Farewell, Daunte

Something happened in the NFL on Thursday afternoon.  People outside of the Vikings' fan base may have noticed it. . .then again, they may not have.  But for those of us that have followed this team for any length of time, it no doubt elicited a reaction one way or another.

On Thursday, Daunte Culpepper announced his retirement from the National Football League.  Yes, he hadn't signed with anyone since he finished last season with the Oakland Raiders.  Yes, he hadn't been the same since his knee got destroyed in a game against Carolina in 2005.  Yes, the thing that some people will remember about him is the way his exit from Minnesota went. . .but the thing that the more intelligent Viking fans among us will remember are the moments that #11 provided on the field rather than off of it.

Culpepper exploded onto the scene in 2000, but only after then-head coach Dennis Green exhausted every possible option at the position.  Green tried to re-sign Jeff George and even attempted to bring in an aging Dan Marino before turning the reigns over to Culpepper.  Prior to that, his playing experience consisted of three plays and zero pass attempts, as he was the #3 QB during the 1999 season.  All Culpepper did that season was tally 40 total touchdowns (33 passing, 7 rushing) as he led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.  Yes, the Vikings got thumped in that game by the New York Giants.  But in a game where everybody else had basically given up shortly after getting off the bus at the Meadowlands. . .yeah, Randy Moss, I'm looking at you here. . .#11 was the only player on the Minnesota sideline that seemed to care whether the Vikings won or lost that afternoon.

The next couple of years saw more downs than ups for Culpepper.  During training camp in 2001, he was shaken. . .as was the rest of the team. . .by the deaths of Chip Myers, who was going to be the team's new offensive coordinator, and offensive lineman Korey Stringer, who Culpepper had become close with during his time in Minnesota.  In a tumultous 2001 season, Culpepper blew out his knee in a game against Pittsburgh, and the Vikings went a disappointing 5-11 in the final year of the Denny Green era.

In 2002, new head coach Mike Tice implemented what came to be known as the "Randy Ratio," which basically said that a set percentage of plays needed to go to receiver Randy Moss.  It was a concept that can generously be termed as a galactically stupid idea, as the Vikings offense sputtered in its attempts to meet that ratio, and the team went 6-10.  However, they did manage to win their last three games of the year, and that momentum carried them into the 2003 season.

In 2003, the Vikings went 9-7 and missed out on the playoffs because the defense couldn't hold a 11-point lead over the Arizona Cardinals with two minutes left on the clock on the final weekend of the season.  We won't discuss that any further here.

In 2004, Daunte Culpepper put up what was, quite frankly, the single greatest season put together by any quarterback.  Ever.  Yeah, that's right. . .ever.  He set a record for total yardage in a season, eclipsing a record held by Dan Marino.  He threw 39 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions.  He led the Vikings to a first-round humiliation of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the playoffs.  And, as this article from the folks at Pro Football Reference shows, he did it with what could politely be termed as a garbage supporting cast.  For crying out loud, Daunte Culpepper made Nate freaking Burleson a 1,000-yard receiver.  Tell me that that alone doesn't take an amazing level of talent.

Then, in 2005, after what could nicely be termed as a rough start, Culpepper led the Vikings to yet another embarassment of the Packers, leading the Vikings back from a 17-0 halftime deficit and setting up Paul Edinger's 56-yard field goal at the gun to give the Vikings a victory.  It was the last game that Culpepper would finish as a Viking, as he blew out his knee the next week against Carolina.

Now, I've been a Viking fan since 1984, so keep that qualifier in mind when I make the following statement.

During the time that I've been a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, nobody. . .absolutely, positively nobody. . .has played the quarterback position in purple and gold better than Daunte Culpepper.

Yes, you'll get people that will tell you that the only reason that Culpepper was ever any good was because he had Randy Moss to throw the ball to.  Those people obviously have no idea what they're talking about.  They're the same people who long for the salad days of Todd Bouman or Brad Johnson or another more vanilla option at quarterback.

(And, yes, the word "vanilla" in that sentence can probably be interpreted a number of ways. . .and, in the case of many of Culpepper's detractors, more than one interpretation could be considered a correct one.)

These same geniuses, when asked to explain why it is that Culpepper's most brilliant season as a Viking came during the year when Moss was hampered by injury and put up his lowest reception and yardage totals of his 7-year Vikings career, will generally start drooling all over themselves and be unable to give you anything even remotely resembling a coherent answer.  Why?  Because. . .again. . .they're idiots.  DC did things that season that no other quarterback in the history of the league has ever done, and that I doubt will be matched any time soon.

I'm not ashamed to say that, as of this moment, Daunte Culpepper is my favorite all-time NFL player.  I have a Culpepper jersey hanging in my closet that I haven't worn since the day he got injured.  I had a DC "Fathead" that stayed on the wall of my purple and gold computer room until the combination of a closed room and the Mississippi heat made it not stick any more.  During the off-season, or after particularly tough Viking losses, I still pull out my DVD copy of the 2004 playoff game against Green Bay, plug it into the DVD player, and just smile for three hours as I watch the man work.

Say what you will about his exit from Minnesota or his behavior since then. . .but I feel that I was lucky to be able to watch Daunte Culpepper quarterback the Minnesota Vikings during the time he was a Viking.  The man left his heart, his soul, and his right knee on the gridiron as a member of the Vikings.  He was a positive part of the Minneapolis/St. Paul community when he was a part of the team, and he's provided me with far more positive moments to remember than negative ones.  The detractors, the haters, the whining crybabies. . .nobody's going to remember them.  Hell, nobody knows who they are now.  But everyone will remember the Daunte Culpepper era in Minnesota.

Best of luck, Daunte.  There are at least some of us out here in Viking land that know that you deserve nothing less.

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