John Randle, when asked the biggest reason he is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, credited former Vikings defensive line coach Paul Wiggin for giving him the chance to prove he could play.

After signing in 1990 as an undrafted defensive tackle from Division II Texas A&I, the undersized Randle said he was convinced he was going to be released his rookie year and that he was kept around only because Wiggin -- who remains an adviser to current Vikings coach Brad Childress -- convinced then-coach Jerry Burns that Randle had a future in the NFL.

"To this day, I always ask [Wiggin], 'What made you want to keep me around?' Paul would say that, 'You know what, everybody else is having doubts about you,' but he goes, 'I saw something in you,' " Randle said. "I owe my whole career to Paul Wiggin because if they had cut me I don't think anybody else would have even taken a second thought about me. So, my whole career is owed to Paul Wiggin."

Randle compared Saturday, when it was announced he made the Hall of Fame, to 1990 when he and his family were waiting for somebody to call him and tell him was drafted, and no call came.

"Saturday felt like that, draft day again, it felt like it was 1990 all over again," Randle said. "We were just sitting around waiting. You have no control over who decides if they're going to pick you or not and you just wait. I just felt like, 'Oh my God. I'm reliving the draft all over again.' After my wife came in screaming and hollering that we made it in, it was just a sigh of relief."

Randle recalled not starting his first game until the middle of the 1990 season.

"At the time we had Keith Millard playing defensive tackle. Millard gets hurt and then Henry Thomas had sprained his ankle, so I was the only backup guy playing defensive tackle and defensive end," Randle recalled. "So, I had to come in and play defensive tackle and about midway through the season I started a few games, and then at the end of the year we were playing San Francisco and I think Henry went out the game again and I ended up finishing the game going against Joe Montana."

Like many people associated with the Vikings, Randle remembers the years where Brett Favre was the opposing player the team wanted to take down the most. "For years in Vikings practice, no matter if we were playing Detroit, if we were playing Chicago, or if we were playing Tampa, we had a No. 4 jersey on our practice dummy. We thought about Favre week in and week out, so it was a little bit unusual to see him wearing that purple. But you know what? He came in and he did some things that I think, for the Vikings organization, we've needed from a quarterback for a long time."

Well, if anybody deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, it was Randle, who was a good a pass rusher as the Vikings have ever had. Nobody ever worked harder to get to where he is today.

Could have better mark

In looking at his team's record, Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith comes to the conclusion that with a little luck, the team could have won several more games.

"Well, we've had about five games this year when I look back at it -- Texas A&M game, Miami game, Michigan State both times, Indiana -- those are five games that if you make plays, you make a stop, then you're looking at leading the conference with only a few losses," Smith said.

Sure enough, a Big Ten title is still within the Gophers' reach, as Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue and OSU all have three losses and Wisconsin has four. The Gophers are three games behind the leaders. "So, we know we still have a lot of basketball left to play in the Big Ten," Smith said.

Describing Lawrence Westbrook, who got the last-second winning basket in the victory at Penn State, Smith said: "He's a tough kid. He's still learning the game. One thing he's not short of is that heart and belief in himself -- sometimes to a fault, but it's a good fault sometimes. You've got to have self-esteem and belief, and we believe in him. I know the players have a lot of faith in him that he can take shots."

However, Smith was subbing in Justin Cobbs for Westbrook on defense a good portion of the second half so that the freshman from California could guard Penn State star Talor Battle.

"The one thing that I'm always looking at is the defense, the complete game, the complete player, teaching the game; we want them to be students of the game," Smith said. "We want to play up-tempo, we want to pressure the ball, and sometimes Lawrence gets lost defensively and that's where -- because I took him out, I was playing defense/offense with him at the end of the game because Cobbs, our freshman, really is playing outstanding; he is a better defender, that's just plain and simple.

"So, we put him in there and Justin Cobbs did a good job on Battle. Lawrence made the free throws down the stretch and then he made the big basket there."

With all the distractions his team has faced this season, Smith said he believes the Gophers have done a good job.

"We expect the best from these kids, and I think they give us all they can in spite of all the things surrounding them this year," he said.


On March 15, 2006, reported, "The Dolphins decided to stop waiting for Chargers quarterback Drew Brees to lower his contract demands and opted to give the Vikings a second-round choice to acquire quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Brees agreed to a six-year, $60 million deal with the New Orleans Saints." You wonder what the Dolphins are thinking now. The Vikings got offensive lineman Ryan Cook with that draft pick.

Today is Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi's 65th birthday. He and his wife, Lois, will be in Denver with the Gophers men's hockey team. Denver was where Maturi got his first A.D. job. From 1996 to '98 he helped lead the school's move from Division II to D-I and also assisted in the development of a $50 million sports and wellness center and a $2.1 million tennis center. On another subject, Maturi said he has no plans to raise Gophers football ticket prices this year unless the athletic department has budget problems.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. •