The Canadian Football League just named Ben Archibald its best offensive lineman and, for the former Cougar tackle, it is a fitting notation capping a courageous comeback from an injury that would have ended the playing days of lesser men.
I was on the sidelines that August in 2002 during the first week of BYU two-a-days when Archibald got hurt. I still shudder remembering what I saw that day.
He was starting at left tackle, the protector of the quarterback's back, a guy coaches believed could be the next John Tait for the Cougars.
It was his senior year and BYU head coach Gary Crowton had just started a scrimmage when somebody got hurled into the back of Archibald's left leg.
Archie, as teammates called him, was protecting on a linebacker blitz, and a running back got thrown into his leg by the linebacker. Archibald had his left leg planted and braced up and it was loaded up with all his weight. It provided the perfect tragic, immovable-impact target for the blunt force that snapped his tibia and fibula. It was a sickening thud that left everyone on the field somber and subdued as Archibald fell, groaning on the ground until the stretcher arrived.
That one single second, now frozen in time, proved once more and reminded all once again how fragile a player can become.
Physicians inserted a titanium rod inside his tibia, from his knee to his ankle. It remains in place today.
"It was a turning point in my life, for sure," said Archibald. "It made me fight for the opportunity to play football again and helped me learn to fight hard to earn a starting spot once more."
That injury ended Archibald's BYU career. He never got his senior season.
A medical hardship application to the NCAA was denied. So was the subsequent appeal.
It took a year to heal his leg. "It was very sore and weak at the time as I went through rehab," he recalled.
Archibald had just gotten married to his wife Jodi at the time, and his injury actually started their relationship off on a solid foundation.
"She was my caretaker," he said. "She'd drive me to class and I'd spend a lot of time with her and got to know her much better than if I hadn't been injured.
"On a personal level, it became a matter of me having to work very hard. People forgot about me — it is what happens when you get hurt. My prospects for the NFL were hurt greatly."
Archibald ended up signing with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent and later got picked up by New Orleans, making the Saints' practice roster. In September 2007, his wife delivered their first children — triplets. It was a time to move on and his agent steered him toward the CFL and Calgary.
Within a year, Archibald started. He was an all-star the next season and in 2008 and in 2009 was nominated for the CFL's best offensive lineman. This year, he earned it outright.
"Calgary has been good for me. I've really enjoyed it," he said.
In 2009, Archibald was a runner-up for the award. This year, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound lineman beat out Hamilton Tiger-Cat Marwan Hage in voting among members of the Football Reporters of Canada and CFL head coaches.
"We have three girls. They are three years old now," Archibald said. "But back then, to be home for their birth was terrific. They were in the hospital for a time but they were home for Christmas.
"It's been a great learning experience. I love my family, they come up to Calgary for the season and we go back down to Seattle for the offseason."
Ben and Jodi bought a driving school in the Seattle area, their primary income outside of football. And yes, Archibald has plenty of anecdotes to tell about teaching drivers to make left-hand turns at intersections when the stoplight changes.
"I'll just say, with the other set of brake pedals on my passenger side, there are times my 320 pounds comes in handy," he said.
Archibald said he doesn't get to see a lot of BYU games during the season because of his own football schedule.
"But if we're not traveling on Saturday, I try to find it, listen to the radio or read things on the Internet," he said.
He believes BYU's move to independence is a "very exciting" thing and he's looking forward to following the Cougars on ESPN.
"I'm glad they pulled the trigger," Archibald said. "I'm excited for the exposure and believe it is a great decision."
The Archibald story isn't unique. Guy gets injured; dream is threatened. Guy makes a comeback and plays again.
But it is a good story involving a good guy.
Archibald is a free agent now and he's going to review all his options.
"I've been healthy and I've been playing really well," he said. "I think I can play two or three more years until the kids get in school."17 comments on this story
He should. His game films show a strong man with great technique, strength and endurance making play after play against the best in the CFL. He's avoided any other serious injury and is dominating in the realm he is assigned to compete. It may nor may not get him back in the NFL, but he's happy playing in Canada and, if that's the ticket, he's going to ride.
Archibald is now 32 years old and believes he's beyond the point where it would "be neat" to be in an NFL training camp with an uncertain future. He knows an NFL team isn't going to give him a six-figure signing bonus at his age.
But you see, from where Archibald was on the ground in the throes of pain that summer day back in 2002, it is a small miracle he can walk properly, let alone play professional football.
Well done, Archie.
Enjoy Christmas with the wife and girls.