Good morning and it is my privilege to welcome you to this season's first installment of "Where Are They Now?", as we catch up with former Kansas City Chiefs running back Donnell Bennett. Donnell played in the NFL for eight seasons, but he spent the first seven here in Kansas City and was a big part of the success of the Chiefs in the 1990's. I had the honor of speaking with Donnell on the telephone yesterday and our discussion about his career, his life, and his connection to the Chiefs-Lions matchup is at the heart of our first installment of "Where Are They Now?
Donnell Bennett was a 2nd round draft choice for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 after a standout career at the University of Miami. During his seven seasons with the Chiefs, Bennett was a part of two AFC West Champion squads (and one co-champion in 1999) and played beside a host of Chiefs greats. I contacted Donnell largely because of his 12 carry, 73 yard (1 TD) performance against the Detroit Lions in September of 1999. What seemed like an ordinary victory in an ordinary season was actually a turning point in Bennett's life. Read on to reconnect with Donnell Bennett.
The following was part of a telephone conversation that I had with Donnell Bennett. All attempts were made to ensure that the accuracy of his quotes was maintained. Some questions of mine were verbatim, some were paraphrased for the sake of continuity. Some aspects of the conversation were omitted.
Me: September 26, 1999, you guys played the Detroit Lions. You had a very good game, 12 carries, 73 yards and a touchdown. It's been a while, but do you recall that game?
Donnell: Definitely man. That whole season was a pivotal year in my life and it's funny that you ask about that particular game. That was the third game of the year and I hadn't played in the first two at all against Chicago and Denver. I was very frustrated and wasn't sure about things. Then Kimble (Anders) went down and I got the call. It was just a great year. I rededicated my life to Christ, I got married in October of that season, and it all seemed to really start with that game against Detroit. Before that game it was like i was asking 'why this?' or 'why that?'. It just seemed like that game started it all.
Me: Wow, I am glad I got in touch with you then because I had no idea about any of that. Excellent. Switching gears, what was your greatest memory or thrill from playing at Arrowhead?
Donnell: Definitely has to be getting introduced as a starter. The fans are just amazing and it's really just an unbelievable feeling. I got to be introduced between Joe Money (Montana) and Marcus (Allen) and that really was one of my greatest thrills. But the fans though, they are just incredible.
I wanted to stay on the topic of the the fans and Kansas City itself so I then asked him about his time in the city and whether or not he still follows the Chiefs today.
Donnell: We used to go to Niecie's a lot for breakfast or get some food down near the Plaza. But the people of Kansas City, you gotta understand, were what made the city. The people are so passionate about the team that you could go anywhere and people would say something to you like 'good game' or 'go beat (whoever the next team was)'. There were times that I would pick up my dry cleaning and there would be notes inside wishing me luck. Same thing would happen at the grocery store too. It was just a special place. The fans would always support you and cheer when you were doing well, but would let you know if you weren't getting it done too......I definitely still follow the Chiefs. They have a great running back now with (Jamaal) Charles, and of course you had Priest and Larry before him. He is just following in the tradition of great running backs here in Kansas City.
Me: Best player you played with?
Donnell: Like I said, I played with Joe Montana and Marcus Allen, but the best player? Gotta be Derrick (Thomas). He just had this passion, work ethic and his personality was the best. He fueled the younger players like me to want to get better just by the way he played.
Me: Best player you played against?
Donnell: Probably Junior Seau, Steve Atwater, those defenses Buffalo had with guys like Bruce (Smith), those defenses Pittsburgh had, and a guy like Ray Lewis. He was doing it then and he is still one of the best today.
Me: Team you disliked the most or got up for more than others?
Donnell: (Laughs) Definitely the Raiders. The week of the Raider game everything stops. You stop fielding phone calls, you get extra practice in, it's no holds barred.
Me: How about Gunther Cunningham? He will be on the opposite sideline this week for the Lions.
Donnell: Yeah, Gunther ended up being the head coach at the end for me. He is an intense man. He and I always had a good relationship because of the way I ran the ball. He would come up to me sometimes and say 'You are one tough son-of-a-gun'.
I wanted to close things up with finding out what Donnell had been up to since his career as a Chief ended.
Donnell: I played in Washington (in 2001) and ended up working out for Cleveland and Oakland but that was it when it didn't work out. I entered the financial world, doing some work with mortgages. I worked at a park in Florida, then I started helping out my buddy and I got into coaching. I started out at a very small school and then was able to coach at my alma mater.
Today he is the football coach at Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Florida. They were District Champs in 2010 and were one game away from the state finals.
Donnell: This season has been tough for us so far (0-2). We have battled some adversity as some guys weren't able to play in our first couple games for different reasons. But I still have a lot of hope for this team. As Marty (Schottenheimer) used to say, 'It's not where you start, it's where you finish' and I think we still have a lot to accomplish this year.
Me: Anything you would like to say directly to the fans as we wrap things up?
Donnell: I just want to thank them for all the love and they were responsible for grooming me into the man I became today. I'll always love the community and I'm so thankful I had a chance to play in Kansas City.
That was our conversation and it truly was a pleasure to talk to Donnell Bennett. Having been in high school and college during his Chiefs years, I remember very vividly his career and it was an honor to speak with him. He will be checking this story out, so feel free to leave any comments or messages to him in the section below. You can follow the results for his Northeast High School team here.
Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did and until next time, this was "Where Are They Now?: Donnell Bennett"