NEW ORLEANS - The last time Bryant McKinnie left the Vikings practice field in Mankato, he literally had to waddle.
Considerably overweight and out of shape at the end of a long NFL lockout in August of 2011, he barely had the breath to speak as reporters walked with him for what would be his final moments in a Vikings uniform. Within 24 hours, he was released because of his physical condition and, he claims, for rejecting the team's request for him to take a pay cut.
"When I was leaving Mankato that day, I didn't know where I was going," McKinnie said. "I knew I was going to play again. But I didn't know where or what would happen."
McKinnie spoke those words from the floor of the Super- dome during Super Bowl XLVII media day Tuesday. He's still big -- listed at 6-8, 360 pounds -- but he's considerably lighter and obviously in better shape than he was in Mankato 18 months ago.
Oh yeah, he'll also start at left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens when they play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. He was a backup for all 16 regular-season games, but has been an unsung savior since stepping into the starting lineup in the playoffs.
Left guard Jah Reid went down because of a season-ending dislocated toe. So the Ravens moved right tackle Kelechi Osemele to left guard, left tackle Michael Oher to right tackle and brought McKinnie in off the bench.
"Bryant's been a great player in this league for a long time," said Ravens center Matt Birk, who also played with McKinnie for 11 seasons with the Vikings. "The left tackle position, obviously you know how to block guys one-on-one in the pass. Everyone knows [49ers linebacker] Aldon Smith had a great year [19 1/2 sacks], so it'll be two great players going at it over there."
McKinnie has started 147 regular-season games and six in the postseason. A first-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2002, he started all but four games from 2003 until 2010.
McKinnie did no gloating when asked what it felt like to beat the Vikings to the Super Bowl since they released him.
"The Vikings probably will be here eventually, soon, sometime," McKinnie said. "... I'm in a new chapter in my life."
McKinnie ended up in Baltimore -- where he started all 16 games in 2011 -- because of his connections with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who plays mother hen to all fellow former University of Miami Hurricanes. So when a reporter asked McKinnie to name the greatest accomplishment of Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome's career, McKinnie bypassed Newsome's Hall of Fame career as a tight end and his ground-breaking status as the league's first African-American general manager.
"I'd say his greatest accomplishment is listening to Ray Lewis telling him to bring me here," McKinnie said.
McKinnie let out a hearty laugh as a reporter shifted gears, wanting to know if McKinnie, as a long-time NFL veteran, will be steering Baltimore's younger players away from the temptations presented by the New Orleans nightlife.
And, yes, that was an ironic question, considering McKinnie's many well-publicized transgressions off the field.
He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and being a public nuisance for his role in the Vikings' seedy Love Boat scandal in 2005. The league fined him one game check ($41,000).
In February of 2008, he was arrested after a brawl outside a nightclub in Miami. He was accused of spitting in the face of a bouncer and later clubbing the same bouncer over the head with a heavy pole. McKinnie avoided a trial when a judge ordered him to complete 25 hours of community service and take anger management classes.
And McKinnie also was kicked off the NFC Pro Bowl squad in January of 2010, when the game was played in Miami. He said he withdrew because of an injury, but that was after he failed to show up for any of the practices.
"We'll have our meetings this week and we'll bring up the importance of guys [staying out of trouble]," McKinnie said. "Everybody has to realize what's at stake here. You don't know if you'll ever get back to this point ever again.
"Is it tempting being in New Orleans? I've been here before, but I've never been to the Super Bowl. So it's not tempting. What's more tempting is getting that Super Bowl ring."
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org