Story by Chris Graham
Darryl Hammond had watched a couple of Arena Football League games, but his mind was set on bigger and better things as far as his football career was concerned.
“I would check it out on ESPN every now and then. I didn’t think much of it. I never saw myself playing it,” said Hammond, an honorable mention all-Atlantic Coast Conference defensive back at the University of Virginia in 1987 – which was the year that indoor football made its debut on the professional-sports scene.
Hammond signed that spring with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and dreamed of a career plying his trade on the sport’s ultimate stage – before reality set in.
“I got cut by (the Saints), and I went back to Virginia and got my degree. After about a year or so of sitting around and working, I kind of wanted to play football again,” Hammond told the “ACC Nation” radio show last week.
“I didn’t really have any NFL connections anymore, and I just wanted to play – so I started playing Arena football. And lo and behold, 16 years later, I’m still playing,” Hammond said.
Hammond, 39, has actually likely played his last AFL game – he is retiring at the end of the 2006 season, and he has been on injured reserve since April.
Before going on the shelf, Hammond – a wide receiver and linebacker – became the fourth player in Arena League history to catch at least 800 passes in his career with a catch earlier in the season. In 2005, Hammond became the second player in AFL history to compile 8,000 career receiving yards and 30 career interceptions and the third player to amass 600 career tackles.
Being able to play on both sides of the ball is part and parcel to the indoor game. Looking back on it, Hammond’s time at Essex High School – where he was an all-state football and basketball player – and at UVa. prepared him well in that respect.
“When I was at Virginia, my first year I did play receiver, and then my last year I played strong safety. And in high school I was a wide receiver and defensive back also. I actually saw it as my style of play being more suited to playing both ways – because you stay in the game. You never lose the flow of the game. It’s sort of like basketball – when you play basketball, you play offense, you play defense, and you get more into the flow of the game,” Hammond said.
You would think that football is football whether it is played indoors or outdoors, but Hammond said that there are subtle but important differences between the two brands of gridiron action.
“In indoor, the field is smaller, and you have different angles – the angles are a lot shorter. You have the walls – the dreaded walls. You don’t want to get run into those. Also, the kicking game is a little different – because you have the nets that catch everything,” Hammond said.
“It’s a little more physical. I never got hurt playing the regular 11-man game. I’ve broken a couple of bones playing Arena football – and over the years, it’s taken a toll on my body. Nothing major – I’ve been really, really fortunate. I haven’t had any major surgeries or anything. But it’s a tough sport,” Hammond said.