To calm his nerves as he awaited results of the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting on Saturday, Randall McDaniel busied himself with a jigsaw puzzle. When he received the fateful call, McDaniel should have seen the symmetry.
Even a superior player like McDaniel, the former Vikings guard, is an assemblage of happenstance and tutoring, parenting and coincidence.
Speaking at greater length Saturday than he ever did during his playing career, McDaniel recalled the people and moments that pieced together a Hall of Fame career.
"A lot of credit goes to my parents, the way I was raised," he said. "Growing up in Avondale [Ariz.], my parents instilled hard work and good values. We didn't have much growing up. I remember my folks moving from job to job, apartment to apartment, but my mom and dad always worked hard. They always said, 'As long as you work hard and bust your butt, good things will happen in the end.' "
McDaniel grew up on the poor side of Avondale, and wondered if he'd ever leave. Saturday, his high school principal, O.K. Fulton, called.
"I thank him a ton," McDaniel said. "He knew me before I was anybody. Nobody on my side of town made it out, and if they did, it was in the military, or not the good place to be. He always said, 'You're going to be the one who makes it.' He called today, and I told him, 'You were right.' "
The Fork in the Road
McDaniel grew up playing more baseball and basketball than football. He ran track and powerlifted and went to Arizona State as a tight end.
After his freshman year, with tight end "not working out that well" and the team's offensive line in shambles, McDaniel volunteered to play on the line.
His coaches later told him they had hoped he'd change positions all along. "So I practiced five days," McDaniel said. "And became a lineman."
The Drill Sergeant
The Vikings made McDaniel the 19th selection in the 1988 draft. He showed up at training camp in Mankato, and offensive line coach John Michels began offering him, daily, a road map, an apple and a ticket home. "I thought he was going to cut me every day," McDaniel said. "Johnny chewed me out after every practice. I was always wrong. I called my wife on the phone every night, saying, 'This guy is going to cut me.'
"Then you find out in a year or two that he's doing it because he loves you and wants the best for you. I can't thank him enough.
"When we talk now, he still chews me out at the beginning of the conversation."
"I admit it,'' he said. "I held. I always felt if I got my hands on you, I had you."
Other than his dominance as a relatively undersized guard, the most unusual aspect of McDaniel's career was his stance.
After a teammate rolled onto his knee during his second season in the NFL, McDaniel was forced to wear a bulky brace on his right leg. For the rest of his career, he would splay out his left leg, making him look off-balance and unorthodox.
"I came back, and I wasn't supposed to play, and I'm sitting on the sideline, and Johnny starts screaming for me to go in," McDaniel said. "I go in with that brace on, and it was stiff, it wasn't comfortable, and the only way I could get down in my stance was to turn my other leg out a bit.
"I was doing that and a D-lineman made a comment, saying, 'I have no clue what you're doing. I can't tell if you're pulling, passing, coming at me. I thought, 'That wasn't very smart to say.' So I kept the stance, because if you can't read it, that gives me an advantage.
"It got uglier each year. It got to a point where I put my knee on the ground sometimes, just to see if I could do it. I got to a point where I couldn't get into a normal stance, and that came from that one little brace, that one accident along the way.''
Putting It All Together
Sometimes McDaniel assembles what he calls "mystery puzzles -- they don't tell you what it is, you've just got to figure it out as you go. And because of the way I am, I don't stop until I'm finished.''
So it seems.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • email@example.com