Let's ride with Ravens special teams ace Bennie Thompson through some of his greatest hits and trash-talking moments of the 1996 season.
Please buckle up:
On Oct. 27, Thompson tackled Rams rookie wide receiver Eddie Kennison on the right sideline, and while Kennison lay motionless in pain for about 15 seconds, Thompson taunted him: "I told him to get his [butt] up, this was no time to lay down on the job. I told him he was stealing from the team, to give back some of that huge signing bonus. Never did like those LSU guys."
On Nov. 10, Thompson walked through the Jacksonville offensive huddle three times pointing at players: "You know how Michael Jordan gets into that zone where no one can stop him. I get into a talking zone, man. I can't shut up. There is only one Bennie in this world."
On Nov. 10, Thompson appeared to have gotten beat for a two-point conversion pass. A livid Thompson ran to the sideline and screamed at defensive backs coach Alvin Reynolds and cornerback Donny Brady, who was supposed to be on the field covering the pass: "If you're supposed to be in the game, get in there. They were over there having a conversation about something. I can't have my family seeing me get lit up on the ESPN highlights."
Last Sunday, Thompson covered a punt and watched it bounce seven times before he scooped it, thew it at a Bengals player and then tried recover it for a fumble, reasoning: "The officials have made so many bad calls this year, you might be able to get away with anything."
Every game has a Thompson moment. He is emotional, energetic, a fan as well as a student of the game. And Thompson, 33, is also one of the best special teams players in the NFL.
He is one of a few special teams players who are included in the game plan by opponents.
"His value to a team can't be measured," Cincinnati Bengals specials teams coach Joe Wessel said. "We're aware of him and he is a factor in the things we're going to do. If we're running his way, we're going to double-team him. If we don't, then we challenge the person that has to block him."
Wherever Thompson has played, he has left his calling card. He was a Pro Bowl special team choice for the New Orleans Saints in 1991 (19 special teams tackles) and an alternate in 1994 with the Cleveland Browns (21).
Thompson made a name for himself with the Saints, especially for a hit on Deion Sanders.
"That was back during the time when the Saints and Atlanta Falcons were serious rivals and we were in Deion's house," said Thompson, who has 13 special teams tackles this season. "I was in full steam man, on a punt and I blew him up. You know how I knew it was a great hit? The crowd went, 'Oooh, ahhh.' I like that."
Center Steve Everitt recalled when that reaction came from teammates.
"Two years ago, we're playing the Buccaneers and Reggie Roby bobbles a punt," Everitt said. "Bennie has a 10-yard head start and he blew Roby up, ran right through him. He crushed Roby's sternum. It was sweet, and players feed off hits like that."
"Look at Benny," said Everitt. "He can't run. Downright slow. Can't catch. But he has that mentality. He's always the first one down to cover. Benny is a freak, but I'm glad he is on my team."
Thompson is the consummate professional. He is always the first player to arrive at the Owings Mills complex at 7 a.m. He runs on the StairMaster for an hour, weight trains, attends team meetings, studies film and then practices.
Thompson has to be in shape. Hurling one's body into others at high rates of speed can be dangerous to one's health.
"To me, if we had 52 guys like Bennie Thompson, we'd be in the Super Bowl every year," strength coach Jerry Simmons said. "He is easily one of the top two or three conditioned players on the team. Each year, he does a little more to keep his edge. Each game, he just makes more and more plays. He is out there every week."
Thompson doesn't care about pain. Team doctors won't tell him before surgery how much time he will miss because he would refuse the operation.
The night before the Ravens were to play the Pittsburgh Steelers nearly three weeks ago, one of the four pins in his dislocated left thumb came out and punched a hole through his skin. He played the next day.
When he had surgery on his left hand almost a month ago, Thompson missed only one day of practice. He has played the past four games with a cast covering his left hand.
A year ago, Thompson broke a wrist and dislocated an elbow against the Lions in Detroit. He was X-rayed, but Thompson tried to sneak back onto the field.
"One of our doctors said he turned around and Bennie was gone," Ravens trainer Bill Tessendorf said. "Later Bennie said, 'You asked me to get an X-ray, and I did, but you didn't say I couldn't play again.' "
"I've seen him play with injuries some other guys wouldn't dare play with," Tessendorf said. "Some guys you have to stimulate to play, with Bennie you have to pull in the reins. He is not a workmen's-comp type of guy."
Thompson learned the work ethic from his mother, Willie Mae Thompson, who worked a number of jobs to support seven children. Thompson, the youngest, was born in the humbling surroundings of New Orleans.
His mother died when Thompson was 13, and he never established a relationship with his father. Thompson was reared by one of his three sisters, Lottie Guter, now 48.
"We were poor," said Thompson. "How poor? We ate sugar sandwiches which was just sugar, bread and we drank some water. Hell, we had to borrow the bread and sugar."
Thompson learned his toughness by playing tackle football on the streets with his older brothers. He went on to John McDonough High School and later played for coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling.
"Bennie never got into any trouble," Guter said. "He never cut school, didn't have anything to do with drugs. But he loved to fight. He has been fighting since he was able to raise his hand."
Robinson left a lasting impression with Thompson.
"From Coach Robinson, I learned how to work and get up early," Thompson said. "He would walk through the dorms and made sure you had your feet on the floor by 6: 30 in the morning. I haven't forgotten that."
Thompson's energy level drops rapidly off the field. Guter calls him a couch potato who will spend hours watching talk shows. But Thompson likes a simple life. He prefers warm-up suits, shoots pool and drives a 1991 Mercedes (the players call it the Flintstone Car). His major hobbies are racquetball and chewing tobacco.
He has really only one love and that's football.
"I love playing football, that's all I know how to do," he said. "It's not a money thing. To be able to do what I do, you have to have a certain amount of kamaikaze in you. You can't be running on eggshells. To run down the field, knock somebody down, then make a tackle, that's living."
Pub Date: 12/13/96