En­joy­ing the ride

Ben­nett finds niche in locker room

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By KYLE HIGHTOWER

With All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski miss­ing sig­nif­i­cant time be­cause of in­juries this year, Martel­lus Ben­nett has stepped in nicely for the Pats dur­ing their Su­per Bowl run.

FOXBORO — If Martel­lus Ben­nett had his way, peo­ple would live in his world.

He de­scribes it as a fun place, where imag­i­na­tions can run wild and peo­ple can feel un­re­strained.

And in a way, Ben­nett has man­aged to do just that in his first sea­son with the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots.

Fair or unfair, un­der Bill Belichick New Eng­land has been branded as an or­ga­ni­za­tion where in­di­vid­u­al­ity is dis­cour­aged, and where Belichick's boiler plate lines like “I'm go­ing to do what's best for the team” are of­ten re­peated by his play­ers.

But while he has in­te­grated him­self into Belichick's foot­ball philoso­phies, off the field “Marty” has been the an­tithe­sis of con­form­ity. With locker room jester Rob Gronkowski on in­jured re­serve since De­cem­ber fol­low­ing back surgery, Ben­nett has stepped right into his role as the most dom­i­nant per­son­al­ity in the room.

And yet, some­how, Belichick's team­first, dis­ci­plined en­vi­ron­ment and the vet­eran tight end's quirk­i­ness have meshed.

“Ever since the first day I came here I felt like I be­longed, whether it was my team­mates who ac­cepted me, or from up­per man­age­ment down to the coaches,” Ben­nett said.

“Not only did I buy into the pro­gram, but the whole Pa­tri­ots or­ga­ni­za­tion bought into me.”

Ben­nett's locker room ses­sions with the me­dia this sea­son have been like an amuse­ment park ride with a con­stantly evolv­ing course, where top­ics jump from foot­ball to phi­los­o­phy to pol­i­tics to even his love of ba­con.

When play­ers around the league were par­tic­i­pat­ing in na­tional an­them demon­stra­tions sim­i­lar to the one started by 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick, Ben­nett and team­mate Devin McCourty did their own by rais­ing their fists af­ter the an­them con­cluded .

“I love Amer­ica. I don't want to live any­where else. But there's still some (messed up things) go­ing on around the world,” Ben­nett said at the time.

Then there was the time Ben­nett turned to the busi­ness world to ex­plain how the Pa­tri­ots dom­i­nated Den­ver late in the sea­son.

“I've been in­vested in not only putting in the work that I need to, but in­vested in my team­mates, and right now we're try­ing to get out ROI,” Ben­nett said. “What's that?” a reporter asked. 'Come on man, re­turn on in­vest­ment! You got to get your stocks up baby!” Ben­nett replied.

How about that time he wanted to get paid in gold?

“I tried to get paid in gold, but they said 'No,'” Ben­nett ex­plained. “I'll take a check, too, though. As long as it cashes.”

None of it has rubbed Belichick the wrong way.

“Guys are dif­fer­ent, but that's OK,” Belichick said.

That's be­cause on the field, Ben­nett has been ex­actly what the Pa­tri­ots hoped for. His ca­reer-high seven re­ceiv­ing touch­downs led the team dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, and his 701 re­ceiv­ing yards were sec­ond to Ju­lian Edel­man's 1,161 yards. He also has six catches for 36 yards in the play­offs.

He's not only filled the void cre­ated by Gronk's foot­ball ab­sence, but it's helped him blend into a locker room where Ben­nett truly is al­lowed to be the un­pre­dictable “black uni­corn” he says is his spirit an­i­mal.

“We all have fun in our own ways, but I don't think any­one can come close to Marty on that,” Pa­tri­ots de­fen­sive cap­tain Dont'a Hightower said.

Ben­nett says it's all a func­tion of how his mind works.

“I just like to go to fun places,” Ben­nett said in de­scrib­ing what makes him tick. “And they're usu­ally places that I cre­ate in my head.”

That's no joke. His com­pany, The Imag­i­na­tion Agency, cre­ates chil­dren's books and other prod­ucts for chil­dren. The first book, “Hey A.J. It's Satur­day” was writ­ten by Ben­nett, who based the main char­ac­ter on his daugh­ter, Austin Jett.

In ad­di­tion, Ben­nett's cre­ated his own car­toon avatar, “Foot­ball Marty,” who is fea­tured in his new cloth­ing line. He's toy­ing with in­clud­ing it in a chil­dren's book. Per­haps the char­ac­ter will go into space, he says, which it turns out is also an affin­ity of Ben­nett's. It makes sense be­cause he went to high school out­side of Hous­ton.

The owner of eight NASA hats, Ben­nett ex­changed tweets with the agency when it found out about his in­ter­est in the space pro­gram. The con­ver­sa­tion ended with NASA invit­ing him to tour its fa­cil­i­ties.

But in the end, be­ing ac­cepted for his unique­ness off the field has made the foot­ball part eas­ier.

By be­ing fo­cused, and tak­ing to coach­ing and pay­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail, Ben­nett said he was able to get an un­der­stand­ing of “what is ex­pected and what they want from me.”

Now it has Ben­nett on the cusp of achiev­ing some­thing he never imag­ined pos­si­ble: a Su­per Bowl ti­tle.

“Ev­ery­one here be­lieves. There wasn't a non­be­liever in this room at any time about go­ing to the Su­per Bowl or what our goal was from the mo­ment I got here in March or April,” Ben­nett said. “That rubs off on you. Iron sharp­ens iron and at­ti­tude is con­ta­gious. A win­ning at­ti­tude is con­ta­gious. I def­i­nitely got af­fected since I've been here. I've got the win­ning dis­ease right now and I'm en­joy­ing this one. I don't need the an­ti­dote.”

Pho­tos by Louri­ann Mardo-Zayat / lmzart­works.com

From danc­ing with the cheer­lead­ers af­ter last week’s AFC Cham­pi­onship game win over Pitts­burgh, to his hu­mor­ous anec­dotes af­ter games, Pa­tri­ots tight end Martel­lus Ben­nett (88) has carved out a niche in the but­toned-up Pa­tri­ots locker room.

Photo by Louri­ann Mardo-Zayat / lmzart­works.com

In his first sea­son with the Pa­tri­ots, Martel­lus Ben­nett has proved cru­cial be­cause of the sea­son-end­ing in­jury to All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.

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