Nothing was bigger than Alabama football in the 1970s. Head coach Paul Bryant was a dominant figure, and he knew how to get the most production from his players.
John Hannah was an exceptional offensive lineman from 1970-72, but Dwight Stephenson became the team’s toughest center. He wore a crimson and white uniform for three seasons (1977-79). Alabama’s offensive production increased in 1977. Stephenson, who stood at 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, anchored an offensive line that guided the team to an average of 31.7 points.
Alabama went undefeated (7-0) in the Southeastern Conference, and captured its 10th conference title under coach Bryant. It would face No.9-ranked Ohio State in the 1978 Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide defeated the Buckeyes 35-6, securing a Sugar Bowl championship.
Stephenson was a part of a special season for Alabama in 1978.
The team finished undefeated in the SEC for a second consecutive year. In his sophomore season, Stephenson helped Alabama’s offense average 28.8 points per game. It won a conference championship, a Sugar Bowl title and its fifth national championship under Bryant
The Crimson Tide’s 31.9 points per game in 1979 was the most it averaged with Stephenson. Alabama finished the regular season undefeated in conference play for a third straight year.
The team took home another Sugar Bowl championship, and its sixth national title under Bryant in a 24-9 victory over No.6-ranked Arkansas in the 1980 Sugar Bowl. Stephenson compiled a record of 43-5 at Alabama with four bowl appearances. He was honored as an All-American, and Bryant called him the best player he ever coached, regardless of position.
Head coach Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins took a chance on Stephenson. Shula selected him in the second round (48th pick) of the 1980 NFL Draft. Stephenson played eight seasons (1980-87) in the league, scratching 87 starts in 114 games. He anchored an offensive line that gave up the least amount of sacks in the National Football League for six seasons (1982-87).
He was a 5x Pro Bowl and NFL All-Pro selection (1983-87). Stephenson was a two-time AFC Conference champion (1982, 1984). He appeared in Super Bowls XVII (17) and XIX (19) with the Dolphins. A left knee injury forced Stephenson to retire.
The incident happened in 1987, when he was involved in a play that featured Marty Lyons and Joe Klecko of the New York Jets. Stephenson’s efforts earned him a spot on the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. He was a recipient of the Walter Payton man of the Year Award in 1985, and was inducted into Pro Football’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.