Bob Gray and Mike Tice have encountered Randall McDaniel at very different stages of his athletic life. Gray coached McDaniel in the early 1980s at Agua Fria High in Avondale, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb. Tice coaches McDaniel today with the Minnesota Vikings.
This contact with McDaniel spans nearly two decades, yet the
remarks of Gray and Tice are nearly interchangeable as they try to describe McDaniel's personal qualities and athletic abilities.
"It was always hard to get Randall to say a lot," Gray said.
"After he played in the Rose Bowl for Arizona State, we were able to get him to speak to our students at an assembly.
"All the things that Randall had accomplished - being an All-America, outstanding lineman in the Pac-10, helping Arizona State to the Rose Bowl for the first time and winning - were mentioned.
"Then Randall got up and said the accomplishment of which he was most proud was that, from his first day of kindergarten until he graduated from high school, he never missed a day of school.
"That's Randall. He's always been someone you could rely on."
Tice was an 11-year NFL veteran when he came to the Vikings in 1992 and first encountered McDaniel. Tice returned in 1996 to coach tight ends, then was promoted to his current position - offensive line coach - in 1997.
"Randall is a very focused man, very much to himself," Tice
said. "He doesn't want to draw attention to himself. He's a silent leader. He leads by what he does in a game. He sets such a high standard. When we watch film, the other linemen see what Randall has done, and they want to be better players."
McDaniel was an all-state player in three sports at Agua Fria High: tight end in football, center in basketball and sprinter in track.
Gray coached McDaniel as a sophomore in football and for three years in track and field. Randall still holds the Agua Fria record for 100 meters at 10.64 seconds.
"The 10.64 was electronically timed in the state meet, so it's legit," Gray said. "He made the eight-man state finals in the 100. Vance Johnson - later the receiver for the Broncos - won that race. Randall probably would have beaten him, but he lost a shoe coming out of the blocks. "Randall had size-16 feet, and the largest track shoe we could find for him was a 15. I cut out the back of the shoes to give him some room, and then taped them. The state meet was in May, so it was very hot. Randall's shoe stuck on that hot track and came off.
"Randall also ran close to 50-flat for 400 meters. The kid was a natural athlete. He weighed around 245 pounds and Arizona State's first thought was that it might put him at safety. Believe me. He could have played there. He could have played anywhere on the field."
Tice agreed. "I would have loved to see him play fullback," he said. "Can you imagine Randall roaring into the hole, looking for people to block, play after play?
"When I was here as a player, they were using Randall as the fullback in goal-line situations or third-and-short. I remember him being at fullback against Chicago and knocking Mike Singletary dizzy.
"There are a lot of offensive linemen who play the position by absorbing the blows and fighting off the defender. Not Randall. He delivers the blow."
McDaniel was taken with the 19th pick in the first round by the Vikings in 1988. He was on the all-rookie team that first season, and 10 consecutive seasons as a Pro Bowl starter have followed.
"Randall McDaniel was the first Randy Moss on this team," Tice said. "Randall was passed over by a lot of teams. The Vikings took him later in the draft. He came in and started dominating. The only difference between McDaniel then and Moss now is that Randall plays an unglorified position.
"TV follows the ball, so people follow the ball. They don't see Randall's knockdowns. They don't see him controlling people."
And McDaniel does it with class. "He won't cut," Tice said. "Even though cut blocking is legal, he doesn't want anyone accusing of him of being a dirty player."
McDaniel was a free agent after the 1996 season. The Vikings designated him as a franchise player to keep him off the market, then signed him to a long-term contract.
"There was speculation here that Randall might come back to Arizona and play for the Cardinals," Gray said. "I knew that wouldn't happen - that the Vikings weren't going to let him get away. "I watch him as much as you can watch an offensive lineman when the Vikings are on television. To me, it looks like he's on cruise control because he's so much better than anyone else."
It looks the same to Tice as he breaks down game film. "I hand out the sheets with grades and, sometimes with Randall, I'll just write across the box, `Wow!' " Tice said. "The other linemen have been dogging me about a TV interview when I said that I treated Randall differently. I've been telling them, `Don't even daydream that I'm going to treat you like I treat him.' . . . I treat Randall McDaniel with the respect that he deserves. He doesn't demand it. He commands it."