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Andy Cohen: Two Eras, Two Special Players

Posted Dec 22, 2011

In a rare treat, Hall of Famer Dwight Stephenson and rookie Mike Pouncey, both centers, recently crossed paths and what transpired was truly something to savor.

Some moments you just want to freeze in time, far too special to dare forget.

On a recent Tuesday at the Dolphins Touchdown Club, the guests were Dwight Stephenson and Mike Pouncey.

Stephenson, a Hall of Famer, may just be the greatest center ever to play the game. Pouncey, a rookie, will play center for this franchise for the next decade, probably longer.

Talk about center stage – literally and figuratively -- this was it. Wisely, emcee Kim Bokamper had Stephenson and Pouncey at the microphones together. If you are a Dolphins fan, or even just a football fan, you had to appreciate this scene. How often does a young player get to share the dais with greatness at his own position?

“I’d be happy if I became half the player that you were,” said Pouncey to Stephenson.

“I watch you carefully,” Stephenson said. “What are you 6-foot-6? Big. Strong. You really get after it. You have a bright future with this team.”

There is no way Pouncey remembers Stephenson as a player. Why, Pouncey wasn’t even born yet when Stephenson retired. But centers know centers and it is clear that Pouncey had heard plenty about the legend of Dwight Stephenson.

I was fortunate to see it first hand, fortunate to have Don Shula call me into his film room one day to watch Stephenson block an opposing nose tackle clear through the back of the end zone.

“Amazing,” Shula would say at the time.

Dwight Stephenson is about 6-foot-1, played at about 255 pounds. Different era. Different kind of player. For those not lucky enough to see Stephenson play, he was as relentless, as tenacious, as intense, as efficient and as respected as any player in this league.

When the huddle was forming and there was too much chatter and Dan Marino was trying to call the play, Stephenson would look around with that mean, menacing stare and simply say: “Shut Up!!!” Silence.

“Dwight was such a great player for us,” Marino once said. “Sometimes you can take greatness for granted. I never did with Dwight.”

One quick Dwight Stephenson story. His rookie season, 1980, was my rookie season covering the team. I was writing for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel back then and my editors decided they wanted a daily rookie diary. Don’t know why, but I chose Stephenson. So we sat in his dorm room every afternoon and talked football, talked life and talked about his transition from college to the pros. Who knew that this was a future Hall of Famer.

“Has a second-round draft pick ever been cut in training camp,” Stephenson asked me one steamy August afternoon. “If not, I’m afraid I’m going to be the first one.”

This is what made Stephenson so special. As good as he was, as promising as his future appeared to be, he was so afraid of failure that it pushed him harder and harder each day.

Even today, knowing what he became, Stephenson says, “I was truly afraid of being cut.”

Enter Mike Pouncey. I know the Dolphins have tried several players at center in the Parcells/Ireland/Sparano years. There were clearly disappointments. Samson Satele was a second-round pick by the Dolphins. For whatever reason, he didn’t make it here and was instead starting for the Raiders earlier this season at Sun Life Stadium. Then there was Jake Grove. Big contract. Big hopes. Big letdown.

Well, Pouncey has put an end to all of that. He is the real thing. He possesses the perfect mixture of talent and attitude, a lot like Stephenson. Question the Dolphins all you want about not taking a quarterback in the first round of the 2011 draft because there will always be validity to that argument. But don’t question the validity of Pouncey.

On a franchise with a history of great centers – Jim Langer and Stephenson for starters – Pouncey has a chance to be next in line. In just three-quarters of one season, he has played remarkably well for a young player at such an important position. Very few mistakes. Not a whole lot of penalties. Some smart decisions. Excellent downfield blocking. Clearly, an enormously talented player.

“Just have to keep working,” Pouncey says. “Nothing is guaranteed.”

Hmmmm. Sounds a lot like Stephenson, doesn’t he?

Two players from different eras. One franchise. One position. One stage.

Yes, there are moments you want to hold on to, scenes you never want to forget. Dwight Stephenson and Mike Pouncey standing there together, looking at each other, one talking about his future, the other his past. Priceless stuff.

Makes you really appreciate what the rich-in-tradition Dolphins once had and what, if his rookie season is an indication, they could very well have in Mike Pouncey.

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