DOB: 9 January 1965
From: East Fremantle/West Coast, selection #13 1988 National Draft
Number: 19 1989-1993
Games: 74 (78 total)
Goals: 208 (215 total)
Statistical categories led:
Most goals in jumper 19
Picked up by the Eagles for their inaugural season after having played in the WAFL since 1982, Bennett had once kicked 22 goals straight (with one out on the full) in a Reserves game and 10 goals in a senior semi final. Despite playing in West Coast's first VFL match he was delisted after just four games after suffering a serious knee injury.
Desperate for firepower up forward the Demons took a chance on his age and history of multiple knee injuries by using their first draft pick on him. He had been out of the game for the entire 1988 season due to the injury, and Melbourne had run him through a number of medical tests to make sure the knee would stand up. They decided he was and despite a scare early in the season where he missed three games with knee trouble they were rewarded with 208 goals in five seasons.
He showed no-ill effects from his injury in his first season at Melbourne. Despite missing six weeks in the middle of the season with injury he kicked 34 goals in 1989, including five on debut and five on his comeback from injury.
The next year was Bennett's career best. He opened the season with an eight goal haul against North Melbourne, and followed with another eight a week later against Geelong. With 16 goals in two games it looked as if he was on target to be the Demons first ever century goalkicker but despite four more six goal hauls for the year, Bennett fell thirteen short of the ton and 11 behind of Coleman Medal winner John Longmire. Only Norm Smith (89 goals in 1941) and Fred Fanning (87 in 1944 and 97 in 1947) have ever kicked more goals for the Demons in a season.
In contrast Bennett had an up-and-down 1991. The season started disastrously for everyone with the Demons kicking just two goals against West Coast in Perth. After being held goalless Bennett bounced back the next week to kick eight as Fitzroy were massacred by 131 points.
In a first half of the season where Darren Cuthbertson was also starring with the boot, Bennett picked up where he left off in 1990 but the startling arrival of Allen Jakovich on the scene in the second half of the year pushed him out of the frame. After a seven goal haul against Sydney in round 15 he kicked just four more goals in the last eight games of the season, including 1.6 in Round 16 and none in either of Melbourne's finals.
Having suffered a disappointing end to 1991, Bennett was a handy player in a deteriorating team throughout 1992 with 28 goals in 14 games. Opening the next season in round 3, 1993 he suffered a broken arm which kept him out until Round 14 when he would play his last game.
Having previously been courted by American Football teams due to his long kicking abilities, Bennett abandoned his AFL career after being delisted by the Demons and began a successful run as a punter in the NFL.
A successful trial with the San Diego Chargers while in the US on his honeymoon led to a professional contract and he remained with them from 1994 to 2003. In 1996 he was named in the Associated Press All-Star NFL team, played twice in the Pro Bowl and was chosen as punter in the NFL's All 1990's side. He also had a short stint with the Amsterdam Admirals in the second tier NFL Europe competition in 1995.
In 2004 he joined the Minnesota Vikings and played two seasons there before retiring. After his career ended Bennett returned to San Diego, became a US citizen and took up football coaching. In 2012 he was elected by fans into the Chargers Hall of Fame.
His storied career opened the doors for other ex-AFL punters like Ben Graham and Sav Rocca to build lucrative punting careers in the US.
|Round 22, 1992||Charging||Not Guilty|
Most AFL related sources have his birthday as 1 September, but it appears to actually be 9 January.
The Age - 10/11/1988
"Bennett out to make his marks" - The Age 02/12/1988
The Age - 11/04/1989
"Who your AFL club delisted" - The Age 19/10/1993
"Darren Bennett voted in Chargers Hall of Fame" - UT San Diego 24/09/2012