Skip to main content

River reunion


It is Tuesday, the weekly player's holiday when The Law Firm never closes. He'll head back to work soon, but first he has put out the shingle in the eighth-grade social studies classroom of Mr. Sayer at St. Andrew School about 40 minutes east of Paul Brown Stadium in Milford, Ohio.

Maybe this is the only way it can be. Bengals running back/throwback BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the ultimate Bill Belichick player, which is to say the ultimate team player, is spending a slice of his week preparing for his old team Patriots team where he clerked (Sunday 1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) talking to back-to-back classes about leadership.

"Why are you voting for them?" he asks when he finds out the eighth-graders are holding elections for president.

Someone says," Because they had a good speech," and he smiles.

"That's good to know," he says. "A leader is someone you can depend on always looking for the better whole of the class. He or she puts the class first and isn't just running for president to get their picture in the class yearbook. They want to go to the principal and get things changed. Maybe shorten your classes, get rid of one of your teachers.  Don't vote for them just because they have a good speech. Make sure they have the characteristics of a person you want. They're loyal, they're honest, they do the things you're supposed to do. Be on time to class, have good character."

Green-Ellis spent the first four seasons of his career learning all that in New England while helping Belichick keep his Hall of Fame career going with a few postseason runs and a disappointing but exhilarating 44 yards on 10 carries in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. Now at 28 and in his sixth season, Green-Ellis is an undisputed leader in the Bengals room.

"The Super Bowl," when the kids ask about his greatest football moment. "You play in the backyard and you say it's the Super Bowl. Then when you get there it's magnified 10 times. Magnified 100 times."

The Firm opens up cross-examination early into his talk, but he keeps coming back to the topic of the day.

"You can have toxic leaders, too," he says. "Like if I come into this class and I'm the leader and I leave you worse off than when I came in, that's a toxic leader. You don't want toxic leaders."

Once upon a time the thought of a Bengal speaking on leadership would have been a punch line and not a weekly occurrence. But that was back in the day when if a rookie running back came in and took 50 snaps compared to a veteran running back's 18 plays, there wouldn't have been a toxic spill, there would have been a mushroom cloud. The veterans—and we know who they are—would have run off-tackle to the media to vent and damage the always-fragile team concept.

Not anymore. Not in this locker room. Just check out this week in the rubble of the Cleveland loss. If A.J. Green is talking about improving his body language and Andrew Whitworth is talking about the urgency of finding an offensive identity, then Green-Ellis is calmly in front of his locker paying no mind to the fact that Giovani Bernard had four more carries than he did.

This is Thursday now and the Cincinnati media is pondering his thoughts about matching up with the team that signed him out of Mississippi as a free agent. Green-Ellis doesn't mention roles or money, which surely had to be factors in leaving for Cincinnati after that Super Bowl run, but he only thanks the Pats for the opportunity. He admits he'll always look at them as the team that gave him his first shot.

"That would be a fair statement," Green-Ellis says. "I'm always thankful for every opportunity in life, like I'm sure you guys are. I'm thankful (to the Patriots), I'm thankful to Brown (family) and this organization. I'm thankful to anyone who helped me along the way in my life."

He's as much throwback as running back. Some joke about how Belichick speaks in clichés, then BJGE mixes them when he mentions the replacements for Patriots Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork: "We have our hands cut out for us." They know what he means. Later Belichick will explain they'll have to give it their all before the clock hits zero.

If Green-Ellis has the magic key to pressure Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into a loss, he would surely present it to Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. But he's not sure he can.

"They change things every week," he says. "There are some things I could go back and run, but the game plan changes every week. You don't run the same things week in and week out. There are some things you have to adjust to on the fly."

After handing off to his running backs four times in the second half, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is getting questions about going back to the run. Asked if he thinks the Bengals are going to run the ball more, BJGE doesn't flinch: "I'm not sure. Whatever Coach Gruden calls me and Gio and Cedric (Peerman), who is ever up for the game, we'll be prepared for whatever he calls. If he calls passes or if he calls runs we have to perform to the best of our ability."'

It hasn't been the best of times for BJGE, the king of the short yardage and sure-handedness the last two weeks. Against Green Bay on third-and-short he suffered just the third fumble of his career and it resulted in a TD when the Bengals didn't block one of the league's best defensive players in Clay Matthews. Last Sunday in Cleveland he got stuffed on a fourth-and-one when the Ohio congressional delegation met him at the Browns 7 and he lost two yards.

"He didn't have much of a chance," Gruden would say. "I don't know if Larry Cszonka combined with Adrian Peterson would have got those. Those are tough downs and we have to do a better job to get in good plays."

Green-Ellis can always turn back to the one thing he took from Belichick.

"Never take anything for granted," Green-Ellis says. "Never take anything for granted. You always work hard no matter what the circumstances are."

We are back in Mr. Sayer's classroom and Green-Ellis is addressing the followers.

"If you don't trust in your leaders, you fall by the wayside," Green-Ellis says. "You're just as important as the leaders. The followers are just as important as the leaders because that's who's going to help them out. You can't just follow them 85 percent. If you trust them, trust in their decisions that they're making, it has to be 100 percent.

"If you don't agree, talk to them. You may be looking at how it affects just you. They may be looking at what is best for 25 people and not just for you."

A teacher asks Green-Ellis who he grew up admiring as role models.

"My parents are my role models, my heroes," he says. "I saw all the hard work and dedication and things they sacrificed for me. The people you do put your faith and trust (should be) the people who are there for you. You can depend on your mom, dad, aunt, uncle. People with high character."

But he has been noticing Bill Gates, too.

"You guys know who Bill Gates is, right?" he asks. "Bill Gates is a good leader. He keeps making Windows successful even though we're living in an Apple world. What he's done with those Windows guys is off the charts."

Now we are back in the locker room on Thursday and next to The Firm's locker because that's where Bernard is housed and he's talking some Bennie.

"He's a veteran guy that has already done it, so he's definitely helping us out," Bernard says. "The biggest thing with him is he wants what's best for the team rather than for himself. He's definitely a team kind of guy and he always wants us to get better, whether that's him taking fewer snaps or more snaps, he wants the team to get better.

"Just vocally, he knows what he's doing, he knows what he's talking about. He's been there. He's experienced, so that definitely adds to his leadership. He's helped me understand the game more as a veteran than just a rookie. He's been a role model to all of us."

Sunday, the Ultimate Belichick Player vs. Belichick.

"We've got him here," Bernard says. "We're happy to have him here. I'm happy that he's my teammate."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.