Manure is splattered on his right elbow and on his shorts, and it’s sticking underneath those kicks that weren’t expecting to slosh around a farm quite this much.
Oh, Martellus Bennett is cool with visiting Liberty Vall Dairy, a family farm 45 minutes south of Green Bay. But he isn’t too thrilled about the idea of actually milking the cows. Once the Mancheski family and a B/R Mag video crew guides him into the milking parlor, however, everything changes:
He loves it.
He crouches low, pinches udders, pumps milk and—moments later—freaks out when one cow leaps atop another to, uh, ya know.
“He’s mounting!” yells Bennett, nearly fumbling his cellphone. “That’s some Discovery Channel shit! Once in a lifetime. You get back up there on that thing and you go again. Let’s go!”
This bright April day, the new Packers tight end lets B/R Mag take him on a Tour de Wisconsin. So bring on a farm, a brewery, a whole lotta cow dung. Standing in front of a tractor afterward, the self-proclaimed Black Unicorn decides that, yes, he’ll start up his own farm.
For unicorns, of course.
“I’d probably feed them rainbows and cupcakes,” he says.
No, there isn’t a player quite like this lightning bolt of personality. He refuses to be another lemming. As Bennett explains, anyone who puts on a helmet—from peewee to high school to college to the pros—is drilled to stay in line, march on, show no emotion. Mindless drones are embraced, thus killing anyone’s inner unicorn.
Seriously—the NFL is now developing instructional videos on how to celebrate touchdowns.
“You forget how to be an individual on a team,” Bennett says. “I think you can express yourself as an individual and still be part of a team.
“You don’t have to fit in.”
Right here is proof that the tide can turn. Right here is rappin’, cartoonin’, cow-milkin’ hope that players can be free spirits in a league so quick to suppress them. After toeing the party line for the first half of his career, Bennett blossomed into a symbol of individualism who thinks and acts however he wants without harming a soul.
In 2017, he’s now dropped into the Dairy State. Excel here, his way, and maybe Bennett can Make Football Fun Again. Forever. He’s determined to leave that legacy.
So, about that end-zone how-to from the league: “The celebration video is shit,” Bennett says. “To tell a guy that they can’t celebrate when they do something so good—it’s crazy. It’s like saying, ‘Wait a year for your birthday but don’t have a party.’”
About his ultimate dinner party: Bennett would dine with Jesus Christ, Scooby-Doo, Scrappy-Doo and another version of himself because, hey, he's a self-described mashup of Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, Diddy and Jay Z.
“I feel like I’m one of a kind,” Bennett says. “That’s why I’m the Black Unicorn. There’s only one. Although 2 Chainz tried to steal that from me. I heard that, 2 Chainz.”
Any beef with a rapper can wait. Bennett first must free a bird trapped in the tractor behind him. He grips the door handle, turns toward the Mancheski family and dramatically builds up the moment.
“This is what we can try to do for our people! Let us free. Let us be us. Here we go. Fly bird!”
Only…it doesn’t. The bird instead bashes its head against the other three sides repeatedly. There's no door on the opposite side.
“C’mon! You can do it!” Bennett yells. “He’s going to break his neck! … Tweet, tweet! Tweet, tweet! Tweet, tweet! Tweet, tweet! Tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet!”
Finally, the bird shoots out and flies high into the sky, out of sight.
“Y’all didn’t know I speak bird!” Bennett says. “That’s the bird call! Caw-caw!”
Here’s the problem: Bennett knows other players in the NFL feel exactly like that bird, like they’re bashing their own heads against a wall.
It’s his mission to set them free, too.
The human lightning bolt strikes at noon, on a Tuesday, right across the street from Lambeau Field.
Traveling from his hotel to the stadium to his home in Chicago through offseason workouts, Bennett hasn’t been out in the Green Bay community yet. But the moment he steps into Hinterland Brewery for a personal tour from owner Bill Tressler, he’s a rock star. Heads turn. He’s loud. He’s unpredictable. He’s in the kitchen with a plate in each hand.
Bennett will deliver these garlic fries and edamame hummus to that table for six, thank you very much.
A waitress cautions him to be careful.
“I don’t drop anything!” Bennett says. “Do you know how good these hands are, girl?”
Bennett successfully delivers the food and—why not?—plops right into the booth. The first topic: movies. A man to Bennett’s left says he just watched The Fate of the Furious with his son, to which, Bennett asks, “How much shit can Vin Diesel do?!” Everyone laughs, and he then informs them his favorite superhero is Batman.
