Purple Mafia Profiles: William Bennett
You likely noticed a new byline. Well, that’s because the LTP roster continues to expand. Brett Kurland, a Northwestern alum from the late 90′s, is like many Wildcat fans. He’s extremely passionate about his ‘Cats, and like so many of you 4-digit miles away from Evanston. Brett lives in Arizona which sounds awfully good this time of year. A longtime LTP reader, Brett offerred to join the LTP fray with a specific focus on Purple Mafia Profiles (to start) and pushing the envelope by launching podcasts. As we work out the kinks on podcasti
ng, we hope to get more creative and integrate multiple voices from around the country on a single podcast. But, we’ll get there. We look forward to your feedback on the podcasts and the site in general. We’re thrilled to have Brett on board. Take it away Brett…
In just two weeks, Northwestern will play in their fourth straight bowl game. Northwestern fans have come to expect these late December (and early January) games. But entering the 1995 season, Northwestern hadn’t been bowling in 47 years. Heck, the Wildcats hadn’t even had a winning season in 25 years. And coming off of a 3-7-1 season the year before, these droughts didn’t appear to be coming to an end anytime soon, at least to the outside world. But one of the anchors of that team, senior co-captain William Bennett, saw something different. He saw a team ready to break through. Of course, you know the rest – a win over Notre Dame and a dream run to the Rose Bowl. Lake the Posts recently caught up with William in Scottsdale, AZ.
In this podcast, the starting free safety reflects on that ’95 season, including the truth behind Gary Barnett’s “Don’t carry me off the field” instructions before the Notre Dame victory, what he heard (or didn’t hear) after the ‘Cats thrilling win at Michigan, his father’s prophetic Rose Bowl prediction, and a Jay Leno Rose Bowl memento. Amongst other things, Bennett also shares stories about his former teammate Pat Fitzgerald and gives his keys to success for the 2012 Northwestern football team (ed note: sorry – we’re working on ironing out the kinks on embedding the podcast audio files…click on the link for the mp3 download to access in the meantime!)
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Below is a sampling of our conversation with William Bennett. You can listen to or download the full interview above.
[Note: This interview took place before Northwestern's bowl destination was announced.]
BK: Your first three years at Northwestern – 3-8, 2-9, 3-7-1. That’s 8 wins, 24 losses, 1 tie. So you show up at pre season camp for your senior year in 1995… What were the expectations? Did the team really believe in August that going to the Rose Bowl was how that season could really end?
WB: I believe that the attitude switched, really, my junior season, the ’94 season. We had a solid team. Players were in place, the attitude was shifting that we could win games. If you look at those losses during that ’94 season, it was close – 7 points here, 3 points there, 10 points there. Many times we were winning at the end of the game. And going into the ’95 season, the guys worked hard, many of the guys stayed at Northwestern for the summer versus going back home. Everyone fell together as a team, we worked together, I call it “like a glove.” It all just fit. All the pieces were in place.
BK: Obviously, there’s a lot of great memories from that season. What’s at the top of William Bennett’s list?
WB: The first thing that comes out is when we beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame. My father was actually in attendance at the game. Growing up, Notre Dame was the premiere program. And for us to go into South Bend, at the Golden Dome, beat them, and walk away, that right there started the season. And, then, of course, the other wins, like Michigan.
I also remember the drive down at the Rose Bowl. If you’ve ever been to Pasadena, it’s a nice winding drive down into the stadium there. Just to see all of the purple, all of the colors, and to know that just a year before that, I was vacationing at Disneyland. And my dad said, “Let’s go down to the Rose Bowl. You guys may be here.” He just painted the picture, painted the vision. We took a picture in the exact same spot [a year later], which was great. That was really neat.
BK: One of the more common side conversations about the 1995 season relates to the loss to Miami of Ohio (the season’s only loss, which followed the season opening victory over Notre Dame) and its impact on the rest of the season. How do you think the season would’ve played out if you hadn’t lost that game?
WB: We probably would’ve been undefeated. The reason why I say that is the attitude going into the season was that each time we step onto that field, each player knew what their job was – to #1 go out and dominate, be better than the next player. And for us to lose that game, it was an eye opener, that we are vulnerable, that we have some areas that we need to shore up. But at the same time, if we had won that game, we probably would’ve won out, completely had an undefeated season. For me and what I saw, and what we could do as a team, as a defensive unit, as an offensive unit, I think we would’ve still dominated all the way through. There might’ve been a surprise in there, but to look at what we did the rest of the season, and how we played out, I think it would’ve been better to go all the way undefeated.
BK: There were some surreal “wow, this thing is big” moments that season – Darnell on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ESPN College Gameday coming to campus, the team’s appearance on “The Tonight Show,” etc. Is there a specific moment that made you say “Oh wow”? Did you and other players have any appreciation at the time what an incredible season and story was unfolding?
WB: It was focused game to game to game. It didn’t hit me until after we came back from the Rose Bowl… People came up to me, came up to other players, and said “You guys just changed our lives. You gave us some inspiration, made things that we didn’t believe could happen, we were able to achieve.” And they used the things that we won during those times – the attitude, the work ethic, the focus – and implemented that as a value statement into their businesses, into their lifestyles.
It inspired other organizations in college football across the nation. We were brought in to speak at some of these engagements. There were books, there were movies, there were videos, back when they had video tapes / VHS, that were made on the season. It didn’t hit us until then, the impact.
BK: Let’s fast forward to now… You stood right behind Pat Fitzgerald on the field of play. What’s it like seeing him on the sideline now?
WB: It’s great to see. It’s a byproduct of what that team was about. “Expect Victory.” Coach Barnett came in and brought it in… “Taking the Purple to Pasadena…” Our whole attitude was everything we did was to expect victory. And now to see Pat Fitzgerald as the head coach… He’s doing very well. I mean this guy bleeds purple. He’s an Illinois guy, two-time All-American, MVP Award Winner. But he was also a coach on the field. I share with people that he was our quarterback up front, because he handled our front 7, I was the quarterback in the back, to make sure everything was all put in place. And to see what he’s doing with the guys, the attitude that it brings to the table. I know that they’re going to get back to the Rose Bowl, that they’re going to win another Big Ten Championship. It’s just a matter of getting them to the National Championship. And he has that attitude. You can see it. Because of the energy, the fire, the focus that he has. It’s always great to see.
BK: This season had a very odd flow to it – 2 wins, followed by 5 straight losses, followed by 4 wins, including the upset at Nebraska, then finishing up with a loss, finishing up at 6-6. What is your assessment of this season?
WB: Being able to pull it together. If you recall, for ourselves, going back to the ’95 season, prior to that, we had some losing records, but we were close in those games. And that’s the same thing that’s happening here. There’s guys that are going to be coming up now… I feel bad for the senior class, they have to move on [from playing football at Northwestern]… but then the guys after that, the juniors, the sophomores, the freshmen as they come in, they understand that they can beat the big guys. I mean, Nebraska comes in, and Nebraska is the team to beat, and they were able to go out and beat them at their home field – that was great!
But then they also lost a couple games. I know there’s times where they’re like “OK, how do we pull it together?” And now they can see that there’s a gap of what they need to do. If they go back into their offseason and focus on not only studying what they’ve done, but then improving as a player, as a person, they’ll be able to put it together for next season.
BK: And finally, catch us up – what is William Bennett doing now?
WB: What I’m doing now… I’m taking care of the family. I have a beautiful wife. I’ve got three kids – I have a 10-year-old, 8-year-old, and a 5-year-old, busy, running around. Attending Northwestern functions and alumni events. I also manage a recruiting firm right here in Scottsdale. I work with Kelly Services. I also have an online store business, where we are able to do marketing for over 600 different retailers. So I do a little bit of that on my spare time.
People ask “how do you pull it all together?” It’s all about planning and putting it together. When you’re a student athlete, you kind of learn how to juggle multiple projects. Not only from classes, but also your personal life, and then also sports. It was funny – one of my coworkers asked “How did you work out? Did you guys just work out 3 or 4 times during the week when you played?” I’m like “No. It was 7 days a week, and 4 or 5 hours a day of just working out.” And her eyes just got lit, like “Are you serious?” And I was like, “oh yeah, by the way, we had to study. We had to go to class. And if you wanted to go out on a date… You had to pull it all together.”
Final Day To Enter LTP ESPN Bowl Mania – Close To Breaking Record Participants!!!!
Speaking of bragging rights, make sure you get your entry in for the 2011 edition of LTP ESPN Bowl Mania. It is very simple. CLICK HERE and follow the simple step-by-step process to pick a winner in all 35 bowl games and place a confidence level (1-35) next to your picks. The highest total wins and will have bragging rights on this board for an entire year. As of this morning we had 118 entrants. Our highwater mark was 137 in 2010. Let’s get 20 more of you procrastinators to lock in today!
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Thanks Jim and please know the entire Northwestern community is with you in support and spirit during this challenging time. For the fans, NU ticket sales are estimated to be at about 6K. That means some 14K of the season ticket holders (at least) have not purchased tickets. If you can’t make it, donate. It’s critical we sellout our allotment for future bowl help.
Support Honor Roll – 59 and counting…
A big shout out to Jim M., Tom and Mark S. for putting some tickets on the donation board and getting us to 59. I will likely be seeing Jim in person next week and want that 100 number. Badly. Let’s keep it rolling.