Dwight Stephenson was a 6'2" center for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Class of 1980. While there, legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant called Stephenson the best player he ever coached, regardless of position. Miami selected him in the second round of the 1980 NFL Entry Draft with the 48th overall pick. He would wear the number 57 jersey throughout his Dolphin's career.
Stephenson appeared in every game as a rookie special teamer, as the team posted an 8-8 record. He would not start a game at center until the 12th week of the 1981 season, when an injury felled starting center Mark Dennard. Miami finished 11-4-1, winning the AFC East Championship. Stephenson started each of the final five games of the season, and would thenceforth start every game at center throughout his NFL career.
With Stephenson entrenched at center for the nine game 1982 season, Miami's rushing offense was the first thing to improve, leading the NFL with 333 carries for a league third-best 1,344 yards. Andra Franklin rushed for 701 yards, pacing the NFL with 177 carries. Pass protection was also significantly upgraded, allowing an NFL low 11 sacks on the campaign. In the playoffs, Franklin rushed behind Stephenson for 112 yards on 26 carries, scoring a touchdown in Miami's 28-13 victory over the New England Patriots.
For more on Stephenson, follow the jump.
In 1983, Stephenson earned his first Pro Bowl invitation, already garnering mention as the NFL's best center by several publications, including the Pro Football Writers Association, the Newspaper Entertainment Association, and Pro Football Weekly. Miami finished 12-4, winning the AFC East by four games over the Patriots and the Buffalo Bills. Miami's pass protection was still the class of the NFL, leading the league with only 23 sacks allowed. The leagues best pass protection afforded Miami's quarterbacking trio of David Woodley, Don Strock and rookie Dan Marino to combine for an AFC low 11 interceptions.
1984 would see Stephenson continue to redefine the center position, earning first team NFL selections from every major publication, and his second consecutive Pro Bowl invitation. He was the first player to touch the ball on almost every play through Miami's 14-2 regular season. Miami's rushing offense was middling at best, but in 1984, the Dolphins didn't need any running backs. Led by Dan Marino, the Dolphins led the NFL with 513 points scored (38 points more than the second place San Francisco 49ers), 6,936 yards gained (570 over the second place 49ers), 6.5 average yards gained per play (the second place 49ers had gained 6.0 per play), 387 first downs (the second place San Diego Chargers made 374), 5,018 passing yards (the second place Chargers gained 4,643), 49 passing touchdowns (the second place 49ers threw 32), and 8.6 average yards gained per pass play (second place San Francisco gained 7.5, the third place St. Louis Cardinals, 6.9). Miami's pass protection allowed only 14 sacks, the 49ers in second allowed 27. They also allowed zero sacks through the first two games of the playoffs, beating the Seattle Seahawks 31-10 and the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-28.
In 1985, Stephenson was again the lynchpin of Miami's offense as the offensive line led the NFL for the third season in a row in sacks against, with only 19. The Dolphin's passing offense posted NFL second best totals with 4,114 yards gained and 31 passing touchdowns scored. The team posted a 12-4 record, beating out the Patriots and the New York Jets, both 11-5. Stephenson started his third consecutive Pro Bowl, again earning first team honors from every recognized major media outlet.
1986 would see the Dolphins return to earth with a markedly more terrestrial 8-8 record. The offensive line held the opposition to an NFL low 17 sacks. This allowed the offense to continue to excel, leading the NFL with 430 points scored, 6.3 average yards gained per play, 351 first downs, 4,779 passing yards and 46 touchdowns. Stephenson started his fourth Pro Bowl in a row, earning his customary honors as the best center in the game. Miami's weakness was defensive, and if you went to a Dolphins game in 1986, you could expect to see a 41-38 game nearly every time.
In 1987 Stephenson started two games before the lockout prevented the Dolphins, and the rest of the NFL, from playing in week three. Weeks four through six featured the replacement debaucle, later immortalized on cellulose by Keanu Reeves. After resuming normal operations in week seven, Stephenson started the next seven games. In a week 12 (originally week 13) matchup against the Jets, New York defensive linemen Marty Lyons and Joe Klecko inadvertently ended Stephenson's career, injuring his left knee. Stephenson was again selected as the best center in the NFL by everyone who had someone to listen to or read them, and was selected to start his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl.
Over eight seasons, Stephenson appeared in 114 Miami games, starting 87 at center. He is regarded by many to be the finest center to ever play the game, and earned an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the Class of 1998.
Miami has featured two Hall of Fame centers. Which one was better?
Jim Langer (103 votes)
Dwight Stephenson (614 votes)
717 total votes