MANKATO - Our local football franchise has become the Mystic Lake Casino of NFL quarterbacks, bringing you the biggest names of the '80s and '90s today.

While other franchises roll the dice on unproven talent, the Vikings would rather comfort you with the football equivalents of Stevie Nicks and Foreigner.

The Vikes arrived in Mankato to begin training camp Sunday and presented their latest aging star quarterback. Donovan McNabb, looking substantial despite his slimming white shirt, will follow a "Who's Who" of "Who Used to Be" under center for the franchise that brought you a failed Jedi and the wonderfully versatile noun "Slappy."

Since Denny Green wrongly benched promising young Rich Gannon in the middle of the 1992 season in favor of the always regrettable Sean Salisbury, the Vikings have made AARP stand for "Always Available to Retire in Purple."

With Gannon shunned and Salisbury correctly identified via retina scan as Sean Salisbury, the Vikings moved on, in 1993, to the artist once known as Jim McMahon. He got Eric Guliford to materialize on the field to beat the Packers, but watching McMahon without the '85 Bears defense was a little like watching "The Sopranos" without any tributes to Italian heritage. It was confusing and a little sad.

McMahon lasted a year and then was replaced by Warren Moon, who once arrived at Winter Park via helicopter. Moon threw for a few million yards before Brad Johnson took over during the '96 season, becoming the first quarterback drafted by the Vikings to start a game since Gannon.

Primed to run a spectacular offense in '98, Johnson broke his leg in Week 2 and was replaced by a quarterback who had retired three years earlier and worked in Las Vegas selling tile.

Randall Cunningham won the Player of the Year that season, taking the Vikings to the NFC title game. That's when he should have retired, again.

In '99, Cunningham quickly lost his job to Jeff George, who coined the term "Slappy" for backstabbing backups, rallied the Vikings to the playoffs, and then was banished by Green.

In 2000, For the second time since Gannon's benching, the Vikings gave the starting job to one of their own, Daunte Culpepper, who took them to the NFC title game and might have won it if not for the New York Giants stealing the Vikings' plays and asking nicely that Wasswa Serwanga not cover their receivers.

Promising that he had begun seeing the game like a "Jedi Knight," Culpepper meandered through six years before Brad Childress became offended that Culpepper might be rehabilitating his knee injury in the vicinity of a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall and traded him to Miami.

Brad Johnson bridged the gap to another Vikings draftee, Tarvaris Jackson, who, understanding the Vikings' role as a nursing home for decrepit quarterbacks, helped find playing time for Kelly Holcombe, Brooks Bollinger, Gus Frerotte (again!), and finally Lord Favre, King Of The Undead.

Since Brett Favre started his first game, Green Bay has used three starting quarterbacks (including Matt Flynn's cameo). The Vikings have used 16, with the likes of Johnson and Frerotte serving multiple tours.

While fans may complain about the team's inability to develop a young starter, what we should remember as McNabb acclimates to Mankato is that this approach has worked fairly well. Since '92, the Vikings have made the playoffs in 11 of 19 seasons and have advanced to three conference title games.

If you aren't lucky enough to draft Tom Brady in the sixth round or to finish 3-13 the season before Peyton Manning enters the draft, this isn't a bad setup. The Vikings now employ a veteran starting quarterback, a first-round draft pick in Christian Ponder, and a talented reserve in Joe Webb.

"I'm the first first-round pick since Daunte, right?" Ponder asked Sunday afternoon. "That's special to me, and I'm going to do everything I can to be that guy for the next 15 years."

Just give them six years, Christian. That's when Manning will turn 41 and start dreaming, like so many before him, of the charms of Mankato.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. •