“He’s most like me,” Bennett says. “He doesn’t have any superpowers. He doesn’t do anything. But he’s this rich, fabulous, good-looking man. He doesn’t have to save the city but decides shit is going on, so I’m going to do something about it.”
When one woman asks how Bennett is adjusting to Green Bay, he calls himself a chameleon who can get along with anyone.
“If I don’t like you,” Bennett says, “something’s probably wrong with you. I am who I am.”
Bennett gets up, takes another table’s order and then follows Tressler upstairs, then downstairs into the brew room to see how the magic’s made. As Tressler details the process, Bennett quips that he expects to see Jason Statham somewhere behind these massive tanks and then pretends to fire a gun back at the actor. He also has a confession. The sweet smell of fermentation filling the air, Bennett reveals he doesn’t drink beer. Blasphemy, yes, he knows. He only knows the taste of it from Rob Gronkowski spilling a can all over his head during the Super Bowl parade.
Near the beer tanks, he spots a bike, takes it for a spin and asks for a Sharpie to draw three goblin-like creatures on the bike’s basket.
“Don’t get high on your own supply!” he yells to the beer-maker in a Carhartt beanie.
Back in the restaurant, he’s approached by fan after fan, man after woman, woman after man for photos, conversation and, yes, to hold a baby.
Bennett rocks Delaney back and forth and kisses her on the forehead.
“I feel like Obama!”
Looking down at her, smiling, he says aloud what he thinks is running through Delaney’s head—Who’s that big, black guy, Mommy?!—and starts talking to the mother as if they’ve known each other for years. Bennett assures her that you’re not really a parent until your little one starts walking and you’re constantly in “Shit, where is she?” mode.
And, oh boy, just wait until your child repeats everything you say.
Bennett’s three-year-old says everything he does.
“My daughter will be like ‘Shit!’ and it’s kind of funny,” Bennett says with a laugh. “She runs around saying ‘Sit your ass down’ to everybody!’”
These two couldn’t look any different, couldn’t come from different backgrounds, but could chat here for hours.
That’s Bennett’s gift. He adapts.
The reason? He’s himself.
No, no, no, I can’t sit at this chair. Not a chance. Bennett makes it clear that he needs to sit on this side of the table at the brewery—no questions asked—because he needs to face the entrance.
If danger strikes, he wants to be ready.
Chalk it up as one of many idiosyncrasies the Packers are learning themselves.
On a drive to Milwaukee for Game 3 of the Bucks/Raptors first-round NBA playoff series, Aaron Rodgers saw the Black Unicorn maniacally scribbling into a notebook, asked what he was writing, and Bennett read it aloud. This particular story was about being born in a pile of unfortunate fortune cookies before growing up on the black side of Chinatown.
“I started reading it to Aaron,” Bennett says, “and he’s like, ‘What the fuck? How do you come up with this shit?’”
Bennett was “speed writing,” a go-to brain exercise he rips through three to four times per week.
Trying to understand how Bennett’s brain works is something like squinting at a collage of math formulas on a whiteboard. His attention flickers 360 degrees. One table away, Bennett sees a woman clutching a pack of Marlboros and shouts to her, “Don’t smoke those!” To his right, behind the bar, he’s interrupted by highlights of Alabama tight end O.J. Howard and isn’t impressed. All Bennett sees are busted coverages.
Then, he lets you into his psyche.
Bennett was not always this way. Certainly not those first four seasons in Dallas. Back then, he was in an alternative hip-hop band, painted and was the same Marty B…but only at home. Only in spurts. At the facility, he felt muzzled. Incomplete. Bennett even created his own character—“McGuire”—who wore different costumes to represent the different versions of himself. In public, he then masqueraded behind those 20-plus “masks.”
Finally, on to the New York Giants in 2012, Bennett shed them all. He settled into one character, the “orange dinosaur,” because he believes a dinosaur is the oldest version of yourself.
Bennett knows such liberation is rare.
“People do it every day,” Bennett says. “Everybody in America wears masks. We act a certain way around different people. There’s usually a disconnect in people because they only show you what they want you to see. Usually they show what they think is the best thing you would like.”
All progress toward such freedom should’ve been blown to bits under Belichick, the laughably robotic living legend who mainstreamed conformity. “Do your job!” is a lifeform in Foxborough, Massachusetts, one that’s produced five Super Bowl wins.
Yet Bennett never felt suffocated. He knows teammates viewed him as an oddball—how many NFL players are inviting you to Comic-Con or breaking down interior design with your wife? But punctuality never was a problem, and, he insists, everyone loved his spark.
