On the Steelers: '12 class doubly meaningful for Donahoe
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It's rare when two men who played their entire football careers with one team enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame together. It's even more unusual for someone like Tom Donahoe, who has such a connection to each.
Former Steelers Jack Butler and Dermontti Dawson earned election to the Hall's Class of 2012, and Donahoe had more than a rooting interest in seeing both make it.
Butler gave Donahoe his first job in the NFL as a scout with the Blesto combine in 1984. Donahoe was part of the Steelers personnel team that drafted Dawson on the second round in 1988.
"People overuse the word 'unique,' but Jack Butler is unique," said Donahoe, who rose to become the Steelers director of football operations and later became president and general manager of the Buffalo Bills. "He's one of the most selfless, ego-less guys I've ever had the privilege of working with in football."
Butler was elected to the Hall for his playing career, which spanned the seasons of 1951-59, as a cornerback with the Steelers. His career -- and nearly his life -- ended abruptly at Forbes Field because of a severe knee injury. He tried coaching and scouting, then was hired as the head of the Blesto scouting combine, which provides information to the Steelers and other teams in the league.
Butler hired Donahoe, then a high school coach and teacher, as a scout after a recommendation from then-Steelers personnel head Art Rooney Jr., who hired local high school coaches in the summer to evaluate pro players for him on film.
Butler headed Blesto for more than 50 years, and his scouts went on to major personnel positions throughout the NFL, including Donahoe, Kevin Colbert, former Steelers personnel man and Eagles general manager Tom Modrak, current Jaguars general manager Gene Smith and too many more to mention.
"It's an unbelievable list," Donahoe said. "It has to be a who's who of scouts, GMs, directors of football operations, presidents -- an endless number of people Jack helped."
There are those who believe Butler could have been elected to the Hall as a contributor merely for his work with Blesto.
"He taught me how to scout," Donahoe said. "I'd go in on weekends and he'd sit down with me and talk about players, what to look for, how to write reports, how to do your area. He really schooled me A to Z."
After a year working for Butler, Art Rooney Jr. hired him away to scout for the Steelers. And several years later, Donahoe assisted in the 1988 draft process, then headed by player personnel director Dick Haley and coach Chuck Noll.
Another Hall of Famer, center Mike Webster, had promised to retire after the '88 season, and the Steelers were looking for a replacement.
They drafted Kentucky guard Dawson on the second round and Notre Dame center Chuck Lanza on the third. Lanza lasted two seasons. Dawson dominated through most of 13; he started as a guard next to Webby as a rookie, moved to center in '89 and played in 170 consecutive games until hamstring injuries in '99 finally forced him to miss some and forced him into retirement after the '00 season.
There was concern that Dawson, at 6 feet, 2 inches and just 288 pounds, might not be able to handle the big defensive tackles as a guard. He had played some center at Kentucky, but not much. He was so athletic, however, the Steelers decided to draft him and find a spot. Donahoe said Noll always was amenable to players who did not fit the mold but showed they could play football.
"We probably drafted him more as an extremely athletic, gifted offensive lineman and we'll figure out where we need him to play," Donahoe recalled.
It did not take long to figure it all out, and. again. Donahoe gave Noll credit for that; the old Cleveland Browns messenger guard had a special feel for offensive linemen.
So, expect Donahoe to feel like a proud papa in Canton, Ohio, Aug. 4, the day Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler are inducted. And, he'll keep pitching for another one of his people, a fat running back he acquired for the Steelers in a '96 trade, two-time Hall of Fame finalist Jerome Bettis.
"Jerome," Donahoe said, "should be next."
First Published February 26, 2012 12:02 am