Whatever happened to: Dan Benish

What he did: The last time Clemson won a national football championship, Dan Benish was busting through Nebraska's huge offensive line and causing havoc during the dramatic 1982 Orange Bowl. A former Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle, Benish helped lead the Tigers to a huge upset over the Cornhuskers and their last national championship. When Clemson faces Alabama in Monday's title game, his nephew, freshman Mitch Hyatt from North Gwinnett High School, will be playing a key role as the Tigers' starting left tackle.

But it was never that easy for Benish.

The Hubbard, Ohio, native grew up a huge Ohio State fan and had every intention of playing for Woody Hayes and the Buckeyes. His mother had introduced him to football at age 8 and, along with his twin brother Don, Dan became a star on both offense and defense at Hubbard High School, which played in the famed but now defunct Steel Valley Conference along with such powerhouses as Youngstown Cardinal Mooney and Ursuline.

As a senior, Benish was being widely recruited. Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan were all involved but he wanted to play for Hayes. But after Benish’s senior season in 1978, Hayes was infamously fired after hitting a Clemson player in a memorable Gator Bowl. When Benish went to the airport to fly to Columbus for his official visit, there was no ticket awaiting him. Phoning the OSU’s football office, he was told that Hayes had taken all the recruiting contact information with him. So no Buckeyes for Benish.

Instead, Benish was talked into flying down to Clemson and he immediately fell in love with the program. The new head coach was the young Danny Ford and Benish was thrilled to get out of the cold weather. He began to make an impact on the defensive line his sophomore season in 1980, the year Georgia won a national championship on the legs of Herschel Walker. The next season, Clemson went into the Sept. 19 Georgia game unranked and upset the No. 4 Bulldogs 13-3. The Tigers would roll to a 12-0 record and upset Nebraska 22-15 in Miami to win their national crown.

While Clemson finished 9-1-1 in his senior season in ‘82, the Tigers were put on probation and banned from any bowl appearance. Benish, though, continued to play well and it appeared that he would be a second- or third-round pick. But a rumor began circulating that he had a drug problem and he went undrafted, later signing a free agent contract with the Falcons.

The Falcons at the time were going through a house cleaning, firing head coach Leeman Bennett and bringing in Dan Henning. Benish made the team, sharing time in with Don Smith, Mike Pitts and Rick Bryan..

The Falcons went 7-9 in 1983 and 4-12 the next season before Benish became a regular starter in ‘85, when the team again lost 12 games. The following year, the Falcons drafted Oklahoma noseguard Tony Casillas with the No. 2 overall pick and Benish was cut loose after five games.

He spent time that season in Houston and New Orleans and it appeared he would start the 1987 season with Tampa Bay and new coach Ray Perkins. But the Bucs cut him late right before the season and he wound up in Washington for what became the shortened strike season.

Benish was told to cross the picket line to become a replacement player, did so and the Redskins would win four of their five replacement-player games. He was retained when the strike ended and remained with the Redskins through their Super Bowl XXII win over Denver. Though he was not in uniform for the game, he watched from the sidelines and later did get his championship ring.

The next year in a preseason scrimmage, Benish blew out his left knee and spent the entire season on injured reserved. He gave it another try in 1989 but didn’t feel his knee was right and retired.

He returned to Atlanta, started a company that eventually failed during the Internet bust and in 2004 started an identity theft company. A few years later, he came back to football to began coaching his nephew Mitch, the son of his sister Lisa. He worked with Mitch from age 8 until he reached high school and they’ve maintain a close relationship.

Where he lives: Benish, now 54, lives in Cumming. He has one daughter, Brittany, who resides with her husband in Vail, Colo.

What he does now: He is the president and founder of Core ID Services and will be in Glendale, Ariz., on Monday night to watch Clemson and Hyatt tangle with Alabama for the national title. He is also the vice president of the Georgia chapter of the NFL Alumni.

On wanting to go to Ohio State: "I played offensive tackle, tight end and defensive tackle in high school and we were playing in the highest classification in Ohio. A lot of teams were looking at me and I did love Notre Dame but growing up, all I wanted to do was play for Woody Hayes. But that all got messed up when he was fired and he took all his recruiting materials with him so they didn't have anything on me. I really had no intentions of going down to Clemson but a friend talked me into it and when I got down there, nothing else felt like it.''

