By Earl Bennett
In 2008, watching the Cowboys on Hard Knocks was fun and intriguing. For me as a backup return specialist, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Adam “Pacman” Jones field punts. Most around the league watched him catch multiple punts in practice without putting a ball down and thought that was a tough, yet fun challenge to try. Dave Toub, then Chicago Bears Special Teams Coach and now Kansas City Chiefs Special Teams Coach, thought it would be a good idea if we tried to catch more than Pacman did.
Catching punts to me is like fielding a pop fly. You align your body with the ball and catch it. Simple right? Yea, until you factor in the wind, height and movement of the ball. A few days from the beginning of the 2012 season and Coach Toub asked Devin and myself to try and catch as many balls without putting one down.
This challenge is difficult because you catch a ball and find a place on your body to keep it. Armpits, legs, hand, wherever you can to catch the next incoming ball. Watching Hard Knocks, I thought it was cool so of course I tried my best Pacman impersonation. Mind you, this was not the players doing, it was advised by the coaches. KIDS DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!
I fielded the first punt. Caught it and placed it under my left armpit. The second one came, I caught it and put it in my right armpit. Third on one on the way, I caught it and held it in my right hand. Fourth one, I caught it and placed it under my left hand. The fifth was caught and placed in my chest area. We are now ready to tie Pacman for catching 6 punts without dropping a ball. I am stoked. I now have the attention of most guys at practice. The next punt was incoming.
One thing about catching punts in Chicago is the wind. If you do not assess it correctly, you’re doomed. As the sixth punt was coming, I saw the nose pointed down which meant it would be short and I needed to take a few steps forward to catch it. Mind you, I had six footballs on me and I needed to catch this punt with my left hand. As I approached to catch the ball, it tailed even more and I tried to move up more to snag it. It hit my left index and middle finger. Immediately, I drop all the balls and grasp my left hand.
I take off my glove and see the swelling ensue. This is not good. Two days before the first game of the season and I am sure something is not right. Coach Lovie Smith hears about the injury and is not pleased. Both Devin and I stated it was not our idea and we were not joking around, but were simply doing as Coach Toub asked. I had an X-Ray and it shows that I fractured my hand and was not questionable for the game.
We soft cast it and I played the first game against the Colts. I would have three catches for 50 yards as we won in a blowout fashion. The injury would get worse and I missed games 4 (Dallas) and 5 (Jacksonville). A well-learned lesson from this was to avoid attempting what you see on television even if you are a professional. Some things are better off watching than trying. I was being a coachable athlete, but looking back there are not perks being able to catch multiple punts when in the game, there is only one ball to field.