SI's Pawl Zimmerman, one of 36 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters, rues one omission at last Saturday's induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio.
Mike Webster, the Pittsburgh Steelers center, made it, and I'm very happy for him. But once again the greatest center I've ever seen lost out in the voting. "Dwight Stephenson isn't a man, he's a bolt of electricity," Freddy Smerlas, the old Buffalo noseguard, told me while the two were still playing. That was a surprising thing coming from Freddy, who never had a good word to say about anybody who tried to block him. "I'm not kidding," he said. "He's the quickest thing on two legs. He's like lightning."
Howie Long told me that one year his Raiders devised a game plan expressly meant to nullify Stephenson. The idea was for a defensive end to crack down on him and keep him out of the blocking mix. It was the first time I'd ever heard of a game plan directed at a center.
I mentioned all this at our Hall of Fame meeting in January, when we voted on candidates. What emerged from the others was a feeling that Stephenson's eight-year career hadn't been long enough. That drove me frantic. Was it his fault that in December 1987, New York Jets defensive end Marty Lyons took out Stephenson's knee on a blindsider, ending his career at age 30? No. So next January I'll try again to get him in. Maybe then reason will prevail.
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