DUO Applauds

Dwight Stephenson and Ellen Burton
Dwight Stephenson and Ellen Burton

Reconceptualizing Stephenson

Written By Dwayne Stephenson, Son of Forme Miami Dolphins Center, Dwight Stephenson

In a world replete with smoke and mirrors, the misconceptions are abounding.

 

Here’s one—

 

“The legend of Superman ended when Christopher Reeve fell from his horse.” No, if anything, the legend of the true super man had just began. Faced by the limitations of his paralysis, Reeve could have very well spent the rest of his days moping around in his wheelchair. Instead, Reeve took the high road, serving as a voice for the paralyzed, lobbying on behalf of those with spinal cord injuries and for human embryonic stem cell research; a feat far more impressive than that of his feeble on-screen character, who would weep at the very sight of kryptonite.

 

Just like the myth of “Superman,” the lore of Dwight Stephenson, a man many describe as “the greatest center” to ever play professional football, is very much a fantasy. The unassuming, small town son of a shipyard technician, who charged onto the football field as an explosive force to be reckoned with; a swift blocker with “legs of steel” and a mercurial surge off the snap, Dwight torpedoed his way through the ranks. Leading the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide to two consecutive national championships, and a 21 game winning streak during his junior and senior years, Dwight was hoisted by the esteemed Paul “Bear” Bryant as the “best center he ever coached.” Spending all eight years of his professional career with the Miami Dolphins, Dwight played in 107 consecutive games and earned both All-Pro and All-AFC recognition for five straight years. Anchoring the offensive line, Dwight set a standard, allowing the fewest sacks in the NFL each of his seasons as a starter. “He made so many unbelievable plays, you can’t pick just one out,” proclaims former Dolphins Quarterback, Dan Marino. “Because of what I had to concentrate on during a game, it was hard for me to notice Dwight while he was in there.” But, he adds, “I sure noticed it when he was not in there.” Attributing his athletic prowess to “quickness, good strength and the burning desire to better himself,” Dwight implanted an indelible mark upon the field which has yet to be matched.

 

From hard-charging to heart-warming, Dwight possessed a seemingly dichotomous nature, leaving the game and all of its acrimony on the field, while conveying a sense of humanity and humility off the field. “To those who much is given, much is expected,” Dwight says. With an innate drive to serve his community, Dwight lent his helping hands to several organizations. It was on any day of the week that Dwight could be seen standing before a classroom of children at Dade County High School, encouraging them to “stay in school,” to “be a leader,” and to “care about the community.” Selected as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 1985, Dwight was recognized as not only a truculent force on the field, but also a charismatic humanitarian off the field.

 

A ferocious football machine with “legs of steel,” who is also a gracious philanthropist with a “heart of gold”—it’s almost too good to be true. And indeed, it was. Just like the myth of “Superman,” the legend of All Pro Center, Dwight Stephenson, is not without its missteps. It was during a run-of-the mill Monday Night Football game in 1987, at the peak of Dwight’s career, when things suddenly took a turn for the worst. With an unexpected side swipe from New York Jets defensive lineman, Marty Lyons, Dwight found himself crashing into the green grass of Joe Robbie Stadium, with his future in football, up in the proverbial “flames.” Ironically, the man with “legs of steel” ended his eight year career with torn ligaments in his left knee. Carted off the field, Dwight never returned to the game.

Flash forward approximately twenty years to the present day. Dwight’s legs may not be as agile as they once were, and they aren’t remotely made of steel, but they’re certainly getting him where he needs to go. Dwight, who is not only a Pro Football Hall of Famer (class of ‘98), but also an entrepreneur who presides over his very own construction firm, hasn’t missed a single step. Opening D. Stephenson Construction in 1992, the former offensive lineman who used to get coached at team meetings now coaches his own team of employees at weekly staff meetings; the “playbook” is now a business plan; and the “Super Bowl”?—“That’s getting bigger projects, and completing them on time, and on budget,” says wife and business partner, Dinah Stephenson.

 

Still operating with a fully functioning heart of gold, Dwight leads his team towards not only developing prime real estate, but also a more enriched community. Co-founding the Dwight Stephenson Foundation (www.dwightstephenson.org), along with his wife, Dinah, it has been their goal to amalgamate the sports and business connections they have made over the years in an effort to generate increased funding for charities. “Friends helping out friends” is the time tested formula used by both Dwight and Dinah, among other all-star entities, who choose to use their celebrity for the aggrandizement of others. “It’s night and day, having an event with names and without names,” Dwight says. And with names like Don Shula, Jason Taylor and Dan Marino, all on the green, teeing up for the foundation’s premier event—the Dwight Stephenson Hall of Fame Golf Classic—there is little room for defeat. In fact, the “formula” has proven so successful that the foundation garnered approximately $100,000 for charities in 2009 alone; proceeds benefiting the American Diabetes Foundation, the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation and the Urban League. Indeed, it seems that they have found not only a formula for success, but a venerated blueprint for pro-football altruism.

 

And the accolades just keep rolling in for this dynamic duo. In 2006, Dwight received yet another honor when he received the Walter Camp “Man of the Year” Award, joining a distinguished list of former NFL luminaries. And Dinah, as Dwight’s self-declared “assistant coach” not only in matrimony and business, but also in service, has her own laurels. In 2008, she was named among the “100 Outstanding Women of Broward County” by The Boys and Girls Club of Broward County and the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center. “Service is just what we do,” Dinah exclaims, “And providing more money for children and families—that’s just a continuing ‘play.’”

Looking ahead in the ever-evolving “playbook” of Dinah and Dwight Stephenson, there is still much to be accomplished. On the construction front, a 48,000 sq. ft. Performing Arts Center in the city of Lauderhill, serves as the company’s biggest project to date (set to be completed by the end of 2011). And among their many acts of philanthropy, a mission to solve the “digital divide,” is one which they work tirelessly towards. “Some kids just don’t have access to [the] modern technology that people take for granted,” Dwight proclaims. “Dwight’s Computers for Kids” is the initiative demonstrating that instead of dumping usable computers in the trash, it is feasible and economically cheaper to refurbish them, giving restored units to disadvantaged youths.

 

When asked for the key to his success, Dwight mentions neither “a heart of gold,” nor “legs of steel”. Instead, the one-time football phenomenon and entrepreneur cites his own “sacrifices” as his most prized virtue. “Doing without a good time…doing without material things…doing without things that make you comfortable, so that one day you could have an even better situation,” is the aphorism which has led Dwight throughout his entire life, every step of the way, and has stayed with him as inspiration as he continues to delve into a multiplicity of business ventures and humanitarian efforts. When asked if there are any misconceptions that he’d like to clear up, Dwight has only one. He says, “We football players do other things—we transition. Once football is over with, we move on and do something else.We are survivors just like everybody else.”-DUO