Before the Miami Dolphins- Kansas City Chiefs game Sunday in the Orange Bowl, everybody wondered how Chiefs nosetackle Bill Maas would sack his brother-in-law, quarterback Dan Marino. Would he gently lay Danny Boy down? Would he mash his wife's brother flat? Would Cindy Marino Maas cheer, weep, if her husband did either? Neither?
Unfortunately, nobody listened to Dolphin center Dwight Stephenson. What the sixth-year pro from the University of Alabama said was, "I'll try to keep Maas out." Translated from Stephenson humblespeak to English that meant, "Flog me, beat me, strap me down and play Twisted Sister till I foam at the mouth, but Maas will not get through."
He didn't, either. Nobody laid a hand on Marino all day, and the Dolphins crushed the Chiefs 31-0, leaving each team with very different 2-1 records.
The game answered some big questions: Are the Chiefs a great team? No. Are the Dolphins a fading team? No. A smaller point was also made. Dwight Stephenson, 6'2", 255 pounds, 27 years old, is the rarest of things—an NFL offensive lineman you actually can enjoy watching.
"He's the best," says Dolphin nose-tackle Bob Baumhower. "You know how some guys who don't have a lot of talent work so hard to be good? Well, Dwight has the talent and works just like those guys. He's so quick and strong.... Ask Maas after the game what it was like to play him."
Maas is asked.
"God," he says softly.
Maas tried everything on Stephenson—low charge, high charge, spin charge, club charge—to no avail. One time he went low and Stephenson directed him even lower until it seemed Maas's momentum might drill him straight into the earth like a helmeted mole.
Everybody in the NFL knows how good Stephenson is. A Pro-Bowler the last three years, he was voted the NFL's Offensive Lineman of the Year in both 1983 and 1984. In college he was an All-America and a finalist in the 1980 Lombardi Award voting. Bear Bryant called him "the greatest center I have ever coached." When the Dolphins were getting ready to draft Stephenson in the second round in 1980, coach Don Shula pondered that remark.
"I knew what Bryant had said, and I wondered if that was just a college coach talking," says Shula. "It wasn't. Dwight has done some things I've never seen before."