San Diego Charger punter Darren Bennett keeps a weekly journal
that he posts on the Internet entitled Darren's Excellent
Adventure. That it has certainly been. The Sydney native has
played in professional football leagues on three continents,
amassing a hoard of global adventures to rival those of Candide.
"We're big believers in fate," Bennett says of himself and his
wife of three years, Rosemary. "How else do you explain a
30-year-old rookie in the NFL?"
Begin with a long-kicking contest held for charity at a
Melbourne high school in 1992. Bennett had played the full
forward position in Australian Rules football for a dozen years.
He was good, too; his 87 goal kicks in 1990 for the Melbourne
Demons were the most any Demon had kicked since 1947.
"First prize in the long-kicking contest was two round-trip
airline tickets to Los Angeles," recalls the amiable Aussie, who
booted the "footy" 67 meters (73 yards) to win. "Rosemary and I
decided to travel the West Coast on a belated honeymoon and try
to get an NFL tryout at the same time."
In October '93 the couple arrived in Los Angeles and purchased a
football, two 15-day Amtrak passes and city maps to find places
where Darren could practice his craft during the holiday.
"We'd look for an area on the map that had a lot of green and
then head there to punt," Bennett recalls. "The strategy
backfired once, in L.A. We found ourselves at Forest Lawn."
While in Seattle, they got the call: Marty Hurney, the Chargers'
coordinator of football operations, would grant him a tryout.
Bennett wedged his 6'5", 235-pound frame into an Amtrak seat for
a 36-hour, sleep-deprived journey south. "We arrived at
midnight," Bennett says, "and I was in Jack Murphy Stadium the
Hurney and his T-shirted boss, Bobby Beathard (whom Bennett
mistook for a custodian), were impressed with Bennett's 70-yard
parabolas, if not his American football knowledge. "[Sam Anno's]
snaps kept hitting me in the face," says Bennett.
The Chargers signed Bennett to their 1994 practice squad and
shipped him to Europe last spring to get him some
American-football game experience; he played with the Amsterdam
Admirals of the World League. On occasion the Demon in him
emerged. "We were playing the Scottish Claymores, and a defender
rushed in to block my punt," says Bennett, who, true to his
homeland, went down under. "I lowered my shoulder and nailed the
bloke, then got off the punt."
Bennett has acclimated well to the NFL. He led the AFC in
punting average (47.3 yards) in the preseason and through three
regular-season games was 10th (41.8), with six of his kicks
downed inside the 20. The Aussie Rules habits are still
there--notice Bennett as he walks the Charger sideline, bouncing
the football off the turf as in his native game. But as Charger
kicker John Carney reports, "Darren asks a lot of questions, and
he's a pretty smart guy."
Still, he has much to learn about the NFL. Upon making the
Charger practice squad last year, Bennett requested his old
Aussie Rules number, 19.
"Sorry," said Hurney. "That's Lance Alworth's number."
Replied Bennett, "Who's he?"
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH The Chargers' punter from Down Under got his American football experience in Europe. [Darren Bennett]