One of the biggest (if not the biggest) trades in Buffalo history was when Bill Polian pulled the trigger and acquired All-American Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett. Overnight the Buffalo defense went from pretty good to really good. If one sits back and objectively judges Bennett’s credentials than only one conclusion can be reached…Biscuit should be in the Hall of Fame. Bennett has been voted as the greatest linebacker in Buffalo Bills history yet, rarely do you hear his name mentioned with the other NFL greats who played the position. He’s never been a Hall of Fame finalist and there is hardly a mention in the sports press making his case. Why is that? I think Bennett has a number of factors overshadowing his accomplishments and preventing serious Hall of Fame Consideration.
First of all his name wasn’t Lawrence Taylor. Coming out of Alabama Biscuit was compared to LT and many prognosticators said he was more gifted, more athletic and would surpass LT’s accomplishments. That’s a pretty tall order and while Bennett was a great player, he did not fundamentally change how defense was played the way Taylor did.
Bennett probably also suffers (at least in the mind of some Bills fans and HOF committee members) because in ’97 he was arrested and later convicted serving 35 days in jail. In fairness, it has to be also noted that Bennett has done a lot of charity work in retirement and now sits as the Chairman of the NFLPA’s Former Players Board of Directors, where he helps address the issues and concerns of fellow NFL alumni.
Bennett played on the same defense as Bruce Smith. Smith is arguably the greatest defensive lineman in the history of the game and certainly the greatest defensive player in the history of the Bills. That’s a pretty big shadow to stand in.
Bennett and the entire defense were overshadowed by the historic accomplishments of the K-Gun offense. When voters and fans think of the Buffalo Bills of that era, the most often think Super Bowl losses and our “point a minute” offensive machine. The defense (besides Bruce Smith) gets lost in the shuffle.
Bennett’s career should not get lost in the shuffle. Biscuit was a 5xProBowler and a 3xAllPro. He’s a member of the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team. Bennett was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year not once but…twice (’88 and ’91). His ’91 season was (in my view) one of the best defensive campaigns in NFL history. You might recall that Bruce Smith was injured for much of the season and Buffalo was forced to shuffle the starting lineup. The Bills coaching staff came up with the “Sick ‘em” defense that allowed Bennett to essentially roam free and go wherever the ball was. Cornelius responded with 107 tackles, recorded nine sacks, four forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown. Bennett held the defense together as the Bills earned a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.
It also should not be lost on voters that Bennett is a member of the Buffalo Bills 50th Anniversary All-Star Team and appeared in five Super Bowls. Most 2-time defensive players of the year get serious Hall of Fame consideration. Bennett deserves a closer look.