Sid Hartman: Moss' departure left void for Culpepper

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 18, 2007 - 12:07 AM

As Daunte Culpepper returns to the Metrodome today, you can't help but wonder what things would be like if he and Randy Moss were still together here.

The fact that Daunte Culpepper will start today for the Oakland Raiders at the Metrodome brought back memories of how high former Vikings coach Dennis Green was on the potential of the Central Florida quarterback before the 1999 draft.

It was late afternoon the day before the 1999 NFL draft, and Green was in his office going over possible first-round draft picks the Vikings would take.

"There are some quarterbacks available in the draft, and some good defensive players," Green said. "You know, we might just take that Daunte Culpepper, even though he played at Central Florida and some people don't have him rated that high. I like everything about him, but you never know what will happen once the draft starts."

Well, the next morning the Vikings did draft Culpepper 11th overall. He didn't see any meaningful action as a rookie, as Jeff George and Randall Cunningham ran the offense.

But the following year, Culpepper became the starting quarterback and the Vikings went 11-5, got the No. 2 seed in the NFC and went to the conference championship game.

The Vikings went 37-34, including 2-2 in the playoffs, between 2000 and '04 when Culpepper and Randy Moss played together.

After Moss was traded to Oakland in 2005, the Vikings started that year 2-5 before Culpepper got hurt at Carolina, ending his season and eventually his career in a Vikings uniform.

Well, I always contended -- and several Vikings coaches agreed with me -- that during that 2000-04 period, it was Moss and his great ability as a wide receiver that made Culpepper as successful as he was.

Dean Dalton, the Vikings running back coach under Mike Tice, said: "After [Culpepper] got hurt, he was done. ... Daunte had no shot once he had the knee injury. Prior to that injury he wasn't playing the best football of his career, but the year before he was pretty good.

"Without Moss, the whole offense took a hit because Randy's such a deep threat. Our style of offense was a power-run game and a vertical passing game, and Randy was the best vertical receiver in the game, as he's proving this year in New England."

Yes, the Vikings have continued to have quarterback and wide receiver problems since the Culpepper-Moss era ended.

You wonder what would have happened had Moss not been traded to the Raiders in 2005, what would have happened if Moss and Culpepper were still wearing the Vikings purple today.

Made offer to Santana

The word in baseball circles is that the Twins have made a five-year offer to two-time Cy Young Ward winner Johan Santana calling for $93 million.

Santana will be in the final year of his four-year, $40 million contract in 2008.

It's doubtful that Santana will accept this offer, but at least it's a start in an attempt to lock up the pitcher many consider to be the best in baseball.

Meanwhile, there isn't any doubt that the Twins are waiting for free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter to get some offers, and if Hunter wants to return here as he claims, he will give the Twins a chance to match.

Twins closer Joe Nathan will become a free agent at the end of the 2008 season. The Yankees didn't make it any easier for the Twins to re-sign Nathan when they offered Mariano Rivera a three-year contract calling for $45 million. The Twins recently exercised a $6 million option on Nathan for next year.

Gambled on system

Normally a coach in any sport comes up with a system that fits the players he has at hand.

Well, in the case of Tim Brewster, he didn't like the system under previous Gophers coach Glen Mason and decided to put in an offense and defense that could result in a losing season this year but might pay off in the future once players got acclimated to it.

For instance, senior Justin Valentine, an outstanding fullback under Mason, rarely saw action this season until the Illinois game, and he proved very valuable in the final games of the season, even though the Gophers always came up short.

Well the Gophers showed some improvement at the end of the year, even though they still lost close games to Iowa and Wisconsin, with Saturday's score 41-34 in favor of the Badgers.

Now the big question is if the combination of a good recruiting class for 2008 along with the experience of returning players will result in a winning season next year. Brewster insists that will happen.

Offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, who put in the spread offense, agrees with Brewster and predicts quarterback Adam Weber and wide receiver Eric Decker, among others, will turn out to be great players in this system and will help make the Gophers winners in the future.

"Obviously, [Weber] has improved as our team has, and we've made some improvements here late in the season and Adam ... has a great upside to him. So, we're looking forward to the future," Dunbar said. "I think the kids are all getting better, they're all learning. Obviously it's a new system, a new scheme. I'm very committed to the spread, and that's the road that we're going to take."

Jottings

Freshman David Gilreath, who played high school football at Armstrong, had a big day for the Badgers on Saturday at the Metrodome, with two punt returns of 107 yards and six kickoffs for 119 yards. He originally committed to the Gophers and looked like a solid commitment for a long time. But he changed his mind, went to Wisconsin and he was one of the big reasons the Badgers won Saturday.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who took over a football program at Madison that was a lot worse than what Brewster inherited and made the Badgers into a powerhouse, said he doesn't have interest in the Nebraska coaching job as has been rumored.

The Gophers football schedule for 2008 is now complete with the opening opponent to be Northern Illinois, a team that fell to 2-9 this year after losing at Navy 35-24 on Saturday. The Huskies still have a game left against Ball State.

Only 20 players on the Vikings were here in 2005, the last year Culpepper was here. ... Speaking of Moss, he has 12 touchdown receptions and is threatening to break Jerry Rice's record of 22 TD catches in a season.

Kevin Garnett has turned down an invitation to be a member of the 2008 Olympic men's basketball team.

Willie Mobley, a highly regarded star defensive lineman for Eden Prairie, was among the Gophers football visitors at Saturday's game. Mobley hasn't committed to any school. Also on hand were verbal commitments Sam Maresh, a Champlin Park linebacker, and Vincent Hill, a wide receiver for Milford Academy Prep School in New Berlin, N.Y. Other guests of the Gophers from out of state included wide receiver Xzavian Brandon of Atlanta Northview, defensive back Tramaine Brock and defensive end Cedric McKinley of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, running back Maurice Greer of Garden City Community College and receiver Broderick Smith of Garden City High School and defensive tackle Joe Marshall of Clearwater, Fla.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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