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FISH on FOOTBALL: Behind The Scenes With Clear-Headed Cowboy Martellus Bennett

Want a behind-the-scenes slice of Dallas Cowboys intelligence? I give you Martellus Bennett's concussed-yet-clear-headed PR decision. While there are signs that he remains iffy to play Sunday against the Chargers, there are other signs that strongly suggest the kid might eventually figure out this pro football business after all.  

Let me explain:

As of Friday morning, what we know about the Cowboys' second tight end is that he's missed two straight days of practice due to concussion symptoms. Neurological tests indicate that he's fine, but the NFL's heightened awareness regarding concussions - along with the fact that Marty B just doesn't feel right yet - require caution.

Kind of the like the caution Bennett used on Tuesday when he attended the Suns-at-Mavs game in Dallas and was preparing to take the stage before 20,000 fans, a large TV audience and, quite possibly, "SportsCenter'' infamy.                                                               


The setup: Between quarters, the Mavs pull a lucky fan out of the stands to attempt a series of shots - layups, free throws, 3-pointers, half-court heaves - and as the fan advances through the contest, taking multiple shots at each spot until he advances, he wins prizes from StarPower, the electronics folks. Big-screen plasma HD televisions, home-theater systems, that sort of stuff, and it's all on the line for the fortunate ticket-holder.

On this night, in-game announcer Chris Arnold discussed a notion with Martellus: How about if Bennett - who starred in Texas 5A basketball at Alief High School, averaging 23 points and eight rebounds per game and then lettered in the sport at Texas A&M - was the contest participant? He'd win the prizes (and the 6-6 Bennett has as good a chance as anybody in the gym, outside of the 30-or-so-people in NBA uniforms, of winning the prizes) and donate them to some lucky fan.

"I love it!'' Marty B told Arnold, and StarPower liked the idea, too. ...

But then Arnold and Bennett got to thinking.

If somehow this doesn't go well. ... and even if it does ... what will the reaction be?

Arnold, in relating the story, told me later: "Oh, we we're gonna hear that ‘Marty B isn't concentrating on his football!' and ‘The Cowboys aren't being serious!' and ‘See, this is why they lose in December!'''

The reality?

Bennett was going to shoot a basketball six or seven times - something he can do in his sleep, something lots of players do in their free time, anyway. There wasn't going to be anybody playing defense, no banging, no twisted ankles. ... just a silly between-quarters goof, as innocuous as any of the endless series of Pampers Crawling Baby Races or Geico Gecko Dance Contests or AT&T's Name That Tune Challenges.

The perception?

In the end, Martellus Bennett reminded himself of it. ... the possible perception. Heck, he could've won the prizes - nah, he would've won those prizes! - and how fun would it be to see himself on "SportsCenter'' that night, making a half-court shot to win prizes for a fan while 20,000 onlookers go nuts!

So Marty B and Arnold reviewed the notion and together decided to pass on the silly game. ... for Bennett, to make sure all the Cowboys onlookers understand that he is focused on the not-silly game, the one scheduled for Sunday against the Chargers.

A second-year Cowboy, Bennett was supposed to have a breakout season this year while playing in tandem with the studly Jason Witten. "Beans and Rice,'' he wants the two of them to be called, much to the embarrassment of Witten, who is too busy to be bothered by such frivolity.

"Frivolity,'' though, is part of Marty B's charm ... and now it simply needs to be matched by his production. Dallas runs a lot of two-tight end stuff, and Bennett's been an effective blocker. But he's been neither smooth nor consistent as a pass-catcher, ranking sixth on the club with a modest 15 catches for 159 yards.

If Bennett cannot go, Dallas believes it'll muddle through with rookie John Phillips as the second guy. Bennett will be given the proper care ... and endure the fitting punchlines.

"It's the old joke,'' coach Wade Phillips said of the medical tests endured by his goofball baller, "that they X-rayed his head and didn't find anything.''

On Tuesday at the Mavs game, though, Martellus Bennett gave himself a different sort of test. And he did find something: A clear-headed reason to send a message, create an impression, and pass on being a goofball.

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