His arsenal includes "a fully automatic M-16 and a lot of semiautomatic weapons," says Dawson, along with a generous supply of ammunition and "high-capacity magazines." If he gets hungry, the gun room is stocked with military surplus MREs—Meals Ready to Eat, victuals with a shelf life of up to 10 years.
Just when you think you've got a read on a guy, you begin to think he has visions of joining a militia. But when you ask Dawson if he's a survivalist, if he spends his spare time on the lookout for black helicopters and was disappointed when the Cold War ended, he laughs. "No, nothing like that," he says. "I just enjoy shooting."
Does the rat-a-tat-tat provide a release for pent-up frustrations, an antidote to road rage? "Not really," he says. "I don't get that wound up to begin with."
Adds Regina, "He doesn't bring his work home. When he walks in that door, he's all about family." Dawson describes the best moment of his day as the stampeding of his children, who rush to greet him when he walks in the door every night.
Of course, it's easier not to bring work home when it's acknowledged that you're better at your job than anyone else in the world. How long can Dawson reign as football's supreme center? While Cowher says he hasn't seen "any true signs" Dawson is aging, not everyone shares that opinion.
"He's slowed a little, and he's still the best," says Joel Steed, the Steelers' cerebral nosetackle. Steed would know. He has been going up against Dawson in practice since 1992. That summer Dawson so dominated third-round draft choice Steed—"He might as well have had an S on his chest," Steed says—that there was concern that Pittsburgh had squandered a high pick. "There was some question: Could [Steed] play?" says Tom Donahoe, the Steelers' director of football operations. Steed, it turned out, could play: He was All-Pro last season. It helps when the center he's up against isn't Dawson.
It was Donahoe who presided over Pittsburgh's college scouting operation when the Steelers drafted Dawson. And it was Donahoe who seemed to wince recently when reminded that in a few years, he would have to think about replacing his prize center. "He's such a fabulous player and fabulous person," Donahoe says, "that it's not something I want to think about."