Making football fun means releasing a kaleidoscope of emotions.
“I just try to create an environment,” Bennett says, “where we kick ass but we laugh after we do it. Like ‘Ha ha ha, motherfucker! … People can say what they want to say about me, but if I was a terrible, horrible person, I wouldn’t be in the NFL for 10 years. People say all kinds of crazy shit to me. Twitter. In the media. People think I’m a bad teammate, but I’ve never been a bad teammate.
“Could I be an asshole sometimes because I want to win? Hell yeah. But you need that.”
That is how a team climbs out of a 28-3 Super Bowl hole. Not once was Bennett resigned to losing that night in Houston because the entire team possessed his same swagger.
“Sometimes, you have to be like, ‘Look motherfucker! I’m here to win! When I play, I take it personal,” Bennett says. “I’m playing for your family. If my running back is running behind me and I miss my block and get him hurt or I’m not doing my job, I’m basically saying, ‘Fuck you!’ If you’re coming to work with the attitude that you don’t give a shit if we win or not? This is our livelihood. It’s a brotherhood. We have to do our job for each other.”
While Bennett may leave Rodgers and many of Bennett’s 293,000 Twitter followers shaking their heads, quarterback and tight end do share this same delirious, yet contagious, drive.
He realized that immediately.
He also knew what other teams really wanted when they asked his agent during free agency, “What’s he like as a person?” Those teams wanted to control him. Shut him up. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy never addressed Bennett that way. So never mind that McCarthy used to scold and fans used to rip Bennett’s former AAU basketball pal Jermichael Finley. During one stretch of relentless criticism, a frustrated Finley even referred to fans as “drinking Miller Lite, stuffing their mouth with cheese curds.”
If any cheeseheads start piling on, Bennett will deal with it his way.
“I don’t give a shit. I don’t care,” Bennett says. “Why would I be something somebody else wants me to be? For their own liking? Most times, when people try to group you into a category, it’s so they can understand you. But I’m not trying to be understood. I am what I am.”
No wonder droves of players tell Bennett after games that they feel suppressed. Every time, he encourages them to speak out.
“The biggest way people give up their power,” Bennett says, “is thinking they don’t have power.”
So he’ll drop a rap album...write children’s books…tweet about building playgrounds all over the globe…build his “Imagination Agency” empire…and announce on social media that he’s giving out free hugs and high-fives in Green Bay.
Bennett scoffs at the suggestion that cultures could clash, too. The fact that Bennett told the world during Super Bowl week he wouldn’t go to the White House if the Patriots won was never an issue internally because he never debated politics with the likes of Tom Brady. The two talked architecture. No, Bennett didn’t text his quarterback clips of Donald Trump. Yes, he did text Brady a book about raising young goats and asked if this was the manual his parents used.
Hell no, Bennett isn’t worried about living in a state that voted for a president he dislikes.
And when told that “fun” in Green Bay can mean attending the annual sweat sale at Shopko Hall (get a random McNeese State hoodie for $8!), Bennett beams that he’ll add his own merch to sell.
His end goal? For kids to view players as more than cogs in a machine. Too often, to him, kids view a ball as the only way to escape poverty.
“Kids think about playing for a team,” Bennett says, “but they never think about owning a team. Those are two different philosophies. How many teams are owned by black owners? Is there one in the NFL? So if you can’t see an example or see a sight, how can you get there? You could be the first. But to be the first you have to have multiple people trying.”
OK, enough of this serious side. Bennett tells our waitress he used to body slam cows as a kid.
“Pick up a cow and slam it,” he says. “I slammed my first cow at 15.”
He’s joking. Probably. We think. The line between fantasy and reality tends to blur with Bennett, and that’s the point. He’s weird, embraces that weirdness, and everyone seems to like it.
The Packers. The locals. The cows.
So far, anyway.
His hope is for kids, adults, everyone in life to remove all masks and experience the same bliss. Because bliss is making what should be uncomfortably crude at the farm perfectly comfortable. When he compares wiping down udders to poles at a strip club, nobody groans. The Mancheskis laugh.
Bliss is promising tickets to the entire Mancheski family and taking selfies for 15 minutes.
Bliss is squawking back at birds on the farm and shouting, “I’m like Denzel in Training Day? I’ll have all of y’all locked down in Pelican Bay!”
Bliss is Bennett setting that bird in the tractor free.
And bliss is not giving a damn that his fly “MARTY” hoodie is now stained with manure.
Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.