INDIANAPOLIS – Fan favorites in professional sports evolve in different ways. Some players achieve that status with wondrous talent, others through grit, determination and heart. While some players create personas, others quietly go about their jobs.
Former Colts running back Albert Bentley had that talent. Bentley also displayed wondrous grit determination and heart throughout his seven-year career with the Colts.
He went about it in a quiet, reserved manner. He was a pro's pro.
Bentley joined the Colts prior to the 1985 season in the USFL Supplemental Draft, where he played for two seasons after his years as a Miami Hurricane standout.
As a rookie, Bentley helped Indianapolis achieve the league's first seasonal 5.0 team rushing average in a decade by averaging 5.3 yards on 54 attempts. He caught 11 passes and held a 25.0 kickoff return average in the first of many solid seasons with the club. Bentley totaled 1,047 all-purpose yards in 1985, the first of six consecutive seasons topping 1,000 yards in the category. He eventually led the team in all-purpose yards annually from 1986-90.
At 5-11, 217 pounds, Bentley was a physical package that could do it all. For his career, he had 526 rushes for 2,355 yards and 19 touchdowns, along with 226 receptions for 2,245 yards and eight scores. He had 149 kickoff returns for a 21.4 average.
He participated to the fullest in every way asked by his coaches. Bentley was there for teammates at all times. Doing whatever is asked is one way to be labeled a team player. Bentley was weaned on that approach growing up in Florida.
"I have to say it starts at home," said Bentley. "With seven brothers and four sisters, you learn 'team' real quick (laughing). Growing up with that many kids, having each others back, we moved a few times and were the new kids in town, and we kind of had to stick together and have each others back for different reasons. I think I learned it more so from home, the whole team concept."
Observers might be curious about the size of his career numbers, but it should be noted the circumstances he faced.
Bentley joined a team with backfield veterans in Curtis Dickey and Randy McMillan, and George Wonsley was another young back in the stable in 1985. Bentley's role increased in his second season, but he continued to labor behind McMillan, a 16-game starter. Still, he had a 4.8 rushing average and three touchdowns, along with 25 receptions and nearly 700 kickoff return yards. His hallmark game came in the finale at Oakland, when he rushed for 162 yards and a career-long 70-yard scoring burst.
Bentley was set to be the featured back in 1987 under new Head Coach Ron Meyer and after McMillan was injured in a car accident prior to the season. He carried the ball 25, 22 and 16 times in his first three games, then the club acquired Eric Dickerson in a three-team trade in late October. Bentley started in Dickerson's first game with the Colts, and he rushed 29 times for 145 yards.
His role in the backfield, however, was altered by the future Hall-of-Famer's arrival.
Bentley would start no more games in 1987. He opened two contests in 1988, then the team deployed predominantly a two-back attack in 1989 and 1990. Bentley started eight and 15 outings in those respective seasons, but he never matched the 142 seasonal rushing attempts he had in 1987.
Bentley always worked hard in his approach, never bringing himself attention other than by on-field success. His weekly preparations varied and indicated his selfless nature.
"I think I was a hard-nosed player. I tried to 'bring it' so to speak, but I also feel I was a smart player," said Bentley. "I watched film and I looked for weaknesses in opponents. On game day, the goal was just to try and exploit their weaknesses. I was a team player wherever I needed to be to support the team. I know weeks where I was looking to go out of the backfield and catch the ball more, I could lose 10 pounds. If there was a week where I was going to need to be more of a fullback, a blocking back, I could gain 10 pounds. I tried to do whatever it took to support the team."
The last two full seasons of Bentley's career, 1989 and 1990, brought well-earned results of his dedication. Bentley's carries increased a bit as the team returned more to a two-back attack. What really flourished were his receiving totals.
Always a reliable target in the passing game, Bentley had 52 receptions for 525 yards and three touchdowns in 1989. He had 71 receptions for 664 yards and two scores in 1990. His career-long scoring reception was a 72-yarder in 1987, but he had season-long receptions of 61 and 73 yards in 1989 and 1990.
It was in 1989 and 1990 the Colts first had a seasonal trio of 50 receivers. Bentley joined wide receivers Bill Brooks and Andre Rison in 1989, and he joined Brooks and wide receiver Jessie Hester to form the 1990 trio. Bentley's 71 receptions that year topped the team. He became just fifth Colts back to lead the team in seasonal receptions, and only Marshall Faulk has done it since. In all, Bentley had receptions in 74 of 88 career games with the Colts.
"It felt good. I still really didn't look at myself as a receiver. I looked at myself as a running back, even though I was catching all those passes," said Bentley. "A lot of them were shorter-version passes where you were expected to get 10, 15 yards. But it was good so far as my confidence in the fact that the coaching staff felt like I needed to be on the field, and that it would be a benefit to the team to have both Eric and I on the field at the same time. Even with that, we would have plays where I would be running the ball and the decoy would be for me running out of the backfield and catch a pass. I definitely enjoyed those seasons a lot better. The 1988 season was a little disappointing for me but really after that, 1989 and 1990 were two fun seasons. I just wish we could have done more as a team."
Bentley was prepping for the 1991 season with the aim to continue a successful career when injury interrupted the plans. A shoulder injury at Philadelphia in the final preseason game caused him to miss the first game of the season. Bentley pushed to play in the second game, a divisional affair at Miami. He returned, but suffered a knee injury on a pass play. Bentley's season was over and the injury was severe enough to keep him on injured reserve the rest of the year. He was released by the club the following year, and his impressive tenure as a Colt was over. Bentley had a two-game stint with Pittsburgh in 1992 before calling it a career.
Bentley lives in Naples, Florida these days, occasionally visiting Indiana. He remains proud of his career and is passionate in following the Colts. As an extended member of the Colts family, he lists the club's victory in the AFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl XLI as one of his proudest moments. In the second part of the series, Bentley's remembers his career further, and former teammates recall him.