BamaMag.com: Was the transition from Alabama to professional football difficult for you?
Cornelius Bennett: It wasn't tough for me. I had Coach Perkins for four years and he groomed me. The biggest thing for me was leaving the state of Alabama. I was telling a guy coming in the van today, that the farthest north, besides playing football that I had been was up here to New Haven, Connecticut. I had never really traveled much outside the state of Alabama. So just being accustomed to being away from my mother and father and my siblings was difficult.
BamaMag.com: What are some of your best memories of the NFL?
CB: The relationships with teammates. The coaches. Marv Levy, a tremendous man. I have stated to him a long time ago that if I didn't grow up with a father and had to pick a father out of a crowd, I would have chosen him. That's how special I think he is. I played on some great football teams. People say, well you lost five Super Bowls. You still had to be a good football team to get to five Super Bowls. You look at my success on the football field as a professional. I think I won eight divisional titles in my professional career, five conference championships. Lost one conference championship in 1989, I think it was. Pro bowls. I think I got shorted on the Pro Bowls. The fans started voting in 1993, I think. I left Buffalo and went to Atlanta and kind of got lost in the shuffle because we didn't have a big fan base like the Falcons have now. I took success wherever I went. I helped guide Atlanta to their only Super Bowl appearance. I went to Indianapolis and gave them their first division title since 1987 and equaled their best record including this year, 13-3. I'm very proud of what I did on the football field.
BamaMag.com: What do you feel was your best performance while playing in the NFL?
CB: I laid it on the line every single down. I could go back to the last game my rookie year. I only played in eight games because I held out because of some contractual situations. We played the Philadelphia Eagles with no playoff hopes in sight. Randall Cunningham was the quarterback. I had 17 or 18 tackles, four sacks, 2 or 3 caused fumbles, 2 or 3 fumble recoveries, a couple of passes deflected. I did a little bit of everything. That's how I expected myself to play every game. If you ask any of my teammates, they never had to worry about "Biscuit" showing up.
BamaMag.com: You played football with passion. What is your passion now?
CB: My passion now is charity. Relating to football, I wanted to give my all and I wanted the people around me to be exactly like I was. Go out there and give their all and not be concerned about off-the-field accolades. This award that I am received here is a great award. It's unexpected because I don't go out and do charity events to get pats on the back. I do it because I made a promise to the Lord that if I had a chance in my life to give back to others, I would. I'm just fulfilling a promise I made. In football, I was so blessed to be as good as I was.
BamaMag.com: When you receive the Alumnus of the Year award from the Walter Camp Football Foundation, is there someone you think about?
CB: I hadn't thought about it much. I lost my father a couple of years ago, so I guess I reflect on my parents for bringing me up the way they did to be a giving person. I was one of the fortunate kids in my neighborhood who grew up with a mother and a father at home. My father had one of the better jobs for an uneducated person and worked at U.S. Steel. We always seemed to have a little bit more than the rest of the people in the neighborhood. Everybody would come over and borrow a cup of sugar or whatever the need may have been. My mom was always Santa Claus to a lot of my cousins. Even to this day, my kids and all the other kids in the family look forward to going to Grandma's house for Christmas. They receive a box from Grandma Bennett that's always twice the size of a present received from anyone else. It was instilled in me at an early age to be a charitable person.
BamaMag.com: If you had a chance to speak to a group of young football players, beginning their journey, what words of wisdom would you tell them?
CB: Know that it's your hard work that has gotten you to where you are. Be wary of people that hang on. There are some bad people in the world. An old rapper used to say when I was a kid, don't believe the hype. Believe that it's your hard work that has gotten you to where you are.
BamaMag.com: Would you like to tell us about some of your charitable organizations or foundations?
CB: My golf tournament that I have hosted for the last four years benefits the Ronald MacDonald houses in South Alabama, New Orleans, Jackson, Mississippi and Pensacola, Florida. We've been very fortunate to raise almost $150,000 dollars each year with this tournament. It has been a great relationship with the MacDonald franchisees down in that area. We have been able to get some great celebrities to attend the tournament and also have some outstanding musical talent perform as well. It's a great weekend. I am actually involved in a few more tournaments. Joe Cribbs and I are hosting a tournament this year in Birmingham. I am also hosting my first tournament in Miami. I travel and do other golf tournaments and make personal appearances for fundraisers. I am speaking in Birmingham for a hospice group on Friday, February 17th. It's just in my blood. My wife is like I am. She is very dedicated at our kid's schools, volunteering her services. She should be teaching. She has a masters degree in education but she feels it's her duty to volunteer instead of working. She feels she can give more by volunteering. She has been a pillar for me.
BamaMag.com: Is there a way people can find out about your charitable events?
CB: The media in Alabama has been unbelievable. They have been tremendous as far as when I have something going on and covering the events that I have. When I come to town next weekend, hopefully I'll have my website back up. You can also go through The University and they will direct you to me if you want to find out what's going on with me.
Editor's Note: Arnold Steadham has covered Alabama events for BamaMag.com and 'BAMA Magazine. This is the conclusion of his interview with Cornelius Bennett, who was this year's Walter Camp Alumnus of the Year.. We will also have Steadham's interviews with Dwight Stephenson, another former Alabama player who was honored at this year's Walter Camp Banquet as the Man of the Year.