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Cedric Benson isn't with us any more.
Typing that is a sobering way to start off the work week and it still seems like there's no way the sentence can be right.
And yet it is true. Benson, the Texas schoolboy legend who ran all the way through eight years in the NFL, died after sustaining injuries in a motorcycle accident on Saturday night.
He was only 36.
A star since the eighth grade
High school football stars are treated like royalty in Texas and Benson will go down as one of the Lone Star state's best and brightest stars. He rushed for almost 8,500 yards with Midland Lee, leading the team to three straight state titles while also starring on the school's baseball team. (He'd be drafted by the Dodgers in 2001.)
When it came time to pick a college, Benson chose to remain under the intense spotlight in his home state and attend the University of Texas. Four physical and bruising 1,000+ yard seasons later, he was made the No. 4 selection in the 2005 draft by the Chicago Bears.
Benson's professional career was never as dominant as the numbers he put up in Texas. He had struggles with teammates, often sulked when criticized by the coaching staff and was arrested for a couple of alcohol-related charges that ended his time in Chicago.
But Benson did have his moments. Benson made a Super Bowl with the Bears in 2006 and put together a couple of solid seasons as a Bengal, rushing for 169 yards in a 2009 playoff game.
Benson signed a one-year deal with the Packers in August 2012, but a foot injury a few months later effectively ended his career at the age of 30.
Aaron Rodgers pays tribute to Benson
I covered Benson for two seasons as a columnist for a suburban Chicago newspaper and always enjoyed talking with him. While there were a lot of jerks who dealt in one-word replies in that locker room, Benson was the opposite. If you got him one-on-one, his replies were well-considered and devoid of cliche. He was real.
I can't profess to have known Benson that well, but I nodded along with every word that Aaron Rodgers wrote in tribute to his late friend on Instagram on Sunday.
"Ced and I became fast friends during his short stay in Green Bay and would spend many lunch hours in the cafeteria talking about life and football," Rodgers wrote. "Ced was very smart and thoughtful and I always walked away from our conversations feeling like I learned something or wanted to go research something so that I could keep up with him."
The price of stardom
I actually see a lot of Benson in Rodgers. Both men were blessed with prodigious natural talents that made them rich and famous. And yet both seemingly struggled to reconcile the outsized attention those athletic gifts drew to them.
Some people are born to be stars, but I always got the sense Benson was a tad uncomfortable with this whole arrangement that had started when he was just 14 and proved himself to be a man amongst boys with a football under his arm.
At the end of the final media session just before Super Bowl XLI in Miami, I saw Benson sitting alone at an interview table. I acknowledged him with a head nod and he beckoned me over.
"Are you tired of all this yet?" he asked, motioning to the dog and pony show all around us.
"Yup," I said. "How about you?"
"It's times like these I wish I chose baseball," he said.
That was Benson. Honest and direct. No b.s. He delivered the line with a slight chuckle and I laughed with him.
In retrospect, I'll always wonder how much he was really joking.