Cornelius Bennett

Cornelius Bennett Cornelius O’Landa Bennett (1965- ) was a star linebacker for the University of Alabama (UA) Crimson Tide from 1984-1986 followed by a notable career playing in the National Football League (NFL) for the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, and Indianapolis Colts from 1986 to 2000. Bennett was elected to numerous All American and All-SEC teams, won the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and received Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Year. In the NFL, he was named Rookie of the Year, made five Super Bowl appearances, and was elected to five Pro Bowl teams. He has been elected to both the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

Bennett was born on August 25, 1965, in Birmingham, Jefferson County, to Lino, a retired steelworker, and Lillie Bennett; he had one sibling, a brother. Growing up in the Ensley section of Birmingham, Bennett was a multi-sport athlete in baseball, basketball, and football at Ensley High School. By his senior year in 1982, Bennett was the state’s top football prospect, having run for 1,099 yards as a fullback and catching 12 touchdown passes as a tight end that same year. During his senior year, Cornelius was recruited by Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant from the University of Alabama. Bennett signed with the university just a month after Ray Perkins was hired as the new head coach to succeed the retiring Bryant.

Cornelius Bennett At UA, Bennett majored in social work. From 1984 to 1986, he was named for three consecutive years as an All-American (just the second player from UA to have achieved this, the first being fellow linebacker Woodrow Lowe) and to All-SEC teams. His senior year was his most prolific and marked his most memorable play—the sack of Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein—which was immortalized in a painting called The Sack by sports artist Daniel Moore. The 28-10 victory was the first for second-ranked Alabama against Notre Dame in four games. That same year, Bennett became the first linebacker ever to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy, which is given annually to the nation’s best lineman; he also received SEC Player of the Year honors and finished seventh in the balloting for the coveted Heisman Trophy. From 1982-1986, Bennett recorded 287 tackles, 21.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions, 15 knocked down passes, and three fumble recoveries at UA. He was the Crimson Tide “Player of the Decade” for the 1980s and in 1992 he earned a spot on its theoretical “Team of the Century.”

In 1987, Bennett was selected by the Indianapolis Colts as the second pick in the NFL Draft, making him the UA’s highest draft pick since quarterback Joe Namath in 1965. Soon after graduation, Bennett married fellow Alabamian Tracey; the couple had no children. Bennett refused to report to the Colts training camp over contract disputes and in October was traded to the Buffalo Bills in a complicated series of transactions colloquially known as the “Trade of the Decade” by the New York Times. In it, the Colts traded Bennett to the Bills in exchange for the Bills’ first-round draft pick in the 1988 draft, second round selections in the 1989 draft, and a three-way trade in which Bennett went to the Bills in exchange for Bills’ running back Greg Bell. He was then traded with three draft choices and running back Owen Gill to the Los Angeles Rams for running back Eric Dickerson, who went to the Colts.

With the Buffalo Bills, Bennett was named to five Pro-Bowl selections in 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993 and played in four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-1993, all of which the Bills lost. He was a starter for the final seven games of the 1987 season and was named to several “All-Rookie” honorific teams and the Sports Illustrated Rookie of the Year. In 1988, he was named by United Press International as the American Football Conference (AFC) Co-Defensive Player of the Year and AFC linebacker of the year. Following the 1989 season, he was awarded the Sington Trophy (named after Fred Sington, who played tackle for the University of Alabama) as the Male Athlete of the Year in Alabama. In 1991, he was an All Pro First Team Selection who played five different positions and led the Buffalo Bills in sacks, quarterback pressures, and forced fumbles and was again named the AFC Defensive Player of the Year. In 1992, he and his wife Tracey divorced.

After eight years with the Buffalo Bills, in 1996 Bennett became a free agent and signed with the Atlanta Falcons, with whom he played until 1999, and made one visit to the Super Bowl, which the Falcons lost. In 1997, he married his wife Kimberly, with whom he would have two daughters and a son. In February 1998, he was sentenced to two months in jail and three years’ probation for sexual assault against a female acquaintance. From 1999-2000, Bennett played for the Indianapolis Colts before retiring in 2000 and moving to Florida.

Cornelius Bennett, 2004 In 14 NFL seasons, Bennett recorded 71.5 sacks, seven interceptions, 112 return yards, 31 forced fumbles, 27 fumble recoveries (third-most in NFL history at the time of his retirement), 78 fumble return yards, and three touchdowns. In 2004, Bennett was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and the following year in 2005 was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. Bennett also served as the chairman of board of the NFL Players Association as well as a member of the its Former Player Board of Directors representing athletes in the NFL both active and retired. In May 2010, he announced that he will donate his brain for a study of long-term brain injuries resulting from football-related injuries. Each year, Bennett hosts the Cornelius Bennett Celebrity Golf Tournament for Children’s Village Inc., a Birmingham group home for boys and girls in foster care.

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