Punter Darren Bennett came to the Vikings with a lot of miles on him – literally and in the sports connotation.
He entered the NFL as a 29-year-old free agent after 12 seasons of Australian Rules Football. That was in 1994, when the San Diego Chargers allocated him to their practice squad. After being named to the NFL's Team of the Decade for the 1990s, Bennett joined the Vikings as a free agent in 2004.
After all those years of kicking footballs in Australia and the United States, Bennett had no hard feelings when the Vikings released him just before the regular-season opener this year and signed rookie free agent Chris Kluwe, who spent training camp with Seattle and was preparing to be placed on the Seahawks practice squad. Bennett is a class act, and he showed that again recently when talking of his future plans.
Despite traveling between Minnesota, San Diego and Australia between now and March, Bennett plans to help Kluwe this offseason with some finesse punting.
"We talked about the pooch punt a little bit and I'll probably work with him in the offseason a little bit, come in and have a kick with him, come in and try to teach it to him," Bennett said. "I've taught a couple of guys over the years and it's something that can be a really good weapon for the team. He's keen to learn it, so I'm keen to teach it to him."
Bennett was fully well aware that his status as a Vikings employee was only very temporary. He could have been released last week, and Monday the Vikings parted ways with him again after keeping him as a two-week insurance policy that punted for one game.
At the age of 40, Bennett returned to Minnesota for one game to punt eight times for a 37.5-yard average on Dec. 11. That added another 300 yards of punting to his previous career total of 36,016 yards.
All that experience has made Bennett a very honest assessor of his performances. His first punt back in purple went 36 yards, his second 26 yards.
"I was rusty to start off, but I started to feel more comfortable in the second half, just relaxed a bit and let it swing," Bennett said. "Luckily, I hit some not-bad punts at the end of the game, when the game was on the line."
Bennett's two sons, Will and Thomas, attended the St. Louis game and were seated at field level. Surely, they heard the boos cascade down on Bennett after those first two efforts, but the punter figured his toughest critic was his son Will, who was busy grading his punts with the thumbs-up and thumbs-down method.
"After I hit one of those bad punts, I know he was just sitting over there going (thumbs-down)," Bennett said and motioned with a smile.
The "old mate," as Adam Goldberg calls Bennett, has a sense of humor and a good heart. He took the booing in stride despite the fact that he cut short a business trip in San Diego, where he is a part owner of Sicomm (Sicomm.net), a company that provides Internet buying and selling for governments and has deals with five states right now. Bennett has the Australian and Asian rights for it and is anxious to take it to China, where he see an exploding opportunity. He became a part owner as an investor that propped up the company when it was struggling.
Despite the potential huge success that could be awaiting Bennett off the field, he is willing to invest in the Vikings' long-term punter. First, Bennett plans to go to Australia for a few months to start the 2006 calendar because the cold usually affects Will, who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair.
Upon his return, he plans to spend time working on a special brand of pooch punch with Kluwe.
"It's a really good team punt when you have to hit a 27-yard punt and get it to the 9 or 10, and your defense loves you for it. That's part of a way a punter gains credibility, when you have to hit that 30-yard punt that's going to kill your average but it's the best thing for the team at the time," Bennett said.
Bennett plans on being a team player in March, even if he isn't part of the Vikings team.
Bennett to Mentor Kluwe in Offseason
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