Register Iowa Sports Hall: Tim Dwight ran swiftly to stardom

John Naughton
Tim Dwight

Tim Dwight follows his passions, from sports to sunshine.

Dwight was a swift bundle of relentless energy on the football field and on the track. He rose from a high school and college star in Iowa City to a 10-year career in the NFL.

But if you get him started talking about solar energy now — his current occupation involves developing that technology in Iowa — then he takes off with the drive of a kick returner aiming for a touchdown.

"The sun is the biggest resource in the galaxy," Dwight said. "It's free."

Dwight, whose power and speed made him one of the state's greatest track and football athletes, is the 217th member of the Des Moines Sunday Register's Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.

Tim Dwight (6) was a two-time all-American at Iowa and still holds the Hawkeyes’ record for career punt returns for touchdowns with five.

He grew up in Iowa City, about a mile and a half from Kinnick Stadium, in a whirlwind of activity. He was a fixture on the playground at the elementary school next to his house, jogged through his paper route and raced his bicycle in daredevil fashion so much that some worried it might lead to his demise.

Dwight focused that energy into his athletic career. Who better to catch a pass over the middle or return a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl?

The son of a coach, Dwight became an intense competitor.

"What separated him was his explosiveness and competitiveness," said former Iowa City West football coach Reese Morgan, who is now an Iowa assistant.

Dwight was a three-time Des Moines Sunday Register all-state football player. He was a running back in high school — scoring a touchdown on his first carry as a freshman brought up to the varsity for the playoffs — and left an impression so deep that he was named to the Register's All-Century team.

"It was men against boys," Morgan said. "He was a great high school player, a great college player and a great pro player."

Dwight had a poster of NFL great Barry Sanders on his bedroom wall. His compact body type was not unlike Dwight, who weighed 170 pounds as a senior. He rushed for 4,230 yards and scored 83 touchdowns at Iowa City High.

His competitiveness showed on the track, too. In one Drake Relays race during his freshman year, one of Dwight's shoes fell off as he rounded the first turn of a 400-meter leg. He ran the rest of the lap without hesitation.

Dwight enjoyed catching and passing runners who held a lead on him at the start of a relay. But he learned a lesson when he burned up his energy too soon in a race against Ames' John Barnett, one of the state's top 400 runners. Dwight finished second and calls it the only race he regrets.

"He let me get out a little fast," Dwight said.

Barnett told him to be patient, and success would come when he became older.

"I thought, 'Someday I'm going to have that race,' " Dwight said.

Outstanding coaches and teammates allowed him to compete at a high level, he said.

Dwight, who graduated from City High in 1994, won eight individual high school state track events. He was a four-time 200-meter dash champ and a three-time long jump winner.

He chose to play football at Iowa just before Christmas his senior year. He wanted to play for the hometown Hawkeyes and coach Hayden Fry.

"I was born in '75, he came here in '79," Dwight said. "I grew up in the era of Hayden Fry and the re-establishment of Iowa football in the '80s with the Longs, with the Harmons."

Dwight was recruited to play running back, but he wisely made a transition to receiver and kick returner in college.

"I thought I was going to go in there and play running back," Dwight said. "I learned the hard way, I wasn't going to be that running back."

He would have been stuck behind future NFL players Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks in the backfield and his body wouldn't have survived taking hits in the NFL for a decade at that position.

Dwight's first touchdown catch brought him reassurance. Ryan Driscoll threw an out-and-up route at the back of the end zone that Dwight grabbed.

"That play kind of solidified myself — you know, you can compete at this level, you can make it in this league," Dwight said.

He'd prove himself as a threat to score as a receiver or kick returner. He ran a few plays, too.

Dwight caught 139 passes for 2,271 yards and 21 touchdowns. His receiving yardage was a team record at that time.

He also returned five punts for touchdowns at Iowa.

Dwight was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth round.

He found he wasn't the fastest player on his team and wondered if he'd make the cut.

"You always have a little doubt in your self-confidence," Dwight said. "You talk yourself out of it ... It's day to day, every day."

He made one of the biggest impacts by an Iowan in Super Bowl history in his first season.

In Super Bowl XXXIII, he returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown on Jan. 31, 1999.

"I wasn't afraid, at that time as a rookie, 23 years old, to slam it up in there when I saw a hole — I took it," Dwight said, snapping his fingers. "And then I figured out what to do on the other side of it."

He ran behind four big offensive linemen and a group of speedy blockers. Then Dwight found himself facing the kicker, the only player between himself and the end zone.

"(I told myself) you know what, I don't think you're going to tackle me today, especially in this game," Dwight said.

A Denver team led by John Elway beat the Falcons 34-19. Dwight returned five kickoffs for a 42-yard average, the most in Super Bowl history.

Dwight said he initially, naively believed that his team was so good that more Super Bowl appearances would arrive.

"It's an exciting time — you don't get that many opportunities to go out there and compete at that level in that type of stadium and atmosphere," Dwight said.

He played three seasons with Atlanta, then went to San Diego for four years.

The Chargers featured Doug Flutie at quarterback and drafted future star Drew Brees for Dwight's first year with the team.

"I said, 'Woo, sweet,' " Dwight said. "I just got traded and Flutie's got a few more years on his way out and Drew will open the offense."

Brees would emerge as an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl MVP with the New Orleans Saints.

"When he's ready to roll, you better be ready to roll," Dwight said.

Dwight also played with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Chris Chandler. He continued to learn on the job.

"Everybody is fast," Dwight said. "Then it becomes a knowledge game."

He competed for New England, the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders before finishing his career after the 2007 season.

Dwight played 12 or more regular-season games in six of 10 seasons.

"I was a lucky player," Dwight said.

Dwight spends time in California and Iowa City now. He travels the state, pitching solar power and green energy.

"If we take the car off the grid, we don't have to go to Iraq," Dwight said.


Born: July 13, 1975, Iowa City

Highlights: Starred in football and track at Iowa City High ... Named the Register's male high school athlete of the year in 1994 ... Three-time Sunday Register all-state football player, including an Elite pick his last two seasons ... As a senior, rushed for 2,126 yards and scored a then state-best 43 touchdowns while leading the Little Hawks to a Class 4-A state title and a 13-0 record ... Ran for 236 yards and four touchdowns in the state championship game, a 42-14 win over Sioux City Heelan ... Honored as one of the running backs on the Register's All-Century all-state football team last fall ... won eight individual state track events, including four straight in the 200 meters ... A two-time Drake Relays boys' high school outstanding performer; won three long jump titles and 10 championships, including relays ... Still owns the state's fastest 200-meter dash time (20.8 seconds) ... Also ran track at Iowa in 1999, earning Big Ten Conference outstanding male performer honors after winning the 100 and running on two first-place relays ... Lettered all four years in football at Iowa... Caught 139 passes for 2,271 yards (then a school record) and 21 touchdowns ... Still ranks third best in all-purpose yards with 4,890 ... Returned five punts for touchdowns, including a 92-yarder vs. Indiana in 1997... Earned all-American honors twice, including consensus recognition as a senior ... Had a 10-year career in the NFL, compiling 2,964 yards and 19 touchdowns receiving ... Returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown for Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII.