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Bill Walsh's College Protégés



Often regarded as one of the great quarterback whisperers of his time, two of Bill Walsh's quarterbacks are often forgotten. Ironically, one can argue that these two got him his chance with the 49ers. But after winning games and back-to-back Sammy Baugh Trophys, whatever happened to Guy Benjamin and Steve Dils? These are their stories.


Guy



Guy Benjamin was born on June 27, 1955 in Los Angeles, California. After starring at nearby James Monroe High School, he accepted a scholarship to Stanford University. For the next two years, he toiled on the bench while the program itself was in flux. Still, he showed promise in the few chances that he was given, completing more than half of his passes and throwing 14 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. By 1976, he took over the reins, completing 57.6% of his passes for 1,982 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, his 17 interceptions were cause for alarm. He needed competent instruction.


When Bill Walsh arrived on the Fam, few knew what to expect. Here was a man that had built a nifty little offense under the frigid conditions of Cincinnati that had taken the NFL by storm just a few years earlier. Here was a man that had tutored a young quarterback under the San Diego sun. In a few years, both the West Coast Offense and Dan Fouts would dominate the skies and cause an infinite amount of headaches for defensive coordinators.



What followed was a dream season for the Cardinal. A 9-3 record ending in a stunning victory over mighty LSU in the Sun Bowl was just the icing on the cake. Meanwhile, something special was happening on the field. Guy Benjamin was one of best quarterbacks in the nation that year, completing 63% of his passes for 2,521 yards, 19 touchdowns and an astronomical 137.1 quarterback rating.


After the season, he was drafted by the Dolphins in the second round of the 1978 NFL Draft. While the team may have envisioned him being incumbent starter Bob Griese's eventual replacement, he never panned out in two years sitting on the bench. When he threw the first touchdown pass of his career to Loaird McCreary late in a 33-20 win over the Jets in the 1978 opener, surely, he believed that that was the first of many.


By 1980, he was in New Orleans backing up longtime starter Archie Manning. It was a miserable year as the team finished 1-15, but it did provide him with an opportunity to show his potential, albeit in a limited capacity. In a Week Five loss to St. Louis, he completed five of 13 passes for 16 yards and an interception. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Bill Walsh noticed his old pupil's struggles from afar. Perhaps it was his accuracy. Or perhaps it was his poise under pressure that intrigued the man soon to be named "the Genius". Whatever his reasoning, Bill Walsh decided to give his former pupil another chance, this time to back up a rising star: Joe Montana.



Historically, the West Coast Offense has been known as one of the most complex offenses in the NFL. It is an offense predicated by timing patterns, changed routes and footwork, amongst many other variables. It is not for the simple-minded. Perhaps this is why Guy Benjamin was sought as Joe Montana's backup, to be his mentor. After all, Montana was only in his first full season as a starter and was entering his third season learning the intricacies of the complicated system.



Although he was primarily there as a backup, Guy Benjamin still had opportunities to shine in front of his old coach on the field of play in the Fall of 1981. After toiling on the bench for 14 weeks, he got his chance against the Oilers in Week 15, completing seven of nine passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in the 28-16 victory. He played the entire second half the following week at New Orleans, completing eight of 14 passes for 89 yards and an interception.


With that, although he stayed in San Francisco through 1983, he hardly played at all, watching as Montana led the 49ers to the Super Bowl and begin the NFL's next great dynasty. In a 1983 season-opening loss to the Eagles in, Guy Benjamin narrowed the deficit by launching a 73-yard touchdown pass to Earl Cooper. It was the last touchdown of his career.


After retiring, Guy Benjamin stayed around athletics, going into administration. He headed the Athletes United for Peace, an association that was founded by athletes after the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He also founded the Sports in Society Institute.


Steve



Steve Dils was born on December 8, 1955 in Seattle, Washington. After starring at nearby Vancouver Fort High School, he accepted a scholarship to Stanford University. After hardly seeing any action for a couple of years, things began to change in 1977 when Bill Walsh arrived on campus. While he didn't start a game that first year, Dils showed promise in mop-up duty, completing 64.3% of his passes for 335 yards and a touchdown.


The following year, he completed 63.2% of his passes for 2,943 yards, 22 touchdowns with a 137.3 rating. After leading winning the Sammy Baugh Trophy and leading his team to victory over Georgia in the Bluebonnet Bowl, Steve Dils was drafted in the fourth round of the 1979 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.


He didn't see the field for two years, but when he did he was ready. In 1980, he started his first game, filling in for Tommy Kramer. In the cozy confines of Washington's RFK Stadium, Steve Dils shined brightly, completing 18 of 29 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns., leading his team to a critical 39-14 victory over the Redskins While *** returned the following week, Dils performed well in mop-up duty, completing five of eight passes and throwing a touchdown pass in a 34-0 throttling over the Lions.


The following season, the bottom began to fall out for his time in Minnesota. While starting the first two games of the season, he completed less than half of his 102 passes while throwing just one touchdown against two interceptions. Needless to say, the Vikings lost both games to Tampa Bay and Oakland. Things were not much better in 1982 when he started the first game after the player's strike, going 10-24 for a puny 62 yards against the Packers. At this point, it was fair to wonder whether Steve Dils would ever make a competent NFL quarterback.



His big break came in 1983. when Tommy Kramer tore a ligament in his knee early in the season. After stepping in to lead his team to a Week 3 victory over the Buccaneers, the job was Dils' for much of the year. Invigorated with a renewed sense of purpose, Steve Dils led the Vikings to a 20-17 win over the Lions the next week, completing 18 of 31 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.


After being exposed against Tom Landry's Doomsday Defense and coughing up three interceptions in a 37-24 loss to Dallas, Steve Dils and the Vikings caught fire, winning the next three games. While Dils wasn't spectacular at any point in that win streak, within those three weeks, he showed what Walsh saw in him on the Farm. He didn't even complete half of his passes against a talented Bears team but did just enough to help lead his team to a 23-14 victory. Over the next two weeks against the rebuilding Oilers and Packers, Dils completed more than half of his passes, throwing a touchdown pass in each victory.


A week after beating the Packers, he got into a shootout with the Cardinals, throwing 38 times and completing 27 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also coughed up three interceptions as the Vikings saw their win streak snapped, losing to the Cardinals 41-31.


That painful loss began a three-game losing streak that ultimately tanked the Vikings' playoff hopes. They would win just one more game the rest of the year, finishing with just as many wins as losses. Over that 13-game stretch, Steve Dils completed 53.83% of his passes for 2,840 yards, 11 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, a far cry from his days as Stanford University's laser-armed quarterback.



Needing a fresh start, he was traded to the Rams in 1984 and didn't start a game for the next two years. In the fourth game of 1986 against the Eagles, Dils filled in for an ineffective Steve Bartkowski as the Rams faced a daunting 34-point deficit late in the third quarter. In just over a half, Steve Dils threw a 15-yard scoring pass to Ron Brown, a 28-yard touchdown strike to Bobby Duckworth and a five-yarder to Mike Young, bringing the Rams to a more respectable 34-20 loss.


Invigorated by his performance of completing 15 of 26 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns in just over a quarter of work, Steve Dils knew that he still had some fire left in his belly. He started the next week and despite completing half of his passes, he led the Rams to victory over the lowly Buccaneers.


Three weeks later, he led the Rams to a tight 14-7 win over the Falcons, despite completing just seven of 16 passes for 92 yards and giving up two interceptions. The next week was his finest moment as a professional. At Soldier Field, the home field of the defending Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, Los Angeles's offensive line stood tall against one of the fiercest pass rushes in NFL history, allowing zero sacks and giving their little-known backup quarterback time to make the right decisions. At the end of the day, despite completing just six of his 25 passes, Steve Dils led the Rams to a startling 20-17 victory.


The rest of 1986 mirrored his career: few opportunities and fewer glimmers of hope within those chances. Dils got his last great chance to make a name for himself in the NFL during the 1987 players' strike. Having never joined the strikers, he was given the best chance of his professional life to start. The first game didn't go so well as the Rams lost to the Saints 37-10 while Dils threw for just 109 yards and completed nowhere near half of his passes.


The Rams won the following week, beating the Steelers 31-21 while Dils completed 13 of his 19 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns. After losing to the Cowboys by four and despite having thrown two touchdowns against America's Team, Dils didn't start again until the last game of the season against Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers were the hottest team in the NFL at the time and butchered Dils, allowing just five completions all game for a minuscule 50 yards in a 48-0 evisceration.


After that catastrophic performance, Dils signed with the Falcons for 1988. While he started in three games, he lost all three, throwing just two touchdowns to five interceptions. After the season, Steve Dils retired. He now works in real estate.


As their professional careers unfolded, both Guy Benjamin and Steve Dils realized something: the West Coast Offense made everything better. Like many others before them, they had peaked in college. While neither lived up to the hype, each used their talents to the very best of their abilities. In the end, their greatest accomplishment was showcasing their soon-to-be-famous coach's game-changing offense to the multitude of NFL scouts that attended Stanford games in the mid-1970s. The rest is history.



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