A yardstick? No, that won't do it. Legend is measured in hyperbole. Listen to Bennett's tale. He went from being a washed-up Aussie Rules football player in Melbourne to washing up on the shore of California. It's enough to make the Statue of Liberty drop her torch and signal for a fair catch.
Once upon a time.... Bennett was watching the sun set on his career as a member of the Melbourne Demons. "I knew that I was near the end of my football career," says Bennett, who in his final season pocketed $40,000 American. (Note to the Internal Revenue Service: He earns 10 times that amount these days.) "It was time to find a new job."
Aussie Rules, played on a large oval, is more akin to rugby than it is to gridiron. Unlike rugby or gridiron, however, in Aussie Rules the ball is advanced primarily with punts, which are kicked on the run. Goals are scored by punting the ball between two sets of posts.
Bennett first punted an American football, which is smaller and more aerodynamic in design, during halftime of an Aussie Rules exhibition match at Toronto's Skydome in 1989. He says the ball sailed 85 yards. Three years later he entered a kicking contest in Melbourne. First prize was two round-trip tickets to the U.S. Bennett booted the Aussie Rules ball 74 yards to collect the tickets to his future.
In October '93 he and Rosemary, newly wed, arrived in Los Angeles. They had a contact, Bill Anzelc, who sold computer software to NFL teams and was asking clubs to give Bennett a tryout. Nobody was biting. "There was nothing to do but wait," Bennett says, "so we decided to turn the trip into a honeymoon."
They headed straight from LAX to a sporting goods store in Santa Monica. They bought a football and, finding a huge swath of green on a city map, headed there to practice. But what they thought was a park was actually Forest Lawn. "Not a good start there, mate," he says.
Armed with a pair of 15-day Amtrak passes, they opted for an excursion up the West Coast. "At each stop we'd pull out the footy," recalls Rosemary, who shagged her husband's punts, "and Bennett would have a go at his kicks."
In San Francisco, Bennett's punts awoke hippies lounging in Golden Gate Park. In Portland, citizens were reporting football-sized hail. In Seattle.... "In Seattle we got a phone call from the Chargers," says Bennett. " 'Can you be here tomorrow?'
"No worries," he replied.
After a 36-hour train trek, Bennett stood on the turf of Jack Murphy Stadium. He had never taken a snap. A fit, middle-aged man in shorts and a T-shirt (Bennett assumed he was a custodian) watched from a distance as Marty Hurney, San Diego's coordinator of football operations, conducted the tryout. "Ready?" asked Hurney.