Gold Jacket Spotlight: Dwight Stephenson ‘never wanted to be center of attention’

Throughout his Pro Football Hall of Fame career, DWIGHT STEPHENSON preferred to refocus any attention on his individual efforts toward the energies of his Miami Dolphins teammates.

Hall of Fame coach DON SHULA noted Dwight’s deflection of any notice directed toward the center while presenting Dwight for his enshrinement, saying, “Dwight always wanted to be the center, but he never wanted to be the center of attention.”

Regardless of Dwight’s desire to remain as anonymous as possible, his performances on and off the field drew well-deserved attention. This week he steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

“He makes it look so easy,” Dolphins halfback Tony Nathan once said. “Sometimes you forget about Dwight during a game. Then on Tuesday you remember. You watch him manhandle a player, and you can’t believe he is the same size as Dwight.”

Those Tuesday film review sessions led fullback Woody Bennett to add, “I just sit there and laugh because I can’t believe a player can dominate the ways Dwight does. You’re laughing, but you know the other guy is hurting. Hurting bad.”

One of those “other guys” was Buffalo Bills lineman Fred Smerlas, who was quoted in the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel as remarking, “If I never see that No. 57 again, I’ll be real happy. He’s a load and a half.”

Smerlas later shared the story of the first time he faced Dwight to Ken Rodriquez of The Miami Herald saying, “When they put in Stephenson, I figured I’d intimidate him, but I couldn’t get a piece of him. Chuck Knox (former Buffalo Bills coach) said, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself. My grandmother could have beaten him.’ I said, ‘I’d hate to meet your grandmother.’ ”

Himself a five-time Pro Bowler and veteran of 200 games, Smerlas concluded, “He wasn’t just the greatest center that ever played. He was possibly the greatest lineman of all time.”

While coaches, teammates and opponents were praising Dwight, he was always pushing himself to a higher level as observed by Miami offensive line coach John Sandusky.

“He’s his own worst critic. I might give him a plus on a play,” Sandusky said, “but he’ll give himself a minus because he didn’t take the guy far enough downfield.”

Prior to playing for the legendary Shula, Dwight played for another coaching legend at the University of Alabama, Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Again, Dwight downplayed individual recognition bestowed upon him by Bryant, who considered Dwight, “The greatest center I ever coached.”

When Miami was considering selecting Dwight in the 1980 NFL Draft, Shula acknowledged that Bryant told him, “ ‘(He) may be one of the best offensive linemen I ever coached. He was a man among children.’ He also said, ‘Dwight didn’t say much but he didn’t have to.’ ”

At Alabama, Dwight was a three-time All-Southeastern Conference selection, and during his final two collegiate seasons, the Crimson Tide won 21 consecutive games and a pair of national championships.

During his eight-year NFL career, which ended as a result of an injury, Dwight was selected to five Pro Bowls and the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1980s. The NFL Players Association honored Dwight as the AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year from 1983-87.

Off the field commitment resulted in Dwight being awarded the 1985 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his efforts in South Florida. The NFL describes the award, presented annually to a player, as recognition “for his excellence on and off the field who represents the values of respect, integrity, resiliency, and responsibility.”

Upon receipt of the award, Dwight remarked, “Out of all the awards I’ve won, this one ranks right up there with any of them. This one is a little special because it’s not just for sports but for being a good person, too.”

Dwight added, “Football is one thing. Helping people who need is something special.”

Stephenson could also be described as something special. Just don’t ask him to talk about it.