Talk of Fame Network
Kevin Mawae is one of six offensive linemen among the Hall-of-Fame's Class-of-2017 semifinalists, and the competition is strong.
There's former tackle Joe Jacoby, who not only was a finalist this year but reached the top 10. There's 2016 finalist and all-decade choice Alan Faneca, too, as well as all-decade pick and five-time Pro Bowler Tony Boselli; Chris Hinton, a Pro Bowl selection at four offensive-line positions, and five-time All-Pro Mike Kenn.
Mawae is the only center, so that separates him from the field. But what else? We asked the former Jets' and Titans' star, now an assistant with the Chicago Bears, and he was only too happy to help us out on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
"If I had to say what I did that made me different," he answered, "I'd say I changed the way the center played the game with the ability to be out in the open-field pulling. There were times I pulled, and I trap blocked on the end of the line of scrimmage.
"I've never seen a center yet pull on the goal line, which I did in '98. Things like that. It opened up offenses for a lot of people. And not until I started doing it on a regular basis did anybody ever consider or try to use the center as the featured puller on runs."
Mawae was so good at his position that he was named to eight Pro Bowls, seven All-Pro teams and the 2000s' all-decade squad. But he was more than accomplished. He was durable, starting every game he played in (238) after his rookie season and going a string of 10 straight seasons where he didn't miss a start.
Moreover, the teams he played for were good, too … running the ball. In Mawae's 16 seasons his clubs had 13 1,000-yard rushers and one 2,000-yard rusher.
"I didn’t even know," he said. "I knew I had a lot of 1,000-tard rushers, but 13 out of a 16-year career … again that’s a collective effort with myself and all the other guys. (I) played 241 games, started 238 of them, (and) the ones I didn’t play in it was because of significant injuries. So it speaks to my longevity and durability and accountability to my teammates and my team.
"Those are things that first come to mind, but, really, I would be hard pressed to sit in a room with a list of guys who are so deserving other than myself and say, 'I'm better than these guys are,' because, at the end of the day, everybody in their own right has something special going on that made them different than everybody else."
Mawae is right about what made him different than everybody else. He was a center so agile that the Jets would pull him – often in front of Hall-of-Fame running back Curtis Martin – to work the edge of defenses, a practice that the Jets, as Mawae put it, were "invested in."
But that leads to the question: Was it something that was taught, or was it more the product of raw ability?
" A lot of it is just natural ability," he said. "Some guys have it. Some guys do not. When I got to the Jets I was 305 (pounds), and I really did not feel comfortable playing at that size. I actually ended up playing down at 285 and, eventually, 280. But I was able to move, and they gave me the ability to do that.
"Charlie Weis was the offensive coordinator when I first got there; and then Dan Henning and, more importantly, Bill Muir saw the ability in me to do some things on the edge from the center position. They just drew it up, and let me do my thing.
"But it’s a lot of work. You're very conscious of your footwork and where the inserts are when you're pulling around the edge and corners and, obviously, not everybody has a knack for climbing on a second-level defender or a third-level defender ... and not just necessarily blocking them but just getting in their way. It’s a feat in itself. But I enjoyed doing it.
"I challenged myself to be the best at that part of the game that a lot of centers didn’t do then and still can't do now. But it goes back to having a running back that understood how I played the game. Curtis Martin was one of my favorites because he had patience with me getting around the corner and the edge, and he did a great job setting blocks for me. It doesn’t come naturally for some people, but, for me, I thought it came pretty easily. But I did have to work on it on a day-to-day basis."
(Kevin Mawae photos courtesy New York Jets and Tennessee Titans)