To everyone’s surprise, Don Shula decided to keep his unheralded eight-round pick David Woodley and, when he did so, Guy Benjamin suddenly became expendable. I wish I knew exactly how Shula came to his decision. Benjamin barely played in his first two seasons and the statistics he did put up are far from grievously inadequate. Benjamin only threw one pick and his other stats aren’t bad. But 12 passes aren’t exactly a useful sample size. What we do know is that Woodley favorably impressed Shula in the 1980 preseason. Woodley was the kind of quarterback we stereotypically refer to as “athletic”, meaning he could run and had a big arm. And apparently Shula really wanted a QB who could run. He was certainly intrigued by the possibilities of Woodley’s skills anyway. At one time Bob Griese possessed some mobility and he was very good at scrambling behind the line to keep a play alive but those days were long gone. And Don Strock, the heir apparent, was about as immobile as any QB ever. But Woodley could run. So Shula kept Woodley and he, Griese, and Strock all took turns starting games early in the 1980 season. With Griese’s game in decline, everybody got a shot at playing but bizarrely nobody played well unless they were coming off the bench. Benjamin almost surely would have gotten a chance to play had he been around but he wasn’t.
Griese suffered a season-ending (career-ending as it turned out) shoulder injury in game five and the time had now come for Don Shula to decide who would be the new starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, maybe the biggest personnel decision of his Dolphins’ coaching career so far. After seven years Don Strock had started a number of games but he never did enough to make Shula confident Strock was starter material. Strock was also 30 now and unlikely to improve. Woodley on the other hand was only 22-years-old. So Shula went with the kid. Woodley didn’t exactly play well but he was just a rookie and showed some flashes here and there while chipping in 214 yards on the ground in 11 starts. And Shula enjoyed installing plays to take advantage of Woodley’s skillz. I recall Miami trying the option a few times as well having Woodley catch some passes a la Kordell Stewart. How much all that actually helped the team is questionable though. Miami declined to 8-8 as the rookie struggled. Meanwhile, what of Guy Benjamin?
In terms of opportunity, Benjamin seemingly had moved to a much better situation. Miami was a playoff team looking to get back to the Super Bowl. The 1980 New Orleans Saints were one of the worst teams in National Football League history. And that sort of team is almost always looking to rebuild with young players. The Saints didn’t have a young player at QB though. The venerable Archie Manning had been starting for New Orleans since 1972 and at the age of 31 he was having one his best seasons ever. Unfortunately, his passing didn’t translate into any victories and after an 0-12 start the team fired its head coach Dick Nolan and made Mike Stanfel the interim coach the rest of the way. Saints General Manager Steve Rosenbloom then ordered Stanfel to bench Manning and play Benjamin. At long last, Benjamin’s time had arrived. Or. Had. It? Turns out Stanfel, Nolan’s best friend, didn’t really even want the job and out of continuing loyalty to his friend Nolan (and Manning), Stanfel refused the GM’s direct order and kept playing Manning! Manning did manage to lead New Orleans to a victory before the end of the year to avoid a historic 0-16 mark, but by the start of the 1981 season the Saints said goodbye to both their interim coach and their GM. Former Oilers’ coach Oail Andrew “Bum” Phillips was brought in to revive the franchise and Bum decided that Guy Benjamin was not in his future plans for the team. For the second time in his three-year career, Guy Benjamin was traded away before ever getting a single chance to start for the team that gave up on him. Would the third time be the charm?
Guy Benjamin and David Woodley