EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) – Darren Bennett was all but retired.

He hadn’t punted a football in months, and was perfectly content being a father in San Diego while his family planned a move back to his native Australia.

A meeting was scheduled this week with his accountant to discuss filing retirement papers with the NFL.

Then the phone rang.

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice needed a punter to fill in for a week or two while Chris Kluwe recovers from a knee injury.

Just like that, the soon-to-be 41-year-old was back in the game.

“I was supposed to meet with my accountant on Tuesday,” Bennett said. “Then they called and that’s that. It’s Murphy’s Law, I guess.”

Bennett went to his second training camp with the Vikings this season, but was cut after an inconsistent preseason. The easygoing Aussie holds no grudges. He was only too happy to return to one of the two teams, along with the San Diego Chargers, he has played for in an 11-year career.

“This is a performance-based business,” Bennett said. “And when you don’t perform, that’s what happens. I knew before they knew that things were going wrong and my body wasn’t doing the things I wanted it to do.”

In his first season away from professional sports in 25 years – he played Australian rules football before coming to punt for the Chargers in 1995 – Bennett said he was enjoying the extra time with his family.

He was working with a software company in San Diego and getting ready to move back to Australia sometime next year, never once punting a football.

“Do guys block someone after they retire?” Bennett asked. “No.”

Kluwe went down with a sprained knee in last weekend’s victory over the Detroit Lions, causing kicker Paul Edinger to punt twice toward the end of a tight game. Tice isn’t sure exactly how long Kluwe will be out, but was happy to have an experienced punter available.

“Hopefully, (Kluwe) will be a one-week deal and we can get him going again next week,” Tice said. “If not, I think we are in able hands with Darren.

“I’m comfortable with him,” the coach added. “He’s kicked a lot of balls.”

With 828 punts and a career average of 43.5 yards per punt, Bennett said it won’t take long to get back into game shape.

“Physically, not too long at all,” he said. “Mentally, there’s a few cobwebs, but hopefully they’ll be shaken out by Sunday.”

Long snapper Cullen Loeffler said the old man hasn’t missed a beat. The two remained close friends even after Bennett was cut, occasionally grabbing dinner or going hunting on an off day.

“We know each other well,” Loeffler said. “The only difference is he stands at 15 yards and Chris stands at 14.”

Even after winning five games in a row, the Vikings (7-5) have little margin for error in these last four weeks, starting with Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams.

With Dallas and Atlanta also at 7-5, and the Chicago Bears at 9-3 in the NFC North, the Vikings have to win at least three of their last four to have a shot at the playoffs.

“I’ve got no aspirations of doing it any longer than a couple of weeks until Chris is healthy,” Bennett said. “I’m 41 in three weeks, so I’m also realistic about it. When Chris comes back, back I go to being a father.”

AP-ES-12-09-05 1752EST

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