Benson's statement became sports page and message board fodder for several days. Following Tuesday's practice at Denius Fields, Benson calmly told reporters: "You guys know that I'm a team player and that I want to win every game. So any questions about Rice, I'd love to answer. I'm not gonna get into that ESPN stuff."
A national broadcaster such as Gottleib may have been caught off-guard by Benson's candor, which local Austin media have come to expect. This past year, Benson has been outspoken in what he perceived as coaches pulling him prematurely from games (in 2003), former teammates who did not buy into the mid-season offensive makeover, as well as coaches ability both to handle these players as well as the media. My perception of Benson (based on three years of being around him) is that his comments are rooted not so much in childish self-centeredness but rather a childlike naiveté that does not hesitate to speak honestly (and sometimes as one who wears his emotions on his jersey sleeve).
"I've been growing up with distractions all of my life," Benson said. "I just learn how to handle it. It always provides extra motivation when people try to beat you down. Distractions don't do nothing but boost you up."
It's very easy to forget that many of these student-athletes are literally teenagers when talking to seasoned reporters who know how to finagle a quote out of amateurs. Probably the most noteworthy aspect of Benson's time with reporters Tuesday is that, perhaps for the first time in his career, Benson was able to control the media rather than allowing the media to control him. When a TV reporter tried to steer Benson back into the direction of the ESPN quote (because, frankly, talking about Rice is boring), Benson responded, "What are we talking about?" -- more a statement than it was a question -- "We're talking about Rice."
QB Vince Young was more outspoken Tuesday in his defense of Benson.
"I don't care too much about it," VY said. "Cedric runs the ball well. He's just one of the guys on the team that's a playmaker and a leader. He's just got high expectations for himself this season. He's just going to go in and take care of business. We're right behind him as a team."
While some UT athletes have suggested that many Longhorn fans obsess over the Sooners year-round, Benson has been just as outspoken of his searing desire to whip OU just once in his career. It's an integral part of his decision to return this year. He did not come to Texas to finish second every season and go O-for-Oklahoma. At the same time, one can understand that snagging a Heisman does more for Benson's career than winning on the second Saturday in October. It's just that Benson's honest response to a hypothetical question flies in the face of Brown's added emphasis on the team concept this year. Last spring, he insisted (on several occasions) that there are no stars on this team. Then, two weeks ago, Brown announced there would no longer be Player of the Week honors at the Forty Acres.
The issue did not emerge during coach Mack Brown's Monday's press conference with print media, but he did make the following statement when he met with broadcast journalists:
"I know Cedric better than ESPN Radio. Cedric wants to win or he wouldn't have come back. He could've been drafted for the NFL. And sometimes he gets excited and says things that don't come out the same way in the media that he wants them to. What I heard him say about that comment was that he probably can't win the Heisman unless we beat Oklahoma, so he needs to do his best to win. Any young man in America has a dream to win the Heisman. For somebody to ask him if it's important to him to win the Heisman was probably a foolish question. That guy should be re-evaluated, I think."
Benson has also re-evaluated his statement. He may be honesty's last stand in the world of mind-numbing, clichéd coach-speak. But he also knows what's best for his team. And, on Tuesday, it was as if the teenager had become a young man right before our very eyes.
More from Tuesday: