Posted: 10:30 p.m.
The Benson Bowl turned into the dust bowl for those looking for the juicy bits of tabloid Wednesday in preparation for running back Cedric Benson barreling smack into his past and his old Bears defense via a Bengals zone run in Sunday's 4:15 game at Paul Brown Stadium.
"It's in the past. It's not even worth talking about," said Bengals defensive tackle Tank Johnson, the former Bear who watched it all go so sour in Chicago for Benson that he said it was like watching a new kid get picked on.
But Benson wasn't even the leading story Wednesday in Chicago, where Bears quarterback Jay Cutler got a contract extension. And in Cincy, Benson shared the spotlight with a decimated defensive line missing the NFL sack leader through the season's first month.
The closest it came to kicking up came in Benson's own conference call with the Chicago reporters when he agreed with a questioner that the Bears blackballed him around the league after they cut him.
"That I didn't work hard, that I was I guess a prima donna, or I didn't work hard on the field, just wasn't focused," Benson said of the rap. "Just anything negative that they could say here was said. "I'm sure that contributed largely to me not getting picked up right away."
But the head coaches, the Bengals' Marvin Lewis and the Bears' Lovie Smith, said Chicago gave a good enough recommendation that Cincinnati signed Benson. While it may not have been filed under Ringing Endorsement, it was filed.
"I was all for Cedric getting another chance," Smith said in his conference call with Cincinnati media. "We drafted him early, so we liked him. Things just didn't work out here. But as far as a recommendation, he's there, so you know what type of a recommendation we gave him."
Benson told the Chicago reporters he wasn't surprised.
"Lovie knew the deal. Lovie saw what few did see up there," he said. "Lovie saw what Cincinnati is seeing. So I definitely appreciate him saying some of those things about me."
In his conference call with Cincinnati reporters, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs fired one across the bow when he said, "When he was back in Chicago he was a little worried we were cheap-shotting him. Now he can get revenge on everyone who he thought cheap-shotted him in our training camp."
But Benson wouldn't play. In his locker room session with reporters he shook his head and said it was not about revenge.
"It doesn't matter anymore," Benson said of the cheap shots. "I've moved past that situation. I know it does me no good (about) being a better person and moving forward in my life to reflect on all those things."
And there were a lot of those things.
It was always awkward for Benson in Chicago from the day the Bears picked him fourth in the 2005 draft even though they already had an established back in Thomas Jones. A 36-day holdout, the veterans' resentment at how the popular Jones was treated, and Benson's penchant for answering questions honestly without a filter all served to make it tough.
Throw in two off-field arrests in the spring of 2008 and the Bears cut him long before a Texas grand jury exonerated him in both cases. Benson showed up three days later on Sept. 30 and a year and a month later he is a true NFL bell cow, bidding to become the first 1,500-yard runner in club history.
Maybe Benson figures that Elias Sports Bureau has already done his talking for him. He's third in NFL rushing on 4.2 yards per rush. The Bears' Matt Forte is 24th on 3.4.
"A few mishaps, I guess they didn't like me, huh?" asked Benson, who finds it amazing that people are saying he's changed. "I would say 98 percent of it is all perception. It's only been a year and a half since I was there. How much can someone change? I am who I am. Most of it was perception. I definitely feel more accepted here. I found a way to make things work with what's been given to me. I definitely had a bigger role coming in. I came when the team needed a lift and I provided that. I was definitely on a path coming up and the Bengals just got a little piece of it."
More specifically, it was the Bengals offensive line that got a piece of Benson last year. Here was this guy so jacked up and hungry to run the ball that he was literally running up their backs at 120 miles per hour.
"Some guys were saying, 'Who is this guy running up our backs?' " recalled left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "Because a lot of guys didn't know him. But he's found the holes. He's really matured the last year and become an NFL back."
Now that Benson knows the scheme better and is more patient, he's banging into linebackers instead of his own guys. Still at 120 miles per hour.
"That's the great thing about him; he wants to achieve so much," said Whitworth, regaling the media Wednesday with the story of how Benson got the ire of middle linebacker Dhani Jones on the first day of training camp because he was so physical.
"When he runs through there, it hurts, even on pass plays," Whitworth said. "If you happen to get in his way when he releases on a route, he smacks you pretty good."
Briggs at least gave him that from what he sees on tape.
"He's physical," Briggs said. "I see him dropping his head down on guys, dropping his shoulder down on guys, running through tackles, trips every once in awhile when he gets going too fast. It looks like Cedric to me."
Yet the passion, the will to win, the hunger, isn't the picture painted in Chicago.
When it comes to perception, quarterback Carson Palmer says it is a reality. The word in Chicago is that Benson had few friends because so many sided with Jones. But here, Palmer, the team leader, is friendly enough to have Benson to his house for dinner as well as bust his chops that he's a better shooter of the basketball.
"I let the media affect the way I felt about him," Palmer said. "I read stories and kind of followed through Internet sites, through newspaper write-ups from before he got here, and had heard a lot of bad things because that's what a lot of people had (written) about him. Bad things. Then I met him and I still wasn't sure because he didn't seem like a bad guy, and now I've been around him for two years and he comes over to my house for dinner and we hang out and I'm around him a lot at the facility, we work out together. None of the stuff I read was true."
If Benson was a loner in Chicago, his Bengals teammates haven't seen it here.
"I don't think he's quiet at all," Palmer said. "He enjoys being around his teammates, he plays basketball in the gym, he's talking trash and talking about how good at shooting he is, and he goes out there and portrays that he's not good at shooting (laughs). He's a likeable guy, but I wouldn't classify him as quiet at all."
Tank Johnson says it is merely a matter of maturity, not changing.
"Thomas Jones was a veteran. He knew the veteran way about things and Ced was young," Johnson said. "Ced's not a different person. He grew up a lot. When guys mature, they don't have to change. He's mature."
The young Benson did have his problems in the Bears locker room.
"It was kind of like when you're a new kid to a family. The new kid gets picked on a lot," Johnson said. "The fourth pick of the draft, so there were high expectations but he was still the new kid. There were guys working hard before he got there. It was a situation where had to prove himself. It was a daily test."
Briggs said he didn't know that much about it, and if he did, he chose not to say. He says "Me and Ced were cool," and they would talk.
"Defensive guys, we kind of stick to the defensive side most of the time. I really can't tell you what happened out here," he said.
"There was a lot going on. Him. Thomas Jones. At the time Thomas Jones was our best offensive weapon, you draft a running back at No. 4 and it happens to be Cedric so he's the apparent new guy to fill in for Thomas, so you're pushing him out," Briggs said. "So you've got a whole lot of drama there. That just really set the stage for what kind of ended up happening. There was a lot of pressure for Cedric to perform. Especially once Thomas was gone. You could see that when Jay Cutler came in the first week. Your expectations are extremely high. You want to go in there, you want to win a game, you want to run hard or you want to go out there and manage a game.
"I don't know the particulars. I can only set the stage for you guys. When Cedric got here, this is what was going on."
The Chicago media pulled no punches. They grilled him about who was against him and "why did some teammates hate you?"
"Some questions you ask are very interesting because I don't have the answers. I think there was once upon a time where I would have liked to have known the answer, but now it kind of doesn't really matter anymore," Benson told them. "I couldn't pinpoint anything. I remember there being a lot of talk about the holdout but that's quite ridiculous in this business because there are holdouts involved. It's not just football, there's a business and contracts involved. I'm sure there was once upon a time when many players on that team had a holdout or something along those lines."
On Wednesday in his PBS media session, Benson wasn't looking to pin the blame for his misery in Chicago. He agreed that the decision to draft him with Jones already there was a factor.
"Possibly. That may have contributed to the way things got started there," he said. "They had a guy they were confident in and felt like could get the job done. Here I am, a new guy confident in myself that I can get the job done. But he was kind of set there and it may have contributed to a little bit to a setback for me. But I got my opportunities."
He'll certainly get an opportunity anyone would relish Sunday. The one time Wednesday he let a look inside.
"I don't think I'll feel anything in particular," Benson said. "It's definitely going to be fun. Being the national game (FOX). Making good TV time. It's definitely going to be a very exciting atmosphere."