Szwaja's Sports Blog

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Sometimes it takes only one word to describe the big picture. In this case, the big picture happens to be what it takes to be a successful professional athlete. I don't know what it's like to be a professional athlete, but I'd imagine it would be tough to make millions and stay motivated, especially when you find yourself locked into a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. In the end, it's the million dollar contracts that keep these guys motivated. I'd imagine if you sign that big contract, your motivated to get to the next big contract. It's all about the Benjamins, right?

Ultimately, motivation is what makes the NFL our best professional league here in this country. The lack of guaranteed contracts keeps NFL players motivated to take care of their bodies, continually sharpen their skills and stay out of trouble. Sure, the league has had its issues with players staying out of trouble, but what guys like Pacman Jones and Mike Vick don't seem to understand is that if they stay out of trouble, they'll make a lot more money. Ninety-five percent of the guys in the league stay out of trouble, because they're the smart ones. They're the ones who realize good behavior can lead to a life of luxury.

Which brings me to my favorite NFL team, the Chicago Bears and their enigmatic running back Cedric Benson. Call me crazy, but I think Benson might finally be starting to get it. It's just a theory, but since Benson's been in the league, motivation hasn't been on his mind. He got the big contract and the security that comes with being a young player with a big "up side."

When the Bears drafted Benson, for whatever reason, it started the Thomas Jones exodus. Why Jones and Benson couldn't have coexisted in the backfield was beyond me, but that's another issue for another time. So basically Angelo's message to Benson was this: "Hey, Ced, no worries, the job's yours."

And last season, Benson was handed the job, more importantly with nobody really challenging him for his job behind him. Adrian Peterson is special teams specialist who can run the ball here and there. And Garrett Wolfe? Was that some kind of third round pick joke? Angelo's message here: "No pressure, Ced. Go out there and do your thing."

And Benson looked like a player who didn't have to push himself to keep his job. The job was his, and he knew there was no one there behind him to take it from him, so he skated through the season and earned his multi-million dollar paycheck.

Then the 2008 NFL Draft happened.

In the second round, the Bears handed in their card with Matt Forte's name on it. The Bears didn't draft Forte to be on the special teams unit. And they didn't draft him with hopes he would be a good third down, change of pace back. They drafted him to push Benson.

Bears fans and the media alike immediately crowned Forte the starter of the near future, like by the end of the preseason near future. And they almost seemed surprised when Lovie Smith insisted Benson was his starter. But this is the best position for both Forte and Benson. The situation keeps Forte motivated to become the starter ... and eventually get that big contract, while it motivates Benson to keep his job ... and eventually get that second big contract.

Then the boating incident happened.

For the record, I'm taking Benson's side on this one. I'm buying Benson's side of the story, which means I believe Benson did very little, if anything, wrong. But, in the end, the incident opened Benson's eyes to what could happen if he really did screw up. Fans and media alike jumped on Benson, and many were ready to clean out his locker for him. Overreaction? Yes. A potential look into the future? For sure. If Benson takes anything away from the incident, he should realize one mistake can send him back to Midland, Texas where one day he'll be forced to sell his 27-foot boat to make ends meet.

In short, these two happenings have shown Benson his NFL career can end almost as quickly as it started. And it seems to have worked ... for now.

Benson showed up at voluntary workouts earlier this month 10 pounds lighter and boasting of a new, nutritional diet. He looked to have a spring in his step that football fans haven't seen since he graced the Longhorn helmet. And he said all the right things about the possibility of Forte pushing him as the starting running back.

"I would hope I'd have to do something to keep [my job]," Benson said. "Nobody wants to be given anything."

Later he told a group of reporters standing beside the practice field he hoped they had their cameras on him so everyone could see his seemingly new found speed, agility and quickness. The comment drew a laugh, but like an addict admitting he has a problem, Benson basically admitted he has been a soft, slow, slouch of an NFL running back. Maybe that's reading to much into it, but maybe not.

It seems like Benson has finally motivated himself to become a good NFL running back, because he knows if he fails to do so, all it will take is one word to describe his big picture.



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