Dwight Stephenson Enshrinement speech
Dwight Stephenson Enshrinement Speech 1998
Presenter: Don Shula
Thank you. Last year at this time was one of the great moments of my life. And today to be able to present Dwight is another one of those great moments. You know, when you’ve been named to the Hall of Fame, you’re told that you’ve got seven minutes to make your speech following your presentation. You go beyond that time limit; a red light goes on and that tells that you you’ve gone past your deadline and it’s time to finish. Well, for those of you that know Dwight Stephenson, you know that he’s never going to see that red light. He never liked talking about himself and he never liked giving speeches.
Dwight always wanted to be the center, but he never wanted to be the center of attention. He always let his actions speak louder than his words. Teddy Roosevelt’s adage ‘to speak softly but carry a big stick’ fits Dwight perfectly. When his actions on the football field nobody carried a bigger stick than Dwight Stephenson.
I remember when I first considered drafting Dwight and my assistant coach John Sandusky was out there and we’re studying films and trying to make a decision, I called Bear Bryant, his college coach, to ask about him. Bear told me he was the best center he ever coached and maybe one of the best offensive linemen he ever coached. He said he was a man among children. He also said that Dwight didn’t say much but he didn’t have to. Bear was right on both counts.
Dwight’s career ended tragically because of a knee injury. But in eight full seasons, he proved without doubt that he was a Hall of Fame player. He was a dominant player at his position. He was so good that we never need anybody to help him block the nose tackle. Normally, you have the guards help the center block the nose tackle. Instead with Dwight, he took him on man-for-man, and I know that any nose tackle that’s out there will attest to that. And we used to let the guards turn out and help the tackles. When Dwight retired, we had to go back to helping the guards – having the guards help the center. Dwight spoiled all of us.
I always wondered why he was so good. He wasn’t that big; he wasn’t that fast, and he wasn’t that strong. But he might have been one of the smartest players that I ever coached and certainly one of the toughest competitors. He used his feet and his hands better than anyone and his technique was perfect. If people wanted to know how to play the center position, all you had to do was study tapes of Dwight.
He was also one of the hardest workers that I ever coached. He worked out every day in the weight room as if his job were at stake. And he treated every practice session as though he was getting ready to play the Super Bowl. I found that out early in our first scrimmage after drafting Dwight. His teammate at Alabama, Don McNeal was playing the left corner for us on defense and we ran a screen pass. And on this screen pass, McNeal came up to contain the play and Dwight pulled along the line of scrimmage and he took McNeal on in the flat and knocked him up into the stands and then just stood there and grinned. And that was his teammate. And I knew what was going to happen to opposing players during Dwight’s career.
With his unsurpassed work habits and his intensity and his dedication to the game along with his unparalleled over-ability, it was no surprise that he was selected for five Pro Bowls. And if it were not for the career-ending injury, in fact, Dwight would have been selected for a lot more. You know, also when you think about it, if it wouldn’t have been for that injury, he might still be the starting center for the Dolphins today because he kept himself in that kind of condition. There’s no doubt that when Dwight got hurt, the Dolphins lost a great one. Before he was hurt, Dwight anchored an offensive line which allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL in each of his seasons as a starter. And this enabled quarterbacks like Dan Marino to set numerous (applause) – Pittsburgh Dan Marino – to set numerous passing records that still stand. Dan told me one time he learned how great Dwight was because during the game he never concentrated so much as to whether or not Dwight was in there. But if Dwight (wasn’t) in there, Dan always knew it because there were quarterback sacks at that time which he didn’t like. I knew exactly what Dan meant because I also sometimes forgot to follow Dwight during the game. But on Tuesdays when I watched the tapes I always remember. I saw him continually dominate the players he was up against to such a degree that I actually began to feel sorry for them because it was such a mismatch.
It didn’t take long for Dwight to make an impact on the field and it certainly didn’t take him long to make an impact off the field either. He was a bastion of strength on the Dolphins’ offensive line and he was a bastion of strength in the community as well. He was extremely active in South Florida charity and civic events and typical of his nature, he did so quietly without any fanfare. But like his playing ability, his offseason, off-field work was simply too good to be ignored and he was named the 1985 NFL Man of the Year for his outstanding community service, the highest non-football honor an NFL playing can receive.
When he gets up to talk, Dwight certainly won’t tell you any of these things. He’ll probably say he could have played better, that others are more deserving, that any success he might have achieved was due to the play of his teammates. And he’ll mean it too. But don’t let Dwight fool you. Anyone who ever faced him across the line of scrimmage knows for sure that he was one of the very best who ever played. And there’s no doubt in my mind either that his recognition today is well deserved. It’s certainly an honor to be his presenter. But it was an even a greater honor to have coached him. I’ve not seen a better football player on the field or a more humbled person off the field and Canton has added a touch of class with Dwight’s election. It was a distinct privilege for me to present Dwight Stephenson for induction into the Pro Hall of Fame. Now, I can just hope that I can get him to come up here and say a few words. Dwight.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. First of all, I would like to start off by giving credit to the lord Jesus Christ also. Without him in my life, nothing I have ever accomplished or anything I hope to accomplish would be possible. And my mother and my father, they always stressed that to me early on and I really appreciate that.
But let me start off by, to the commissioner, the Hall of Fame committee, to the fellow Hall of Fame members, to my family, to the Hall of Fame selection committee and to the fans. It is indeed a pleasure to be here today. When I think about this award and great this award is, I realize – and coach Shula, you did give away my speech – believe me, I did not get here by myself. I had a lot of help along the way. And to achieve this great award, is just, is just unbelievable, is something that I never ever thought about or ever dreamed about. Coming into the National Football League, I really came in there just hoping to be on a football team then hoping I’d stay around for a little while. But things worked out as they did. Like I said, some pretty good things happened before me in the National Football League. And again, I just thank God for them. And also, right now, as far as my work ethics and things like that, I just happened to become the person I am today, I’d like to introduce my father and my mother to you, would you please stand? Eugene Stephenson and Louise Brunson. Thank you. And I’d also like to introduce my sisters and brothers. They made many sacrifices along the way for me and I really appreciate them, and I love them. My mother and father raised seven children and I really feel like they did a great job. My oldest sister is not with me and she was my leader. She was the one that, like coach Shula I didn’t do a whole lot of talking, but she was the leader of the family and that sort of thing and I lost her, we lost her about 15 months ago to breast cancer and we miss her dearly. But I do have the rest of my sisters and brothers here. I’d like for Tony to stand, Tammy, Michael and also Stephanie. Where are they at? Are they throughout the crowd? I really appreciate you. I also have another brother that is not here today – Chris – he just had another baby about five days ago and I know that he’d be here if he could. I’ll see you when I get back home.
Like I said, I’ve had plenty of help along the way and I’d like to also recognize some other people at this time. My high school coach, coach Mike Smith. Would you please stand? From Hampton, Virginia, and he had a national championship high school football team this year. I’m very happy that he is here today. He’s one of the guys that, he got me into football. I was playing basketball and I thought I was a pretty good basketball player, but I was probably better at football. And, I appreciate coach Smith for recognizing that.
And also, I have another one of my high school coaches, coach Bob Tyson. He’s out here in the audience somewhere. And he’s the one that when I was getting ready to go to the University of Alabama, you know I was kind of intimidated, didn’t know what to expect, coming from a little, small town Hampton, Virginia going down to the University of Alabama to play football, you know you were looking for words of encouragement. And I was with coach Tyson on like a Saturday or something and he said, ‘Dwight, when you leaving for Alabama’ and I told him, I said ‘coach, I’m leaving tomorrow, I’m leaving Sunday.’ He said, ‘okay, you’ll be back Wednesday.’ But I’ll tell you what, I know he was just joking, and he’s always supported me, and I really appreciate it. I also have some of my teammates here from my high school football team – Kenny Gillin, Woodrow Wilson, Simon Gufton – and I appreciate you guys for being supportive of me and thank you very much. Thank you.
And then from there, I went onto the University of Alabama and that’s where I had the opportunity to play for the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, which at that time was probably the best thing that could have happened for me. He was a person that was interested in making good people. He didn’t want just good football players, but he wanted us to be good people. He would take us out there on the football field and work us and boy it didn’t seem like he really cared about us and work us. And then he’d walk through the dining room and he’d come up and say, ‘Dwight, you know, how’s your Momma’ doing? Is she still working there?’ He really showed an interest in his football players. And I really appreciated coach Bryant. God bless his soul. And also, there’s another coach – coach Ken Donohue – he should be somewhere out here. And I really appreciate him, he’s the one who recruited and got me to come down to the University of Alabama along with coach John Mitchell, I really appreciate them. Ooh – how you doing coach? Alright. Thank you very much.
And then some great things happened to me there at the University of Alabama and that’s where I met my soul mate, my, the love of my life. I’d like to introduce my wife to you, Diana Stephenson. Would you please stand. Some of the other players mentioned, you do go through tough times, you do need that support and you do need that kind of help along the way. And she’s always there to provide me that support and I really appreciate it. Thank you. I also have my two sons here – Dwight, Jr. and Dwayne. Alright. Thank you, big guys! I appreciate that, they’re great guys.
And some of my teammates – Terry Jones, Buddy Adellake, Curtis McGriffin and Vince Bukes – we played together at the University of Alabama and we won a lot of football games together. We won two national championships and we had some great teams and I appreciate those guys coming up. I’d like to say, I’m just a product of people helping people. I’ve never been one to take credit, but I do believe in sharing the credit if there is any praise to be given. I just believe in sharing it and I thank those guys for coming up.
Then I had the opportunity to go down to Miami and play for the legendary coach Don Shula. When I went down to the University of Miami, excuse me, when I went down to Miami again, I didn’t expect a whole lot out of myself. I mean, I did expect a whole lot out of myself, but I didn’t exactly know what would happen. And when you get around coach Shula, again, he is like an extension at the University of Alabama – the same things that we practiced there, coach Bryant taught us were the same things that went on down at Miami. And he gave me the opportunity to play there and play professional football there for the Miami Dolphins and coach Shula, I really appreciate you. Thank you very much.
And also, I have one of my offensive line coaches – coach John Sandusky. He coached me the whole time I was in the National Football League. He took a guy that came from the University of Alabama who knew how to run block but didn’t know a whole lot about pass protection. And I think I turned out to be a pretty good pass protector like that. So, if you would please stand, coach Sandusky. Thank you. And his wife Shirley.
Again, you know, I had great teammates there at the University, excuse me down in Miami there and I played with the great ones like Dan Marino, Mark Duper, Mark Clayton and we won a lot of football games down there. We played in a couple of Super Bowls and those we’re disappointing but we did do a lot of good things down there. And I have some great guys to learn from like Larry Little and Bob Griese and the great Dolphins before from the 1972 undefeated football season. Those great guys they helped us out and again, I’m just very, very thankful and humble and I’m just happy to be here. Thank you very much.