Saturday, June 21, 2008

Guy Benjamin and David Woodley, Part One

In 1978, the Miami Dolphins used their second-round pick, the draft’s 51st overall selection, on Stanford quarterback Guy Benjamin. Since drafting Bob Griese over a decade earlier, Miami hadn’t used anything more than a 4th-rounder to grab a QB. In fact, even since taking Benjamin, Miami has only twice used a higher pick on a quarterback, Dan Marino (1st-round/27th overall) in 1983 and John Beck (2nd-round/40th overall) in 2006. Since the Dolphins previously traded away their 1978 first-rounder, that second-rounder was their top pick that year so clearly the team made a heavy investment in Guy Benjamin. Why?

Well, Miami’s near-legendary backup QB Earl Morrall retired after the 1976 season, leaving Miami with only two quarterbacks, Griese and 1975 draftee Don Strock. And Griese, while coming off possibly his best season in 1977, was now 33 years old. Guy Benjamin, an All-American quarterback who led the NCAA in passing in 1977, seemed a logical choice for grooming as Miami’s next star QB.

While at Stanford, Guy Emory Benjamin struggled for playing time in his first two seasons. Benjamin was locked in a quarterback controversy with a guy named Guy Cordova. Head coach Jack Christiansen clearly preferred Cordova but every time Benjamin would get in the game he’d keep proving to be the superior QB. Even after Benjamin led Stanford to a last-second comeback win over their big rival Cal in the 1974 finale, Christiansen again tabbed Cordova to lead the team in 1975. Fan outrage and Benjamin’s superior play while splitting time with Cordova finally forced Christiansen’s hand in 1976 and Benjamin won the starting job and kept it. Thankfully for Benjamin, no controversies existed in his final collegiate season. By 1977 both Christiansen and Cordova were gone and Benjamin’s new coach, Bill Walsh, knew exactly how to use him. The Genius, for the first time as a head coach, installed what we'd later come to know (if not love) as the West Coast Offense and Benjamin ran it beautifully, winning the Sammy Baugh award as the country’s top passer and leading Stanford to its best season in years and a rare bowl game appearance. In the Sun Bowl, his final college game, Benjamin passed for 269 yards and threw three TD passes in leading Stanford to an upset 24-14 win over LSU. Foreshadowing: Watching the game from the LSU sidelines--Tigers backup quarterback David Woodley.

Just months later, Benjamin was headed south to a perennial playoff team looking for their quarterback of the future. I distinctly recall a quote from Don Shula back then saying something to the effect of his team having the perfect quarterback situation. The team had Griese, their All-Pro starter, Don Strock, the experienced backup, and now Benjamin, the promising young gun. Griese began to show some signs of slipping in 1978 and 1979. He played well in 1978 but tore some knee ligaments in the preseason and only started nine games that year. Benjamin pretty much watched that season from the bench as Shula used Strock in place of Griese. The next year, Griese pulled a hamstring, and subsequently played poorly enough that Shula actually benched him for a time in favor of Strock. Ultimately Griese won back the starting job from Strock with Benjamin again but a spectator. However, it was starting to become clear that the now injury-prone and aging Griese couldn’t last much longer and Miami would soon need to decide on its quarterback of the future. Shula saw that Strock played much better coming off of the bench than he did as the team's actual starter. Benjamin had only gotten to throw 13 passes combined in his first two seasons but at least he wasn’t making any disastrous mistakes. Would he get his chance?

When Griese suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the fifth game of the 1980 season, Shula and the Dolphins finally had to make a decision on who would succeed Griese. The only thing everybody knew was this: it wouldn’t be Benjamin. You see, in the 1980 draft Miami took a flyer on that former LSU quarterback David Woodley, an eighth-round draft pick. And Miami stunned everyone when they decided to keep the unheralded rookie and just before the season traded away former All-American Guy Benjamin to the New Orleans Saints for a fourth-round pick! How would that work out?

Guy Benjamin and David Woodley
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

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