SAN DIEGO — Former Chargers punter Darren Bennett considers himself to be just a regular person who got to play football in the National Football League. Today, living in North County, he coaches at La Costa Canyon High School and surfs Cardiff.
Even after more than 10 years from the game, Bennett is still greeted by Chargers fans who appreciate his six seasons of service to the team.
And now fans can show just how much they appreciate his contributions following his nomination to the Chargers Hall of Fame Monday, along with former Chargers standout running back Natrone Means and wide receiver Anthony Miller.
With ballots already being cast at chargers.com/hof, the Chargers are leaving the decision-making process up to the fans to decide who gets elected into the team’s hall of fame.
It’s the first time the Chargers have left the decision completely up to the fans since the hall’s creation in 1976.
“We saw that we had three very worthy candidates and we thought it was a great opportunity to do something different and to give our fans a choice,” said Chargers CEO A.G. Spanos. “We know our fans are very passionate; we know they’re very knowledgeable about Chargers history.”
“The fans should have an influence,” Bennett said. “These are the guys that we played for everyday; these are the guys that are happy on Monday if you win, and sad on Monday if you lost.”
Considering himself just a regular guy, Bennett said it was a tremendous privilege just to be considered for the team’s hall of fame with Means and Miller, whom he described as “elite athletes.”
Bennett anticipates the vote will be a lot of fun. “I feel like I’m one of the ‘American Idol’ guys,’” he said.
Spanos said the three candidates were selected because they were some of the best at their position. Criteria to be considered for the hall of fame are similar to what the NFL’s Hall of Fame has in place, Spanos explained. “It’s basic accomplishments on the field, we’re looking at,” he said. “We have players at various positions, various lengths of tenure in our hall of fame.”
Bennett was selected because he moved the game forward, Spanos said. “He created his own punts and he has a story that is incredibly unique, especially at that time. Now there’s been people to follow in his footsteps from Australia,” Spanos said.
He added that Miller, the Chargers first-round draft pick in 1988 and a five-time Pro Bowler was a great athlete, ranking seventh in team history for receiving with 5,582 yards. Means spent five seasons with the Chargers and was a “great player on the team,” and was also on the 1994 Super Bowl team.
Miller said he was thankful to the Chargers for selecting him in the first-round, despite not having played much his senior year of college because of injury. It was for that, he said, that he’s always considered himself a Charger throughout his playing career. “They gave me that shot…and I really appreciated this nomination,” he added.
As for what it meant to be a Charger, Bennett said that if someone told him he could have a perfect job, playing for any team in the NFL and asked him where that would be, his reply, he said without pause, was San Diego. “The weather here is fantastic; the fans really support their team.”
Bennett, who finished his career in Minnesota, said one of his greatest learning experiences from that time was that he didn’t want to live in Minnesota.
There are 35 players in the Chargers Hall of Fame, with Junior Seau being inducted in 2011.
There is no limit on casting ballots. Voting ends Sept. 17, when the inductee will be announced. The induction ceremony will happen at the Nov. 25 contest at home against the Baltimore Ravens.