New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett fancies himself as a “black unicorn.”
Bennett’s eccentric, eclectic and electric pantheon of off-the-field interests, hobbies and creative outlets is, in a sense, unbelievable.
Trying to log and interpret them all is as fruitful as a blindfolded Pokémon Go search in the local Wal-Mart parking lot.
Containing Bennett and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski in Bill Belichick’s fabled dual tight-end set may, too, seem like chasing unicorns for opposing defenses and coordinators.
That task leers toward the impossible stage after Tom Brady returns from his four-game Deflategate suspension Oct. 9.
Perhaps the largest subdivision occupying Bennett’s mind and non-football personality is an interactive children’s app called “Hey, A.J.” inspired by his daughter Austin Jett Rose. It is intellectually powered by Bennett and a group he created in 2014 called The Imagination Agency. A related “Hey A.J. It’s Saturday” book was not written by Bennett, it was “Created By Marty.”
“I’m the creative director of awesomeness,” Bennett told Forbes’ Madeline Berg in June.
Bennett’s bio on the “Hey A.J.” site includes a wondrous mixture of fact and fantasy.
“Martellus aka The Black Unicorn is a BIG dreamer. … He’s usually a bit overwhelmed by all of the creatures bouncing around knocking things over in his head and in his house, but that’s nothing a creative ninja can’t handle. Marty received his PhD in awesomeness from the highly prestigious Orange Dinosaur University where his focus was coloring outside of the lines and making stuff with his creative and funny bones.”
Bennett played college football for Texas A&M and with the Cowboys, Giants and Bears in the NFL before coming to New England.
The litany of subdivisions under construction occupying Bennett’s mind are as endless and imaginatively deep as Belichick’s offensive playbook.
Bennett is a self-labeled “visionary architect” on LinkedIn.
He’s cut multiple rap mix tapes with his NFL-playing brother Michael, which even Martellus admits now sounded “bad” back in the day. The 29-year-old, 6-foot 6, 275-pound Bennett also paints, carries multiple notebooks full of artwork and stories when he’s not playing or practicing and is the owner, curator and creator of Dinosaur Land amusement park (scheduled to open sometime, someday, near you).
His creative team combined with Powerhouse Animation to produce a 28-minute cartoon in 2015 called “ZOOVIE: A Warm And Fuzzy Tale” featuring a pregnant penguin named Cosmo.
Bennett said his goal was to be a “dandelion” at his Patriots introductory press conference. And he may be the first and last NFL player to cite both Terrell Owens and Willy Wonka as key factors in his personal development. His other idols include Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.
“A lot of it comes from Willy Wonka and Tim Burton. You see Terrell Owens and those guys growing up, and you want to play like them,” Marty said (via Patriots.com) in June. “Watching ‘Edward Scissorhands’ or ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ or ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ all of these movies inspired me from childhood. … Tim Burton was my Michael Jordan.”
It’s unlikely Rob Gronkowski’s version of “Fantasy Land” includes animated characters, dinosaurs and purple animals. And if it does, it isn’t suitable for children.
It’s not all fun and make-believe. In July, Bennett reacted to the police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana with a letter on Instagram that began with “Dear Black Boy.”
Bennett’s wife, Siggi, ties it all back to football.
“The thing about Marty is that if he doesn’t have a creative outlet, it kind of hinders everything else,” she told Masslive.com’s Kevin Duffy in July.
That’s where all the art work, all of A.J.s adventures, all those real and imagined dinosaurs disappear.
Bennett, in name anyway, is the latest replacement for Aaron Hernandez in an offense that Belichick developed to best utilize Brady’s strengths.
Hernandez was the “U” (moving tight end) to Gronk’s “Y” (set tight end) before his career ended with an arrest and conviction for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.
This is where Bennett’s (he’s also a “Y”) presence in New England matters most for the Patriots and their ever-defiant and tempestuous fan base.
Until he catches his first regular-season pass – most likely early in the Patriots season-opener at Arizona on Sept. 11 as Jimmy Garoppolo is being swatted by Chandler Jones – Bennett remains another name on a list of would-be Hernandez replacements.
That list is impressive in terms of length, if not talent. It includes Scott Chandler, Tim Wright, Fred Davis, Zach Sudfeld, Jake Ballard, Visanthe Shiancoe, Kellen Winslow II, Matthew Mulligan, Daniel Fells, Michael and D.J. Williams (no relation), Michael Hoomanawanui, Asante Cleveland and Steve Maneri.
They were a mix of “Ys” and “Us” that left frustrated Patriots partisans often yelling “FU” at their video screens and Fantasy League rosters.
Bennett has already made a huge difference when it comes to post-game quotes.
“I’m a Bruce Wayne fan. He doesn’t have to save the world. He’s this good looking guy who wears great suits and has nice cars. He wakes up in the middle of the night and is like, ‘you know what? I’m going to save Gotham. My city is not doing well. I don’t have to save it. I have all this money I could move somewhere else. But you know what? I’m Bruce Wayne. I’m going to do something about it.’ …
“That’s Bruce Wayne. I love Bruce Wayne. I don’t like Peter Parker. Aqua man is the next terrible guy because he can’t save you if you’re not drowning. It’s like, ‘I’m on land Aquaman. There’s not too many things I’m going to be at sea that I’ll need your help today, but I’m on land and here you are. Dolphins can’t come with me.’ I don’t know.”
You’re up, Gronk.
“Yo Soy Fiesta!” may not cut it anymore.
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist who grew up in the Bay State and has been watching the Patriots since 1970. He wrote the ‘Obnoxious Boston Fan’ column for Boston.com from 2011-15. He Tweets at @RealOBF and @BillSperos.