Bennie Blades, one of the best safeties in Detroit Lions history, and a College Hall Of Famer, was a former NFL player for ten years, his first nine with the Lions. The hard hitting safety was drafted third overall in 1988 after being a standout at the University of Miami, where he won the Jim Thorpe award. In his rookie season with the Lions he earned all rookie honors, and then in 1991 was elected to the Pro Bowl. He helped lead the Lions to an NFC Championship in 1991 and then was the Lions 1992 defensive MVP. His 815 tackles as a Lion are the second most in team history.
Do any NFL games that you played in really stand out to you?
Besides the Milwaukee game, I have always had tremendous games playing against the Chicago Bears. One of the best compliments I have ever gotten as a professional was my rookie year when Walter Payton, after I had made a hit by the sideline, said “You’re gonna be a heck of a player.”
Who was more important to their teams: Barry Sanders in the 1990’s or Calvin Johnson to today’s Lions?
Barry Sanders by far. I’m not taking anything away from Megatron and what he’s accomplished, but the thing is we had Herman Moore, Johnny Morton, Brett Brett Perriman, and all those guys; a three headed monster. But you take Herman Moore out of that equation the ball skill continues, but you take Barry Sanders out of that equation, what do you have? No matter how good Calvin Johnson is, you have Golden Tate, who has played superb this year. He may not be a Calvin Johnson right now, but he can shoulder the load as far as receiving the ball.
How did Mike Utley’s injury that him left him paralyzed affect the team?
He got paralyzed on the most freakish play I’ve seen in a long time. It was just a regular pass blocking play and he went down like a ton of bricks. But the thing that Mike did was inspirational our team. To know Mike was to know his demeanor in life. He didn’t let getting paralyzed get him down. You see Mike now, he skydives, he does anything he wants to do. He energized our whole team.
On November 6, 1994, in Milwaukee County Stadium against the Packers, you were forced to play Linebacker even though you came into the game injured, but you ended up having a great game. Had you ever played LB before?
No, I had never played linebacker before. But I took whatever it took for our team to be successful and that’s what it’s all about. You have to in a team sport, do whatever it takes to be successful. Whether for me, playing linebacker that game or playing as a pass rusher I was just willing to do whatever to help the team. I sacrificed for it also. Both my shoulders were banged up, both ankles were banged up also. But the thing is, you only play the game of football once at the highest level so I was willing to do whatever it took to help my team.
Do you think all your big hits and tackles would be legal in today’s NFL?
No, not at all. Today’s game is watered down, people are now playing the game cautiously, and when you play like that you end up hurting yourself. So I understand taking away the targeting of players, but when it’s a regular routine hit and you have helmet to helmet contact, c’mon that’s part of the game. Those things are going to happen. So if I was playing I probably would have had to take a day off and talk to Mr. Goodell about my hits.
You were playing for the Lions the last time they beat the Packers at their stadium. Would you ever have imagined that it would be the last time they won there?
I look at the streak right now, and I say to myself “Wow, I cannot believe the last time they beat the Packers was when I was playing.“ There two things I look at: either we were really good when we beat them or this team just hasn’t mastered something playing in Green Bay.
Have you had any negative health issues from your days in the NFL?
Oh yeah. There are days where my back will go out, where my ankles hurt really bad, where my knees hurt. I was forced to retire because of my injured back. I’m not looking forward down the road.
Greatest NFL Memory?
The 1991 season. We were one game away from the Superbowl.
Do the Lions have what it takes to make a deep run in the playoffs this year?
When you have a team that’s built like the Lions, everything is predicated on guys staying healthy on the defensive and offensive fronts. Right now it’s gonna be hard to tell. Nick Fairley is banged up right now. Ndamukong Suh is not playing the most dominate football I have seen him in the past two or three years. We’re not healthy on the offensive line, we lost our best guard Larry Warford. So it’s going to be tough. You can have the best skilled personnel, but if you don’t have guys getting it done on the front on a consistent basis its gonna be tough. If you watch the teams that make a run in playoffs, those teams most physicist up front.
Best defensive player on the Lions today?
Ndamukong Suh by far. He always gets double teamed, and when he is single blocked he creates havoc in the backfield. So you always need another good defensive lineman to take pressure of Suh.