(Mawae photos courtesy of the New York Jets & Tennessee Titans)
Talk of Fame Network
When Emmitt Smith moved on from the Cowboys to the Cardinals in 2003, he met with the Arizona offensive coaching staff to discuss the best plays and ways to utilize him.
“I told our line coach that my center is very important to me,” Smith recalled. “He dictates everything to me — the cutbacks.”
The center was Emmitt’s first read on his way to the Hall of Fame as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. And he had some good ones in Dallas in Mark Stepnoski and Ray Donaldson. Stepnoski was an NFL all-decade selection for the 1990s and Donaldson a six-time Pro Bowler.
So the center cannot be minimized in the success of a ground game. And that’s why Kevin Mawae is one of the 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2017. If an NFL team wanted to run the football, it wanted Mawae supplying its back that first read.
Mawae played 16 NFL seasons with three franchises — the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans – and went to eight Pro Bowls. Anywhere and everywhere he went, his offenses ran the football.
“He could do things other centers couldn’t do,” said his former Jets coach, Bill Parcells, “like pull out on sweeps and make the long reach blocks on players well to his outside.”
In eight of his 16 seasons, Mawae’s offenses finished in the Top 5 in rushing. Mawae blocked for 13 1,000-yard rushing seasons by five different backs. In one of the three seasons his team failed to produce a 1,000-yard back, Mawae tore his triceps in the sixth game and missed the rest of the 2005 season. The Jets finished 31st in rushing that year without him.
Three different backs posted 1,500-yard seasons, and two of them won NFL rushing titles — Curtis Martin with the Jets in 2004 and Chris Johnson with the Titans in 2009. In Mawae’s 16th and final season, he was voted to his eighth Pro Bowl after ushering Johnson to just the fifth 2,000-yard season in NFL history.
Martin posted seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons teaming with Mawae, Chris Warren (Seattle) and Johnson two apiece and former Titans, Lendale White and Travis Henry, one each.
Mawae joined George Trafton (1920s), Mel Hein (1930s), Bulldog Turner (1940s), Chuck Bednarik (1950s), Jim Otto (1960s), Jim Langer (1970s), Dwight Stephenson (1980s) and Dermontti Dawson (1990s) as the first-team all-decade center of his era. Every first-team all-decade center eligible for the Hall of Fame has been enshrined except Mawae, who is now in his third year of eligibility.
“He was very tough and durable and compares to Dermontti Dawson,” Parcells said. “At 300 pounds, he was bigger than his predecessors like (Mike) Webster and (Dwight) Stephenson. He was a superb player and a great leader. I’d be hard pressed to say who was better.”
Or more versatile.
Mawae was a three-year starter at LSU, his first two seasons at left tackle and his final season at center. He was a first-team All-SEC choice at tackle and a second-team choice at center. He became a second-round draft pick of the Seahawks in 1994 and spent his first two seasons at right guard before moving to center. He went on to start 211 games there in moving to the doorstep of Canton.
There is no question Mawae is worthy of a bust in the Hall of Fame. The question seems to be when.