With a supercenter like Stephenson, though, it's a point of honor to handle his opponent with no help. "When he came into the league, no one knew that much about him," says Buffalo's 270-pound noseguard, Fred Smerlas. "He started a game against me in Buffalo and just kicked my butt. He pancaked me about six or seven times. The next day we were watching films and our coach, Chuck Knox, says, 'Freddy, you let that Stephenson block you like that? He couldn't block my grandmother.' I said. 'God, Chuck, I'd hate to meet your grandmother.' "
No one is quite sure what the ideal center should look like. Dallas offensive line coach Jim Erkenbeck says that men like Stephenson are the last of a breed, and that the new centers will be like the Saints' 271-pound Steve Korte, "a real gorilla." But the Colts' line coach, Tom Lovat, disagrees: "No, the good centers aren't what I term trained killers. They're more finesse-type players, utilizing more balance."
Could the old greyhound centers make it in this bulked-up new world of football? Jim Ringo, the 235-pound All-Pro center for the Lombardi Packers, flatly states. "I could never play today."
I disagree. I think the greyhounds could play, but they wouldn't look the same. They would have the same athletic ability, the same desire, plus new and different means—weight training and steroids—to turn themselves into 270-pounders. They would have less hair on their heads, and their dispositions would be edgier, but they would play. The competition would bring them up to its level.
So the next time you watch an NFL game, tear your gaze away from the quarterback for a while and focus on the center and noseguard. Watch their thrust and thunder up the middle. You will be seeing today's best against the best—and they have never been better.