JERSEY CITY — In a pinch last month, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett called one of the best restaurants in the Seattle area, hoping to get a table for him, his wife, and their three daughters.
The hostess told him, sorry, we’re full tonight.
Undeterred, the Louisiana native and Texas A&M product called back, this time saying he was the team’s star quarterback, Russell Wilson.
That not only got him a table, it got him a prime, roped-off spot for his family. When he arrived and the hostess realized Bennett was not Wilson, as he’d claimed, all he could say was “Gotcha!”
The 6-foot-4-inch, 271-pound Bennett led Seattle with 8½ sacks this season, part of a highly effective front seven that tends to get overlooked given the team’s brash Legion of Boom secondary.
This is his second chance with Seattle, and he’s made the most of it, though Bennett’s 2013 season may lead to the free-agent-to-be leaving the Seahawks if he’s offered a better deal when the market opens.
“Michael’s been an exceptional player,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s had a great season for us. My only regret is that we didn’t use him enough early. He has tremendous versatility, plays inside and outside [on the defensive line]. He’s got a great motor and great savvy about him.
“He doesn’t do everything in an orthodox manner, but he’s very detail-oriented. He has a great feel for the game and makes great decisions in the game, so we give him a bit of latitude so he can make the plays he’s capable of making.”
Undrafted in 2009, Bennett initially signed with the Seahawks, but he was cut in October that season and claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay. He played in 50 games over four seasons with the Buccaneers. But despite his 2012 numbers, which included starting all 16 games, nine sacks, three forced fumbles, and 41 tackles, he was not offered a contract to return.
So he signed a one-year, $4.8 million deal with the Seahawks, essentially gambling on himself.
“It was frustrating” to not be offered a contract by Tampa Bay, Bennett said Monday at the team’s Super Bowl XLVIII headquarters for the week, the Westin Newport. “As a player you go out there and put everything on the line for the organization, and when it’s time to get your just due and you don’t get it, you feel a certain type of way.
“But at the same time, you have to put everything in God’s hands and God had a plan for me and the plan worked out good.”
Bennett said he would love to remain in Seattle, citing his affection for his teammates, the coaching staff, and the city’s rabid fans, the 12th Man. Yet he also knows that his younger brother, Chicago tight end Martellus, and his family would love to see the two play together again.
Martellus Bennett is signed with the Bears through 2016.
Those decisions will come in due time, however. This week, Michael is focused on one thing.
“I don’t think about the money because it’s not in my account,” he said, laughing. “You do want long-term deals, but I don’t think about it as much as some people think I think about it. I think about winning the game. I’m taking it one game at a time, taking care of this moment and playing for this team.”
As his restaurant reservation prank and sack dance show, Bennett is very much about living in the moment.
His sack dance, inspired by 1980s WWF star “Ravishing” Rick Rude, is a comical, hands-behind-the-head, hip-twisting celebration that toes the line of decency, to the point that Bennett asks his wife to make sure his daughters don’t see it. Teammate Earl Thomas won’t let his daughter see it either.
The millions who tune into the Super Bowl on Sunday may not get to see Thomas’s gyrations either. Denver’s Peyton Manning is arguably the toughest quarterback in the league to take down, in part because of his offensive line and in part because he gets rid of the ball so quickly.
That doesn’t mean Bennett won’t try.
“You’ve just got to beat your man faster” to counter the Broncos’ offensive speed, he said. “That’s as simple as it gets. Everybody wants to make football more than what it really is. It’s just getting your guy, tackling and running the ball better than the other team.”
Bennett sacked Eli Manning when the Seahawks shut out the Giants in December. Getting to Peyton would “mean everything, because that’s one of the keys to the game, getting to the quarterback and making sure that we do something to beat the offensive line to make sure our secondary isn’t left out there to dry.”
Whether he registers a sack or not, Bennett acknowledged that Seattle will have to figure out something to get to Manning and try to affect him, whether it’s making him throw early or hitting him.
“It’s our job to get to him,” Bennett said.
He doesn’t have anything special planned for the week, saying he’s here for the Super Bowl, but Bennett does know what name he’ll be using if he needs a good table at a New York City restaurant: Barack Obama.
Russell Wilson may work in Seattle, but in the Big Apple, Bennett joked, he needs a bigger name.