On playing for Danny Ford: "It was hard. He played under Bear Bryant and there were times were in the middle of practice he would blow the whistle and stop practice and we would start the whole practice over again. I remember the first summer I was dehydrated three times and spent a night in the infirmary. But like me, Danny was young and had a lot of growing up to do. By the third year, he had things really put together.''

On the '81 national championship season: "We started that year beating Wofford and then came back and struggled some with Tulane. The Georgia win was really big for us, sort of the bell cow victory. Back then we played all our games at noon and it was bright sunshine and 100 degrees and Georgia had that long (15-game) winning streak going. I remember they had a lot of turnovers in that game and we had a real stingy defense and held down Herschel.''

On the Orange Bowl win over Nebraska: "It was very similar to what Clemson is going through today with Alabama. No one thought we could compete with Nebraska and their offensive linemen outweighed us by 25 to 30 pounds. They were supposed to steamroll us. I had a really good game, something like 13 tackles and two of our other defensive lineman had more than 10 tackles.''

On the drug rumors that kept him from being drafted: "I thought I was going to go in the second or third round. There was a lot of talent going in that draft because remember, they started redshirting in 1978 and it was like a double class coming out. That was the year those five quarterbacks went (John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason and Dan Marino). But I knew something was wrong the night before when an agent from the Dallas Cowboys called me and asked if I wanted to sign a free agent contract. A strength coach friend of mine called me and said there was a rumor that I had a drug issue. It cost me a lot of money.''

On coming to Atlanta: "A lot of teams came after me, but I liked the South and felt with the (coaching) transition being made in Atlanta, I would have a good chance to make the team. They ended up keeping three of us rookie defensive lineman that year.''

On playing for the Falcons: "I was still kind of small for the NFL but I got stronger and bigger. But I sort of felt sorry for Dan Henning. There were a lot of players that were loyal to Leeman Bennett and the Gritz Blitz and couldn't understand why he was fired. I remember one season after the third game, a player came into the locker room and put on a tape that played 'I'll be home for Christmas.'''

On being cut by the Falcons: "Marion Campbell came in as defensive coordinator and we went to a 3-5 defense and he told me I was too tall to be a noseguard and too slow to be a defensive end. I knew there was no way they were doing to let Tony Casillas sit on the sidelines.''

On his time with the Redskins: "They put me on the team but wanted me to cross the picket line (during the strike). I did and it was wild. We had one guy come from prison and another that had worked the previous week at a 7-Eleven. When the strike was over, they kept four of us. There were some people angry at what I did but I had to do it to take care of my family. Time heals wounds and we ended up winning the Super Bowl. I didn't dress for the game and I think it had to do with being a replacement player, though they did let one guy, a tight end, who they needed, play. I got a ring but in my mind, winning a national championship was more meaningful. It was like a band of brothers at Clemson. I still have both rings, though my national championship ring is too small to wear.''

On the concussion issue: "I had several and I have been noticing some memory stuff but nothing major to deal with. I do know it is coming and I am involved in the lawsuit and Boston University, which is doing the studies. I am donating my brain upon my death.''

On coaching Mitch Hyatt: "Funny story but when he was 8, I went out to watch him and noticed he wasn't getting much paying time. I remember asking the coach about it and he said we should find something else for Mitch to do, that football wasn't for him. I am thinking this isn't about winning, this is getting these kids to develop a love for football. So I coached the next year. I taught him how to get in a stance from a very young age and the right drills. He also played on defense and during his sophomore year in high school, they went to him and said they needed him to play just on offense. He came to me and said he really wanted to play defense and I told him, 'Here is your chance to get on the field.' He thought about it and decided to do it. He has done real well. He is very soft-spoken and kind of a nerd but when he gets on the field, he has learned how to turn the switch on.''

On Monday's Clemson-Alabama game: "On paper, Alabama should kick Clemson's butt. But it is hard to judge what is inside kids. I know when we played Nebraska, we wanted it more than they did. It's going to be interesting.''