Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Guy Benjamin and David Woodley, Part Four

Would the Miami Dolphins have been better off had they kept Benjamin instead of Woodley in 1980?

When it comes to the franchise’s other more recent quarterback decisions (Brees/Culpepper, Fiedler/Huard) we can freely venture some educated guesses. But here we simply have nothing to go on. Benjamin threw exactly 63 passes in his professional career. That’s not any kind of meaningful sample. The one thing we can definitively say is that he lacked Woodley’s speed and in 1980 Don Shula wanted a mobile quarterback. We’ll never ever know what kind of player Benjamin might have been. We do know what kind of player Woodley was and while you can’t consider his NFL career a huge success he did lead his team to the playoffs twice, win three postseason games, and start a Super Bowl at the age of 22. That isn’t nothing. And Guy Benjamin may not have been able to come close to those achievements let alone better them.

But on a human level surely it would have been better for Woodley’s psyche had he never been anointed the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. Yes, as a loner and the son of an alcoholic it’s quite possible he would have died alone and broke from alcohol-induced liver disease had he never even put on an Miami Dolphins uniform. But the media spotlight and his on-field failures had to have taken their toll on the poor guy. He tried his best but was just not equipped to cope with the incredible pressures of the modern-day NFL.

David Woodley’s life lends itself to being written about (here’s Dave Hyde’s award-winning column for example). It’s got an arc. You can hit all the obvious chapters easily enough: The Late Round Draft Pick; The Surprise Starter; “The Youngest QB To Ever Start A Super Bowl”; Failure; The Bottle; Throwing It All Away; The Downward Spiral; The End. If it hadn’t all really happened it’d be your classic cliché, a bad made-for-TV movie.

Guy Benjamin’s life and career on the other hand isn’t so pithily summarized. Benjamin’s career lasted as long as David Woodley’s, six years. But where Woodley inexplicably walked away from an opportunity to keep playing and possibly start, Benjamin left the game without ever once getting that chance he kept hoping for year after year. On the field at least Woodley got the breaks that never seemed to come Guy Benjamin’s way. Benjamin just couldn’t catch a break. Three different teams gave up on him. Because he wasn’t good enough? Maybe. But as we’ve seen Benjamin kept getting stuck in bad situations beyond his control. Not once, not twice, but three times trapped behind star quarterbacks.

If Benjamin was drafted today he’d have an entirely different career. An All-American quarterback drafted in the second round today would without question get a chance to start. His salary (not to mention the fans) would practically force his team to give him a shot. If the team refused then that QB would be on the free agent market soon enough. But unfortunately Benjamin came into the league a decade before NFL players could exercise their right to free agency.

Guy Benjamin never started an NFL game. He made no headlines as an NFL player. He never earned any off-the-field notoriety either; no arrests, no feuds, no fights, no scandals, no stints in rehab. Nobody’s written any award-winning columns about him. If he’s bitter about his NFL days I don’t know it (though he’d be only human to sometimes wonder what might have been). What I have been able to find out is this: Guy Emory Benjamin’s led one hell of an exemplary life.

While still a young man Benjamin showed his civic-minded side early serving as executive director of Athletes United For Peace, a nonprofit organization that, according to their mission statement, is "committed to promoting peace, education and friendship through programs and events for young people." In 1987, after earning a master's of arts degree in higher education administration and policy analysis at Stanford, Benjamin served as a teaching assistant there before moving on to not just teach at New College in California in San Francisco, but to found the Sports In Society Institute there, directing the school’s degree completion program for former collegiate student-athletes.

In 1996, Benjamin moved to Hawaii to become the offensive coordinator for the University of Hawaii football team while also serving as an academic advisor to the athletes at the school. After that he taught special education at Campbell High School while again assisting with the football team. Benjamin also found time to do some head coaching at the professional level in the Indoor Professional Football League (winning a championship) and in the Arena Football League’s minor league. While coaching in Hawaii he became impressed with his stepdaughter’s development at Hawaii Business College and, clearly not content to teach only football skills to young men and women, Benjamin decided to become part of the Hawaii Business College community. Starting as the job placement director, he soon became the executive director, improving the school’s "retention, graduation and job-placement rates." As HBC then floundered under new ownership Benjamin made his greatest accomplishment in teaching to date. Along with two partners he established an entirely new school, Hawaii Medical Institute. HMI specializes in national healthcare certifications and Benjamin and his partners have made the programs at the school both practical and affordable while assisting the students at the school in finding jobs.

Denied the chance to contribute on an NFL field Guy Benjamin’s contributed far more to society than most professional athletes. We could use more human beings like him.


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

5 comments:

J.A. Morris said...

Great series! I hadn't thought of Benjamin for 25 years.
As for Woodley, I really wanted him to succeed. I remember that game against the Colts in 1980, Griese got injured, Woodley came in. I even pulled for Woodley to succeed in Pittsburgh, but that didn't work out either.
It must have been tough for Woodley to be on the bench when Pittsburgh lost to Miami in the '84 AFC title game.

On a related note,have you seen this article about QB's who've had to replace legends?
http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1141354/index.htm

Rob said...

Thanks for the compliment j.a. And for that SI link too. That was a good article. Strange to read about how much fan-hate a completely forgotten guy like Cliff Stoudt could generate.

I knew I wanted to write something sometime about Benjamin but I never intended a joint series of posts on both him and Woodley. New stuff kept popping up every tme I researched them and it seemed like the way to go in the end. Woodley's tough to write about though, at least for me, since this site was only ever intended to be "fun".

Guy said...

Rob,

After coming across and reading your blog, I searched and read a ESPN article about the death of David Woodley and tears still fill my eyes as I type this. Living out here in Honolulu, well, we are kind of isolated and I didn't know of his passing or the conditions surrounding it. This is Guy Benjamin.

Mahalo nui loa for the kind words. Your words are the nicest and most accurate anyone has ever written about my so-called "career." I am very appreciative and humbled. My colleagues here at Hawaii Medical Institute are very impressed with your research and perspective.

I wanted to write back and answer some of the questions you posed. I feel this is the least I can do.

About me being traded: I, not unlike David, never felt I really fit into the NFL, especially in Miami. Miami was "old school." It had alot of veterans, alot of "good ol' boys." Since their Super Bowl victories, not many rookies made the team. The vets protected each other. When I came in to "replace" Griese, they took offense. Some "hippie from Stanford" was NOT going to replace Bob nor Don. And they made sure of it. I was constantly harassed and belittled. The vets simply did not want me around. It didn't help that I too, like David, was a loner. I didn't have much to do with a bunch of guys that sat around playing cards and drinking beer every chance they got. I remember laying in bed one nite during my rookie season and I started crying and my wife asked me what was wrong. I told her that I didn't think the NFL was going to be like this and I hated it and wanted to get out. I guess I got spoiled by being from Stanford and having Bill Walsh as my coach.

Anyway, my heart wasn't in it and, unlike David, I couldn't fake it on the field or fight through it. I guess it showed. I didn't care and what happened was that I lost that competitive spirit, that edge. Hard to be competitive with a bunch of teammates that I didn't respect.

So my rookie year, I sat on the bench getting used to the speed of the NFL. My second year, I had an appendicitis attack five minutes before a preseason game I was going to start. Was on IR for most of the year. Then my third year, Woodley appeared and, you are right about your presumptions Shula had about liking Woodley. But in the end, it was my fault; when I got the chance to impress Shula, I failed. So he traded me.

I remember driving to camp that last week of the preseason. As I got out of my car I was mobbed by the media asking me if I had been traded. They said there was a rumor of a QB trade. I looked at them in disbelief. I thought, not me. Must be Woodley! When I walked in to the locker room I was told to see Shula. He told me that he had traded me to New Orleans. I almost collapsed! That Archie was hurt and they didn't think much of Bobby Scott and that they were up and coming and that they really wanted me. He said Green Bay was going to give him more in a trade but he thought I would have more of a future in NO. He said he should have traded Bob but said that he hoped I understood that he just couldn't do that to Bob after what Bob has done. And that he shopped Strock but nobody wanted him. So he traded me! Woodley was the only untouchable.

You are right about what happened in NO. How did you ever find out about that stuff??? I actually told Bum that I wanted to be traded to SF or I was going to quit and go home and go to Univ. of Santa Clara law school. I never heard back from him. We were to report to training camp one summer day at 1pm. I did not show. At 4pm I got a call from Bum saying that he traded me to SF. He said he didn't get shit for me but that I did everything he ever asked of me up until that time so he granted my request. I was off to SF next day.

Ironically, I beat out Steve DeBerg for the backup spot and he goes on to play even longer than Joe in the NFL, I believe!

Anyway, we go to the Super Bowl that year and the last game of the season was in NO where I played most of the game and beat Bum and NO! I felt bad but thanked Bum again after the game. Archie and Bobby were so pissed off that, in the end, I was the lucky one to get out of there. BTW, Archie is one of the greatest human beings in the NFL. Humble, honest, great guy. Bob Griese can't touch Archie in that respect. Too bad he never was on a winning team. Would have been one of the greats.

In the end, I blew my left knee out in SF - the third time - and I left the game after the second Super Bowl in '84. Got picked up by the Bears but decided not to report. Also had interest from Colts but not interested.

I now need a knee replacement and I had my neck fused from a nasty hit I got from the Raiders when playing for the 49ers, but otherwise I am healthy.

I certainly have my disappointments and wondered what would have been if I ever got that chance. People laugh about my lack of passing attempts but not many people can say they played seven years as a QB in the NFL, even as a backup, and have two Super Bowl rings. Although I think that if I was drafted by a different team than the Dolphins, things would have turned out different. Then again, maybe not. Who knows?

Mahalo nui loa,

Aloha,
Guy Benjamin

sptrfn said...

Guy,
That is ashame what happened to you in Miami. This whole Benjamin/Woodley thing on this blog was ironic in my mind because, on a copy of this old 77 game that I have between Was-StL, they were talking about you and Doug Williams on the pregame as the best 2 QB's in the upcoming draft. I was wondering what happened to you, and then they put up the entries about you and Woodley on this blog. It is ashame that you didn't go to the right team(like maybe the Steelers around 81 because Terry was getting old and Malone wasn't the future), but maybe, after reading how you have been doing since your career ended, it was God's will for you. I wish you the best of luck.

Terry Hoehn said...

Yeah I too agree this was a great article. Guy probably doesn't remember me but I sat next to him in drafting class while at Monroe High School. Yeah, I remember drawing the assigned design and I made a B on it. Then guy comes to class late, I said here ya go I learned how to draw it correctly. I gave it to Guy and he gets an A... wow! Haha... anyways Guy it is great to read about how you have contributed1597 to society in such a positive way. All the best.