As an Australian rules footballer, he played for East Fremantle in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) between 1982 and 1987 and then in the Australian Football League (AFL) for the West Coast Eagles and the Melbourne Football Club. He was most successful at Melbourne, where he was named as one of the club's 150 Heroes of the last 150 years, kicking 208 goals from just 74 games for the club.
As an American football player, following a three club career in the National Football League he is regarded as one of the greatest players of the 1990s and a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
This combination made him notable as arguably the most successful of the Australian sportsmen linked to professional American Football in history.
Australian rules football career
Bennett grew up in Perth, Western Australia where he began playing Australian rules football, first playing senior football with East Fremantle in the West Australian Football League. His career with the Sharks was severely affected by injuries to his knee, which kept him out for over a season during 1985 and 1986 – in the interim denying him a WAFL premiership. However, training with former star Harry Neesham allowed Bennett to be fit for the 1986 finals, and in the second semi he became the first player ever to score ten goals in a WA(N)FL final.
|Full name||Darren Bennett|
|Date of birth||9 January 1965|
|Place of birth||Sydney|
|Original team(s)||East Fremantle|
|Draft||No. 13, 1988 national draft|
|Height||196 cm (6 ft 5 in)|
|Weight||106 kg (234 lb)|
|1987||West Coast||4 (7)|
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of 1993.
|Sources: AFL Tables, AustralianFootball.com|
As a consequence of his devastating late-1986 form, which included eleven goals in the last round against Claremont as well as his second semi effort, Bennett was recruited to be a member of the West Coast Eagles' inaugural squad in 1987. A serious knee injury curtailed his career with the Eagles after four games. Released by the Eagles, at the end of the 1988 season, he was drafted by the Melbourne Demons with the 13th selection in the 1988 VFL Draft. In both 1989 (34 goals) and 1990 (87 goals) Bennett led the Demons' goal kicking.
Bennett was regarded as one of Melbourne's finest players in the early 1990s. But injuries caught up with him, and he played just two games in 1993. After the season, Bennett quietly retired from the Australian Football League, having totalled 78 games and 215 goals.
|Totals||Averages (per game)|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
He married in 1993 and went on his honeymoon to California, where he contacted the coaching staff of the San Diego Chargers and asked for a tryout. He wound up impressing the Chargers sufficiently that he was placed on the team's practice squad for that season, although he did not play.
During the spring of 1995, the Chargers sent him to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe, where he led the league in net punting average and earned all-league honours. That fall, he became the Chargers' regular punter. In his rookie season, he finished second in the NFL in punting average and made the AFC Pro Bowl team. He went on to establish himself as arguably the best punter in the NFL for the rest of the 1990s. Despite playing in the league for only half of that decade, he was named as the punter on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s.
Bennett was named to another Pro Bowl team in 2000, and continued to be one of the league's leading punters well into the 21st century. Going into the 2004 season, he had averaged 43.8 yards per punt, averaged 27 punts per season inside the 20-yard-line, and had only three blocked punts in his career (one of which happened when the Chargers had only 10 men on the field). As a former Aussie rules player, and considerably larger than most specialist kickers in American football (6'5"/1.96 m, 235 lb/106.5 kg), he did not shy away from physical contact on special teams. This willingness to hit, rare among kickers, was never more evident than when he knocked an opposing punt returner out cold in his rookie season. In 2004, after 144 games for the Chargers, he signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings, where he spent one season until being injured in pre-season and then cut in September 2005. However, he was recalled by the team in December 2005, after starting punter Chris Kluwe (who had replaced him on the Vikings squad) was injured; Bennett was signed to a temporary contract. He played one game before being released by the Vikings, having made what was likely his final NFL appearance after 15 Vikings games and a total of 159 NFL games.
Bennett is also credited for the introduction into the NFL of the "Aussie Rules kick" or "Drop punt" as it is known in Australia. The technique was instrumental in the advancement of Australians into the NFL, and currently half of the punters in the NFL make use of the Aussie Rules punt in pooch-punt situations.
Bennett was named to the San Diego Chargers 50th Anniversary Team in 2009. He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 2012, the first time the Chargers allowed fans to decide the newest member.
Bennett and his wife Rosemary reside in San Diego and became US citizens in 2010. They have two sons, one of whom suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy; Bennett is deeply involved with charities associated with that disease.
Bennett coaches high school kickers and punters in San Diego and mentors High School, NCAA and NFL players.
- NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s – SPECIAL TEAMS/COACHES
- Marsh, David; 'The Hard Work Brings Reward'; The West Australian, 8 September 1986, p. 76
- Atkinson, Graeme and Hanlon, Michael; 3AW Book of Footy Records: All the Great Players, Matches, Goals, Kicks, Brawls and Sensations from More Than 100 Years of Aussie Rules in Australia; p. 138. ISBN 1863210091
- Casellas, Ken; 'Sharks' Trio Wipe '85 Blues'; The West Australian, 25 August 1986, p. 80
- "Darren Bennett". AFL Tables. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
- "Chargers 50th anniversary team". The Press-Enterprise. 17 November 2009. Archived from the original on 26 August 2011.
- Gehlken, Michael (16 July 2012). "Fans to decide next Chargers Hall of Famer". U-T San Diego. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012.
- Gehlken, Michael (24 September 2012). "Darren Bennett voted into Chargers Hall of Fame". U-T San Diego. Archived from the original on 24 October 2012.
- "Duchenne San Diego: Board of Directors". Archived from the original on 31 October 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
- Cagala, Tony. "From a chance tryout to a hall of famer, Bennett never imagined successes". Archived from the original on 31 December 2014. Retrieved 31 December 2014.