SECSports.com contributor and SportsPowerWeekends.com founder/editor Jared Cooper caught up with former Vanderbilt standout and current Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett to discuss his experiences at Vanderbilt and his memories of Vanderbilt Stadium. Bennett was a three-time All-SEC performer (two first-team selections and one second-team selection), and is the SEC career leader in receptions with 236.
Cooper: Earl, what is your most memorable moment at Vanderbilt Stadium?
Bennett: There are a lot of memories. My first touchdown was at South Carolina, but if I had to choose a moment at Vanderbilt Stadium it would probably be – it is hard for me to pick one game – but maybe Ole Miss my freshman year. That was a great game. Also the time that I set the school record for most receiving yard in a game (223 yards) against Richmond my junior year. Those really stick out to me.
Cooper: What was the most hostile road SEC game that you played in?
Bennett: Hands down, Florida.
Cooper: Was it the fans, or walking into the Swamp in particular that made it so hostile?
Bennett: I would say both. Walking into the stadium is intimidating and of course the fans are rowdy. They are loud from the time the game starts until the end.
Cooper: Switching gears a bit, what was your favorite restaurant on campus or in Nashville?
Bennett: I love the Pancake Pantry. I probably used to eat there two or three times a week.
Cooper: What were some of your favorite things to do in Nashville when you weren’t in class or playing football?
Bennett: I really love the park. Centennial Park. That place is nice. I used to go out there when I had family in town or when my wife would come to town we would go there and hang out.
Cooper: There is a pretty impressive collection of Vanderbilt players on the Chicago Bears, including you, Jay Cutler, Chris Williams, D.J. Moore and Hunter Hillenmeyer. Do you ever watch Vanderbilt games on Saturdays or discuss going back for games together?
Bennett: We have been back for a couple of games together: me, Jay and Chris. We were at homecoming last year. We just try to get down there as much as possible.
Cooper: After you play Thursday in Miami against the Dolphins, would you consider going to Nashville on Saturday for the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game?
Bennett: I may actually go down there. I am going to be in Birmingham with my wife; we are expecting our first child so we are having a baby shower down there. We may drive down to Nashville to check out the game.
Cooper: Congratulations. It sounds like a big week for you.
Bennett: (Laughter) Yes. Thank you.
Cooper: Aside from some of your big SEC road games, you also played a game at Michigan as a sophomore. What was your experience in the Big House and how did that compare to an SEC game?
Bennett: Oh man. It was right up there. Just the tradition of the stadium and being able to play there; it was crazy to see the guys run out on the field and jump and hit the banner. All of the traditional things there were doing there; and the stadium is nice. Of course the fans there are rowdy too.
Cooper: You hold a number of SEC receiving records including most receptions in a career with 236. What does it mean to you to be ahead of so many great receivers in the history of the SEC in a number of categories in the record books?
Bennett: It means a lot for me, but most importantly for the organization. For Vanderbilt University. I am blessed to be able to attend a University with such great character. Just to say that a wide receiver at Vanderbilt has the record, that means a lot.
Cooper: Being in Chicago for three years now, what are some of your favorite things about the city?
Bennett: First and foremost, I love the city as a whole. The Bears are great. The city is awesome. My first time flying in was at night and you see whole city and the skyline was beautiful. I like to go to certain restaurants like Joe’s and Ditka’s and eat there.
Cooper: What do the fans and playing at Soldier Field mean to you?
Bennett: They mean a lot. You’re talking about people who show support and are there every game. The fans here are by far the best in the NFL.
Cooper: You have played some big road games in Green Bay, New York, Seattle and Dallas, for instance. Were there any away stadiums that really stood out to you or cities you really liked going to?
Bennett: Seattle, hands down. That place is loud. It was probably the loudest stadium I have ever played in.
Cooper: That is high praise considering some of the stadiums you have played in.
Bennett: Trust me. That place is loud.
Cooper: What was the Toronto experience like; going out of the country to a city and stadium you have never played in before?
Bennett: It was a lot of fun to play internationally and just see how many fans we have internationally. I was surprised that so many people showed up to support us. Hopefully we can play another international game.
Cooper: Looking ahead a bit, and I know you don’t like to do this, but there is potential for a Week 17 matchup in Green Bay that could potentially decide the NFC North. What do you expect the atmosphere to be like at Lambeau Field for that game?
Bennett: It is going to be crazy. I think this game is definitely going to mean a lot, because it is a division game and it is our rivalry game. I know they are going to be pumped up and we’ll be pumped up. We just need to go out there and play to win, most importantly, and get ready for the playoffs.