Well ladies and gentlemen, I finally got my first interview in the books. While I always imagined it would be a "warm-up", if you will- some fourth stringer fighting for a practice squad spot, or the assistant to the towel boy- instead Chris went ahead and did the ‘trial by fire' and tossed me to the wolves (clichés rock!).
That's right, yours truly had the spectacular honor today of interviewing Mr. Randall McDaniel, Hall of Fame Vikings Offensive Guard. I recall watching this guy in the infancy of my Viking fandom, back when our offensive line was a thing made of steel, and McDaniel was a lynchpin in that. Tomorrow he is set to be honored at his high school alma matter, Agua Fria high, through a partnership by Allstate and the Pro Football Hall of Fame that honors Hall of Famers in their hometown.
Before we even get into this, let me tell you that Randall McDaniel is even cooler than you thought. Very relaxed, personable guy- surprisingly, it was pretty easy to interview him (I was glad it was over the phone originally, because I figured if I ended up peeing myself, he wouldn't know- in retrospect, I kinda wish I had had the chance to sit down face-to-face).
Anyways, check out the interview after the jump, wherein we naturally cover the honor he is set to receive tomorrow, talk a bit about the offensive line and what we, as Viking fans, should be expecting, and also touch on how he works with kids in Minnesota. (Did I mention he's cooler than you thought? Cuz he is.)
DN- Mr. McDaniel, let me just tell you it is a real pleasure and honor to have the chance to speak to you today.
RM- Oh yeah absolutely. It's great you guys are helping to get some attention for this. What a great thing we're doing here tomorrow, the home town Hall of Fame. Allstate and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, they're getting together and getting us Hall of Famers a spot in our home towns, in our high schools.
DN- That's right- I understand that Allstate and the Pro Football Hall of Fame are teaming up to honor you at your high school Alma Mater, Agua Fria High. A plaque, I understand, is going to be placed there in your honor. Tell me a little bit more about this.
RM- Well, like I said yeah, Allstate and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, they're getting together, they're recognizing all the Hall of Famers in their high schools, in their home towns. It's not just a plaque either, it's actually a road sign as well. They're aiming to do fifty of us this year, they got through a few last year- Barry Sanders, Joe Namath. It's going to be pretty big to me, going back, seeing the people who taught me, I just hope I can keep it all together (laughs).
DN- Let's turn to football for a second. I remember watching you play when I was younger, and you were both a mainstay and an absolute force on a solid offensive line for the Vikings during the late 80's and throughout the 1990's. I've got to be honest- right now, the vibe of Viking fans when it comes to our modern offensive line... well, we kinda want to go back to your day! Considering your credentials, I've got to ask- do you think there has been something of a decline, and if so, what attributed to that?
RM- Ah. Hmm. Well, you know, in today's football, in today's NFL, it's a lot harder to get an offensive line going. Back when I played there wasn't as much free agency, you know? Most guys who played on a line, we played together for over three years, for over five years. And when someone left and a new guy came in, it was usually a backup, someone who had been with us already. They come in and you keep going. That's something you're just not seeing a lot of today- you have guys together for a little bit, and then a brand new face shows up. That's tough, but that's today's NFL. You can't just have guys show up and expect the line to be good. It doesn't work that way. You have to work together, know what the guy next to you is going to do, OK, is he going to step this way, is he going to do this, is he going to do that. That's hard to do when you don't know the guy next to you.
DN- It's interesting that you brought that up, the line working as a unit, because it feeds right into my next question. Right now Viking fans are expecting that we will draft Matt Kalil with the third pick in the draft, to play left tackle for us, and are also expecting that it will create an immediate turn around. It's always been my feeling that the line functions more as a unit, that one you can't put one piece in and expect that everything's going to be better. I'm taking it you would agree?
RM- Yeah. I mean, like I said, yeah, you can't put in pieces, if that's what you want to call ‘em, (Editor's note- that little line there had me sweating and regretting calling players "pieces"... whoops...) and think that right away everything's going to be better. Guys need to learn from each other, gotta get to know each other. I remember when I first started, the guy next to me Kirk Lowdermilk, he told me, "do it our way until you can do it better". And you gotta learn. It's when the game slows down for you, that's when you now you've got it. I remember my first year things were just FLYING at me. Then after a while, it began to slow down, and I just said OK, yeah, I got it now. And then Jeff Christy came in, and I just gave him the same line, "do it our way until you can do it better". The guys next to me, Gary Zimmerman, Kirk Lowdermilk at center, Tim Irwin, we just knew each other. And we played together for many years. And when we were bringing new guys in, Stringer, the others, we just knew it was going to take a bit. You've got to be patient. It's going to take a while, but it's going to come. You see the teams that have been more successful, they've been keeping these guys together for a while. It's going to come though. I can't wait, I can't wait for the day to see Adrian Peterson running free again, to see wide receivers get open and the quarterback to have time to throw it to them. It all starts at the line, everyone's important, but it all starts at the line.
DN- Yeah, it's always been my belief that the offensive line is maybe the most important piece on offense. You don't have one- I mean, you can have the best quarterback in the world, but if he's on his back, he's not throwing the ball.
RM- Yeah, it all starts at the line. You have a quarterback who's on his back, who's scrambling around, that's not good. But it's coming, it'll get there. We'll get back to the line we had. We just gotta keep supporting them. I'm going to keep supporting them. I'm here for them now, and when things get better, I'll still be here for them. (Editor's note- now I feel like a total bitch for my whine-and-moan story. I hope he doesn't somehow end up reading it.)
DN- A bit off football for a second- I understand you work with kids at the Hilltop Primary school in Minnesota. Can you tell me a bit about what you do there?
RM- Ahhhh. Yeah, I'm a basic skills instructor there, I'm working with the special ed kids, those kids who just need a little more help. It goes back to what we're doing tomorrow. My high school principal, he was always good to me, he was the guy who was my presenter when I went into the Hall of Fame, and I just look back and want to do for kids what they did for me back then. It's what I wanted to do when my professional time in football ended, if I can just motivate another kid to do good. It's a full circle. Education, I always say, it's the most important thing, it's the thing no one can take away from you. You get your education, you get your degree, nobody can take those things away from you, they're yours for life.
DN- Mr. McDaniel, thank you again so much for your time. I know our readers will thoroughly enjoy reading this, you're always going to be The Man to us! (RM laughs) And congratulations again on tomorrow, I know you deserve it and I hope everyone has a great time!
Again, thoroughly thrilled I got to interview this guy, and I think his wisdom regarding patience with the line is something we should all keep in mind for a year or two. Personally, I found it interesting that he mentioned backups coming in to fill voids- makes you think that maybe, just maybe, forgoing Carl Nicks and Ben Grubbs in favor of DeMarcus Love, Brandon Fusco, or whoever is intended to fill in for the now departed Steve Hutchinson was the better idea in the end. I mean, as much as I attempt to study football as a science, at the end of the day I will never know more about what it takes to build an effective O-line than Randall McDaniel. Also, I gotta say, as I'm sure you guys can infer from some of his answers above, the man genuinely struck me as a true Vikings fan- which isn't always the case with former players, and is ridiculously awesome.
What I can say I took away from it all, in the perspective of the Minnesota Vikings, is patience and belief. Maybe I really should step back from the ledge I approached us collectively to in my last story- after all, who am I to argue with one Mr. Randall McDaniel?