Chris Darkins isn’t a name that springs to mind when recalling the Packers’ championship season of 1996. He had just four rushes for 3 yards and caught two passes for 12 yards in the team’s 24-7 victory over the New England Patriots. That would be the preseason victory over New England on Aug. 2, their first game of the summer. Unfortunately for Darkins, he dislocated his shoulder that night and would spend the rest of the year on injured reserve, missing, among other things, the 35-21 Super Bowl XXXI victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI six months later.
A rookie, third-string running back out of the University of Minnesota, Darkins was an accomplished runner on the college gridiron and the track — he was the Big Ten Indoor 55-meter champion that year — and was hoping to complement a Packers backfield led by Edgar Bennett at running back, William Henderson at fullback and featuring Dorsey Levens and Travis Jervey.
I was in the Packers’ “War Room” back in 1996 when Ron Wolf and his staff zeroed in on Darkins in the fourth round. Before ESPN cameras in team’s draft headquarters were the norm and years before the NFL Network even existed, I was given a rare pass into the inner sanctum, thanks to the late, great Packers Public Relations Director Lee Remmel, who made a point of reminding me not to talk or ask questions while I was there. Armed with a notebook and pen, I scrawled every detail I could to describe the scene. PackerReport.com has published the original print edition story here.
Darkins returned the following year and joined a backfield that lost Bennett to a torn Achilles tendon in the preseason, but saw Levens emerge with a 1,435 rushing yards, 370 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns as Green Bay won the NFC again. Quarterback Brett Favre was the team’s second-leading rusher with 187 yards, followed by running back Aaron Hayden (formerly of the San Diego Chargers) with 148 and fullback William Henderson with 113. Though Darkins had a decent preseason with 197 yards on 32 carries, including an eight-carry, 112-yard, one-touchdown outing in a 37-24 win at Oakland, he’d play in 14 games without a touch from scrimmage.
On special teams, however, Darkins athleticism shone and he finished third on the team with 13 tackles, and had four kick returns for 68 yards, including a long of 20. He was a special-teams captain for the 1997 NFC Championship Game, a 23-10 victory over San Francisco that sent the Packers to Super Bowl XXXII. While many fans were calling that conference championship the “real Super Bowl,” Green Bay would go on to lose that game, 31-24, to John Elway and the Denver Broncos, despite being heavy favorites.
The following May, the team asked Darkins — third on the depth chart behind the All-Pro Levens and Hayden — to make the switch to cornerback. A position switch from corner to safety or offensive tackle to guard is one thing. Switching to the other side of the ball is quite another, and even with the most athletic of players, it rarely works out. Two days after a season-opening win over Detroit in which Darkins was ruled out with a knee injury, he was released to make room for the team to promote fullback Michael Blair from the practice squad. That was the end of Darkins’ NFL career.
In 2006, Darkins was interviewed by Packers.com for a story about players from that 1996 team who hadn’t been able to play in the Super Bowl. Darkins, a married, father of two, was living in his native Houston and had developed an exchange service for used vehicles.
"I can tell you it would have been a lot of tougher if we weren't winning," Darkins told Packers.com. "But when you're winning, you're just kind of caught up in all the excitement of all the other guys. It was kind of like you know that the team is taken care of, where your contribution might be appreciated but it's not an absolute necessity.
"I got to hang around a great group of guys. The leadership of that team served as a role model for everything that I've done. I've tried to model myself after those leaders like Reggie White."
Following that, Darkins has held a variety of positons in the finance industry, and presently is listed on his LinkedIn profile as a chief strategy and operations officer for RiskSmart Advisors LLC. a cyber-risk management firm.
His connection to that Super Bowl XXXI team briefly made news in 2014, when he put his championship ring up for auction. The selling of a Super Bowl ring always raises eyebrows. After all, it’s a tangible piece of a world championship from a sport you’ve played since childhood. But depending on your role in winning that championship, the emotional connection to a piece of jewelry might not be quite as strong as the need for upwards of $30,000.
Money raised would go toward a business venture, according to the Heritage Auction Web site that sold the ring. Six years prior, linebacker Ron Cox, who played one year in Green Bay and seven with the Bears, had sold his championship ring. While not common, it’s certainly not unheard of for players to part with it.
But more recently, Darkins is looking to disassociate himself from a different sort of ring. On Feb. 24, he was arrested by the U.S. Marshal Service in Houston for his alleged role in a drug trafficking and money laundering ring.
He was accused in Georgia in a federal indictment that named 31 people and charged with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. The ring allegedly moved marijuana and cocaine, and sent drugs through the mail from Houston and California to various parts of Georgia for distribution from 2012 through 2014, and was also connected to money laundering and firearms, according to federal authorities.
He’s taken steps to fight the charges, with a hearing scheduled in Georgia to ask that charges be dismissed. In a court filing, Darkins stated he is "a public figure whose reputation is being tarnished by these unsubstantiated associations with alleged illicit activity."
Darkins did not respond to PackerReport.com’s request for an interview.
W. Keith Roerdink has covered every Packers draft since 1994 and will be crisscrossing his way between Chicago and Green Bay this year. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.