Darren Bennett’s unlikely NFL success story reached new heights earlier this season when he was officially named the 36th player to be inducted into the Chargers’ Hall of Fame. It’s been quite a journey for the former Australian League Football player, who tried out for the Chargers on a whim while on his honeymoon and entered the league as a 29-year old practice squad player.
“I never could have imagined something like this when I first started,” Bennett said following the press conference. “To be honest, I thought I’d get maybe a t-shirt and get to meet a couple of NFL guys in the locker room. I never thought I’d get to punt in a game. So to do this and be recognized is something a punter never usually gets, so I’m honored.”
For the first time in team history, the Chargers gave fans the opportunity to elect the newest member of the team’s Hall of Fame, and Bennett was nominated alongside wide receiver Anthony Miller and running back Natrone Means. Nearly 25,000 votes were cast, and in the end, Bennett was the clear winner with 51% of the vote.
“We had three very deserving candidates, and in my mind any one of the three would have been a very suitable selection,” said Chargers Executive Vice President – CEO A.G. Spanos. “In my mind, (the fans) made an excellent choice…In ten seasons in San Diego (Bennett) set most of the Chargers punting records, was selected to the Chargers 40th and 50th anniversary teams, and was also selected to the all-decade team of the 90’s. He had one of the most powerful legs in the NFL, and is also known as the person who invented the backspin kick that is still used by many of the punter s in the NFL today.”
A revolutionary of the game, Bennett was extremely humbled by the honor bestowed upon him.
“To hear A.G. introduce me as the 36th member of the team is a surreal experience,” he said. “I’m very humbled to be even asked and nominated with Anthony and Natrone. They are two iconic players to play with the Chargers….I’ve tried to repay the people of San Diego, the Chargers and the Spanos family for taking a chance on me. I didn’t realize at the time what a quantum leap of faith it was to allow someone who never played American football to play.”
Joining Bennett on his special day were three of his closest teammates, long snapper Dave Binn and kicker John Carney, as well as his heir to the position,
“Honestly, I talk about a family and we believe that,” he said. “It’s not just one person; it’s a whole team. Dave snapped every snap to me my whole career. He’s as much a part of this as me. And John was my mentor. My mental approach came from him, and hopefully we passed that along to Mike and to Nate (Kaeding). It’s a big family so it’s a real privilege to have these guys here with me.”
Scifres recently reached a milestone of his own, booting his 500th career punt this past Sunday. But if you ask him, he’ll be the first to tell you that probably wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t get to spend his first year in the league alongside Bennett, soaking up all the information he had to offer.
“I really might not be in the NFL without him,” he said. “For kickers, it’s hard to catch on and be a consistent rookie. Without the year to sit with him and learn the ins and outs of the game I don’t know where I’d be. He taught me things about my game I had yet to find. Without that year, I don’t know where I’m at. But I know that it’s because of that year that I’m here today.”
Fittingly, Scifres was ecstatic when he learned that Bennett was elected by the fans to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I was really excited, he said. “Darren is well deserving, as all three are, but it’s a testament to the man he is and the player he was. It also shows what he means to this community beyond just the team. He’s the right player for this honor, and I’m just privileged to have played with him and see him at work.”
Bennett’s induction into the Hall of Fame will take place in a halftime ceremony during the Chargers’ November 25th game against the Baltimore Ravens.