Playing for 2
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
When he made his usual Saturday night call to his brother Richie this week, Rams wide receiver Drew Bennett didn't have to dial long distance.
The Rams will meet the ***** on Sunday at Monster Park, just across San Francisco Bay from Orinda, Calif., where Rick and Barbara Bennett raised twins Drew and Michael, 29; Richie, 27; and Mark, 24.
Mark, a recent Tulane graduate, has moved back home. Richie lives in Berkeley. Michael is the lone defector; he lives in Phoenix.
The family ties are tight. But the relationship between Drew and Richie is even deeper. "The way he approaches life ... makes me really appreciate what I've got," Drew said. "It keeps me grounded."
Said Richie: "He does the same for me, so it's even. He's always been there for me."
Richie, who has cerebral palsy, has spent his life in a wheelchair. The disorder may have slowed him, but it hasn't stopped him. A three-time track-and-field medalist at the Cerebral Palsy World Games, Richie recently earned an American studies degree at the University of California.
"People ask what it was like growing up with a brother like that," Drew said. "But I don't know anything different."
When the Bennett boys went out to play, Richie was included. More than once, he was dumped from his chair when the competition became a bit, uh, spirited. He didn't mind; he just liked being part of the group.
"There wasn't anything that we couldn't do with him or that he couldn't accomplish," Drew recalled. "He's amazing."
BEATING THE ODDS
Drew Bennett was a four-sport standout at Miramonte High, and he planned to play football (quarterback) or basketball (forward) — or both — in college. Yet even after he passed for 2,308 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior season, only "Princeton and a couple of other Ivy League schools" were interested, he said. "But I didn't want to go that far away from home."
Plus, he'd learned something from Richie about beating the odds. He decided to walk on to the football and basketball teams at UCLA. "I liked the school and I liked the area," Bennett explained. "But I didn't really know what to expect."
After Bennett redshirted in both sports as a freshman, basketball coach Steve Lavin urged him to forgo football. Instead, he gave up basketball.
Backing up future NFL quarterback Cade McNown, Bennett saw scant action until his junior year. He opened that season as the starter, but lost the job after four games and was moved to wideout.
"Then my senior year, it was kind of back and forth from quarterback to receiver early, and I ended up finishing at receiver," he said. He compiled a grand total of eight receptions for 167 yards and was headed for graduate school.
Again, he was about to beat the odds.
Wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, who would be Philadelphia's first-round draft pick in 2001, was the main attraction at UCLA's pro day. But Bennett stole the show, catching everything that was thrown his way, as well as the eye of Tennessee scout Cole Proctor.
The Titans offered Bennett a tryout as an undrafted rookie.
"When I got to Tennessee, I saw the guys that were drafted, and I knew I could do what they were doing," Bennett said. "I definitely had to fight my way uphill, but it didn't feel like I was attempting something I couldn't accomplish."
Bennett became a starter in his second of six seasons with the Titans, during which he amassed 273 catches, 4,033 yards and 25 touchdowns. His best year was 2004, when he caught 80 passes for 1,247 yards and 12 TDs.
With free-agent wideouts Kevin Curtis and Sean McDonald headed elsewhere after the 2006 season, the Rams targeted Bennett, a 6-foot-5, 206-pounder who met coach Scott Linehan's desire for a bigger receiver.
They signed him to a six-year, $30 million deal on the opening weekend of the free-agency period. But his first season with his new team couldn't have started much worse.
Bennett pulled a quadriceps muscle in his left thigh near the end of the preseason and sat out the opener. Still hobbled, he contributed little in the following five outings before a strained hamstring in his right leg sidelined him again.
"It was frustrating, but it's all part of the game," he said. "All I can do is prove now what I'm capable of."
Finally operating on two good legs, Bennett had six catches for 63 yards vs. Cleveland and then four receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown last week in the 37-29 victory at New Orleans that ended the Rams' season-long skid at eight games.
"Since he pulled his quad he hadn't been able go full speed without having problems," Linehan said. "It's obvious he's much healthier now."
After some early missteps, Bennett also has gotten in sync with quarterback Marc Bulger. "If we can keep him going, it'll take some pressure off Isaac (Bruce) and Torry (Holt)," Bulger noted.
On Sunday, Bennett will be playing in front of a gaggle of friends and family. Including Richie, who will wear his lucky Rams cap and, he hopes, the jersey that Drew has promised him.
"I really enjoy seeing him play in person, because I feel like I'm out there with him in a way," Richie said. "I haven't ever been able to run on the field, but when I see him ... I know he's running for both of us."
Re: Playing for 2
Great story! I didn't know any of that. Let's hope Drew can catch a couple more touchdowns this week for Richie and the Rams.
Re: Playing for 2
Wonderful story about one of my favorite guys, being a UCLA fan as well. Heck, I even learned something I didn't know before... that he redshirted on the basketball team. Of course, his name never came up while watching so it was easy to miss him.
Just another great story of an undrafted guy who can't give up. Would be real nice if we find one one of these years.
Re: Playing for 2
A feel-good story to help offset what seems like the endless stories of the many ne'er-do-wells which seem to permeate the NFL.
A lot of good guys in the NFL but only the bad-boys seem to get press.
Re: Playing for 2
I remember Drew Bennett more as a Quarterback for UCLA. Surprised he would have great success as a Wide Receiver in the NFL. He has had a slow start for the RAMS, but is starting to become more involved in the Rams offense. Nice Touchdown last week against Saints! Heart warming story about brother Ritchie and family. Hopefully, Drew can put on a good show for his hometown folk.