Ravens' Thompson takes out the trash

Special teams ace leaves talking off field

September 01, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Before the first question was fired at Pro Bowl special teams player Bennie Thompson, he knew it was best to get out of the locker room.

He realized that those who play jokes on him -- and those he plays jokes on -- were already starting up and would not allow a productive interview to happen.

Of course, if the roles were reversed, Thompson would do the same thing. The 10-year veteran safety generally has something to say about everything, making him one of the more popular players on the Ravens.

His mouth used to run the same way on the field as in the locker room. Now, it has found a neutral position, which he said helped him make his second Pro Bowl appearance last season.

"Basically, the players vote who goes to the Pro Bowl and so do the coaches," Thompson said. "The players' vote counts a little more than the coaches' vote. If you go out and talk trash to the players like I used to, then they tend not to vote for you. They will hold a grudge against you. But when you go out and play the game, then the guys will vote for you."

So Thompson leaves his talking and joking off the field.

"He jokes with us in here [the locker room], but when he gets on the field he's serious," safety Stevon Moore said. "And that is how it should be. It is all business. You're out there to get the job done."

Thompson certainly has done that. He has at least 14 special teams tackles in every season since 1990. He recorded his career-best 27 tackles in 1992 with the Kansas City Chiefs, the year after he made the Pro Bowl with the New Orleans Saints.

Thompson, 36, is one of five former Cleveland Browns still on the Ravens. He is the oldest player -- by two years over offensive lineman Harry Swayne -- but said he has no intention of retiring any time soon.

Part of the reason Thompson can be effective at such an advanced NFL age is his conditioning. He is the first one in the locker room daily, and helped monitor the off-season workout program.

"I don't look at how long I am going to play," said Thompson, who is also older than three coaches on the Ravens staff. "Every day that I wake up and feel good about playing football, I just thank the Lord that I feel good about doing what it is I do. I enjoy practice, working out and being around the guys, laughing and joking. I haven't set a limit on when I'm going to retire.

"When people start saying that you should retire, that motivates me to go out harder and do what it is I do to prove that they were wrong."

As long as he can continue to draw double teams, the Ravens will not want Thompson to retire soon. Special teams coach Russ Purnell, in his first year with the Ravens, said he is glad he no longer has to worry about where Thompson is on the field.

Coaching the last four seasons with the Oilers, Purnell was already aware of what Thompson brings to a team.

"Bennie is in an elite group," Purnell said. "He is right there at the top of the list. His attitude is what really separates him from most of the other players. There are guys out there that are faster and stronger than him. But the attitude he has is the difference, and that is what adds to his success."

Thompson signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent out of Grambling in 1985. He was released in preseason, then signed by the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, where he played three years until signing with his hometown team, the Saints.

He said he knew this time around, in order to stay in the NFL, he would have to devote himself to becoming a special teams force.

"Every guy that comes into the league comes in after being a starter in college," Thompson said. "The thing that I realized is that they have guys who are Pro Bowl guys. In order for me to make the team, I had to do something else. So I just put all my effort in special teams.

"Like I tell all the young guys here, if you are not a starter and don't want to be in the kicking game, you're not going to be successful in the NFL."

Pub Date: 9/01/99

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