, there appears to be much year over year continuity in performance at the position, and the guys on top tend to stay at or near the top for a pretty long time. Likewise, bad centers don’t tend to have fluke all star seasons, and star centers don’t experience significant dropoffs in the middle of their primes (without injury). Because of this, there are more repeat winners of the Iron Award than there are for other awards. As with the other line positions, I prefer players who possess multifaceted greatness, but I’ll settle for an average run blocker if he gives his quarterback a clean pocket.

Iron Award Winners

The table below lists every Iron Award winner since 1946. Read it thus: In 1946, playing in the NFL, Bulldog Turner of the Bears won his first Iron Award.

1946NFLBulldog TurnerChicago Bears1
1947NFLBulldog TurnerChicago Bears2
1948NFLVince BanonisChicago Cardinals1
1949NFLVince BanonisChicago Cardinals2
1950NFLJohn RapaczNew York Giants1
1951NFLVic LindskogPhiladelphia Eagles1
1952NFLFrank GatskiCleveland Browns1
1953NFLFrank GatskiCleveland Browns2
1954NFLBill WalshPittsburgh Steelers1
1955NFLFrank GatskiCleveland Browns3
1956NFLLarry StricklandChicago Bears1
1957NFLJim RingoGreen Bay Packers1
1958NFLRay WietechaNew York Giants1
1959NFLJim RingoGreen Bay Packers2
1960NFLJim RingoGreen Bay Packers3
1960AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders1
1961NFLJim RingoGreen Bay Packers4
1961AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders2
1962NFLJim RingoGreen Bay Packers5
1962AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders3
1963NFLJim RingoGreen Bay Packers6
1963AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders4
1964NFLMick TingelhoffMinnesota Vikings1
1964AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders5
1965NFLMick TingelhoffMinnesota Vikings2
1965AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders6
1966NFLMick TingelhoffMinnesota Vikings3
1966AFLJon MorrisBoston Patriots1
1967NFLMick TingelhoffMinnesota Vikings4
1967AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders7
1968NFLMick TingelhoffMinnesota Vikings5
1968AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders8
1969NFLMick TingelhoffMinnesota Vikings6
1969AFLE.J. HolubKansas City Chiefs1
1970NFLEd FlanaganDetroit Lions1
1971NFLForrest BlueSan Francisco 49ers1
1972NFLForrest BlueSan Francisco 49ers2
1973NFLForrest BlueSan Francisco 49ers3
1974NFLRay MansfieldPittsburgh Steelers1
1975NFLJim LangerMiami Dolphins1
1976NFLLen HaussWashington1
1977NFLJim LangerMiami Dolphins2
1978NFLMike WebsterPittsburgh Steelers1
1979NFLMike WebsterPittsburgh Steelers2
1980NFLMike WebsterPittsburgh Steelers3
1981NFLMike WebsterPittsburgh Steelers4
1982NFLMike WebsterPittsburgh Steelers5
1983NFLDwight StephensonMiami Dolphins1
1984NFLDwight StephensonMiami Dolphins2
1985NFLDwight StephensonMiami Dolphins3
1986NFLDwight StephensonMiami Dolphins4
1987NFLDwight StephensonMiami Dolphins5
1988NFLJay HilgenbergChicago Bears1
1989NFLJay HilgenbergChicago Bears2
1990NFLKent HullBuffalo Bills1
1991NFLKent HullBuffalo Bills2
1992NFLKent HullBuffalo Bills3
1993NFLDermontti DawsonPittsburgh Steelers1
1994NFLDermontti DawsonPittsburgh Steelers2
1995NFLDermontti DawsonPittsburgh Steelers3
1996NFLDermontti DawsonPittsburgh Steelers4
1997NFLDermontti DawsonPittsburgh Steelers5
1998NFLTom NalenDenver Broncos1
1999NFLKevin MawaeNew York Jets1
2000NFLTom NalenDenver Broncos2
2001NFLKevin MawaeNew York Jets2
2002NFLKevin MawaeNew York Jets3
2003NFLTom NalenDenver Broncos3
2004NFLKevin MawaeNew York Jets4
2005NFLOlin KreutzChicago Bears1
2006NFLTom NalenDenver Broncos4
2007NFLJeff SaturdayIndianapolis Colts1
2008NFLNick MangoldNew York Jets1
2009NFLNick MangoldNew York Jets2
2010NFLNick MangoldNew York Jets3
2011NFLChris MyersHouston Texans1
2012NFLJohn SullivanMinnesota Vikings1
2013NFLAlex MackCleveland Browns1
2014NFLNick MangoldNew York Jets4
2015NFLTravis FrederickDallas Cowboys1
2016NFLTravis FrederickDallas Cowboys2
2017NFLJason KelcePhiladelphia Eagles1

Brief observations.

Jim Otto was an undersized center, but he played like a giant, picking up eight awards. The AFL competition wasn’t exactly stiff, and he was even outplayed by a former linebacker one year, but the fact that he continued to perform at a high level as an old man after the merger is evidence enough of his talent as a young man.

Jim Ringo and Mick Tingelhoff earned six wins apiece. It’s hard to separate Ringo’s play from Vince Lombardi’s masterful play design and storied ability to get the most out of his players, but the man could flat out block. Tingelhoff was an impressive blocker and seemed to nip Bob DeMarco‘s award chances in the bud every year, but his legacy suffers from a few high leverage defeats against a pair of massive tackles from Kansas City.

Mike Webster and Dwight Stephenson received five Iron Awards, and they easily could have gotten more had they not been in direct competition with each other for some of them. In 1982 and 1983, especially, I wouldn’t argue against switching the names. Dermontti Dawson also had five wins, thanks to strong play and a narrow win over Mark Stepnoski in 1994.

Tom Nalen, Kevin Mawae, and Nick Mangold are the only other players with four awards. Nalen was instrumental in Denver’s lethal rushing attack, providing opportunities for both all stars and unknowns to shine. Mawae played at a high level for three different franchises and excelled in any scheme and with any set of teammates he was given. Mangold received little attention while playing on a hapless offense and blocking for impotent passers, but he was among the best ever to do it at his peak.