Michael Bennett's upbringing encouraged him to take a bold gamble
If Bears tight end Martellus Bennett's mind is one of the most unusual ever to be encased in an NFL helmet -- he calls himself a "visionary architect," and has among other things designed clothes, composed music, produced an animated children's pop-up book and conceptualized a yet-to-be-built amusement park called Dinosaurland -- that of his older brother, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, comes close.
When he was recently asked about his gyrating sack dance, Michael described it as "two angels dancing while chocolate is coming from the heavens on a nice Sunday morning." He tweets under the handle @mosesbread72 -- which was supposed to read @mosesbeard72, in reference to his biblically woolly facial hair, but he decided he liked the typo. During the offseason, he retreats to Hawaii with his wife and their three daughters, and Martellus and his wife often join them. "He's what you call a barefoot brother," said Martellus. "He just wants to wear no shoes, drive a Jeep with no doors, go into the produce aisle at the supermarket without a shirt on."
The brothers also view their professional lives similarly, a view that stems, in part, from a shared event. For Michael and Martellus and their two younger siblings, the 2001 holiday season was an unhappy one, as it was for many children in southeast Texas. In early December, Enron -- the Houston-based energy behemoth that had employed some 20,000 people -- had declared bankruptcy after the uncovering of widespread accounting fraud perpetrated by its executives. "My dad worked at Enron as a computer technician, until it collapsed," said Martellus. "It was a bad time. Christmas went from being awesome to, you know, pretty much sucking. It affected us."
As the brothers watched their father, Michael Sr., struggle not just to put gifts under the tree but to support his family, the result of corporate malfeasance over which he had no control, they made an important decision. They would not entrust their financial well being to anyone but themselves. The entrepreneurial spirit took hold. "A lot of times your career is in someone else's hands, you're at the mercy of a big company or something like that," said Martellus. "We learned you have to take control for yourself, and invest in yourself."
When they were in school, the brothers -- who were born 16 months apart -- used their lunch money to buy candy in bulk, which they would then sell to sugar-starved classmates at a significant markup. During the summer, they teamed up to acquire clothes for the next year. Martellus would provide their shoes, accumulating those he was given while playing on elite summer basketball circuits, and Michael would take care of the rest, using money he earned working as a lifeguard at a local waterpark called Adventure Bay.
Years later, when they reached NFL free agency, the Bennetts each asserted control over a situation in which many tend to become passive victims of the vagaries of an imperfect market. Martellus became a free agent two summers ago after four years as Jason Witten's backup in Dallas, and when he did not receive a multiyear offer that he felt was commensurate with his talent, he joined the Giants on a one-year, $2.5 million deal to prove himself. After a 55-catch, 626-yard breakout in New York, he got four years and $20.4 million from the Bears -- and promptly set new career-highs with 65 catches and 759 yards.
Last year, it was Michael's turn to bet on himself. Even though he had by his fourth season with the Buccaneers become a force on the defensive line -- he had nine sacks in 2012 -- he, like his brother, went the one-year route, turning down longterm contract offers that did not, to him, make up in security what they lacked in compensation. "I had two face cards and I split them, took my chances," Michael said of his $4.8 million deal with the Seahawks.
The result? "I got two aces."
If Michael makes it through one more game -- Sunday's Super Bowl -- with his bones and ligaments intact, he will be able to officially collect on his blackjacks. He has emerged as a very good team's best and most versatile lineman, excelling in equal measure against the run and the pass (his 8.5 sacks led the Seahawks during the regular season, and he has had one in each of their playoff games) while playing on both the edge and the interior.
Wherever he has lined up, his drive has never wavered. "He's been beasting out every single weekend," said Martellus. "He's not playing just for Michael Bennett. He's playing for his family. Every single time he's putting his hand in the dirt, he's thinking of his kids. 'I can't get tired, I have three daughters.'"
"There's a lot of people that get chances and they don't do nothing with them," said Michael. "The chances that I get, I just make the most of them."
There is now little doubt that Michael will be as sought after this summer as Martellus was a year ago, which will be something of a new state of affairs for him. Even though Michael is the elder brother (he is 28; Martellus 26), Martellus was always the athlete everyone coveted. As a high school senior Michael originally signed with Louisiana Tech, and was able to switch to Texas A&M because, it was rumored, the Aggies wanted to lure Martellus -- who was 6-foot-6 to Michael's 6-4 -- the nation's top tight end recruit in 2005 and a basketball player with NBA potential, too.
The Cowboys took Martellus in the second round of the 2008 draft. When Michael entered the draft a year later, all seven rounds passed without his name being called. Still, Michael insists that jealousy has never been part of his relationship with his younger brother, as some assume. "Those people are only children, I think," he said. "I'm just happy for my brother with every success that he gets."
In some ways Michael believes his rise from obscurity had its advantages compared to his brother's path. "Having that much expectation is harder than having no expectations," he said.
Now, finally, the klieg lights are on Michael, too. On Sunday he will be counted upon to attack Peyton Manning from all angles. After that it will be he who will be hotly pursued -- by the Bears, Martellus hopes, so that his soon-to-be-born daughter can grow up with her cousins.
"When I go home from work, I've got 20 different options to get to the same destination," said Martellus, who arrived in New York on Monday to support his brother. "I think there's good and bad in each journey. Where you finally end up is the most important, and right here on this stage is where he wants to be, and where he deserves to be."