Teddy Bridgewater played his best game of 2015 as the Vikings quarterback on Thursday night, and did this on the road against the Arizona Cardinals’ highly rated defense.

The Vikings sent him out of the pocket early and he made some throws on the move that caught the Cardinals by surprise. After that, he was throwing the ball quickly to open receivers, and was able to get big yards after catches by such unlikely targets as Rhett Ellison, Matt Asiata and Zach Line.

And then, as the Vikings tried one more play before allowing Blair Walsh to kick a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, Dwight Freeney came roaring in from Bridgewater’s left, arrived as Teddy was getting ready to throw the ball, and forced a fumble that gave the Cardinals a 23-20 victory.

Vikings fans in various public outlets were quick to blame left tackle Matt Kalil for allowing Freeney to get to Bridgewater with such haste.

If this had happened early in the 2000s, I think you would have heard more complaining about Daunte Culpepper’s small hands and not getting rid of the ball when it was an absolute requirement, than you would have heard about Bryant McKinnie giving access to the quarterback.

Culpepper’s combination of passing accuracy, running power and fierce competitiveness was there for all to see in his first season as a starter at age 23. He had been a spectator as a rookie in 1999, then took over in 2000 and quarterbacked the Vikings to the NFC title game.

Culpepper was the only visiting athlete to admire after that 41-0 loss to the New York Giants in New Jersey. That’s because Daunte so clearly still was trying long after Randy Moss and the rest of the team’s stars had quit.

It was some time during the 2000 season that I first suggested in print that Culpepper would be the quarterback to finally lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl victory before his career was over.

That didn’t happen, and the Culpepper/Super Bowl prediction has been recalled by readers in feedback that I’ve received through the years after other Vikings columns.

I’ve also been reminded of the suggestion offered several times that the willingness of a solid share of Vikings zealots to be hypercritical of Culpepper was tied to Minnesota-style sideways racism.

According to recent responders with long memories, the proof that I was wrong about racism and Culpepper is the manner in which Minnesotans have embraced Bridgewater as a QB of future greatness.

There have been e-mails and other correspondence carrying a similar message: “Viking fans love Teddy. So, do you still say we were racist when it came to Culpepper?’’

Yes, I still do.

Look, I’m a 70-year-old lifelong Minnesotan who went to schools in the prairie town of Fulda and in then-tiny Prior Lake. They were all-white and we didn’t see anything unusual in that.

I’ve been accused in print of racism for barbs aimed at ­Dennis Green as the Vikings coach. I’ve faced the same charge for suggesting in the 1990s that pro sports were more important than allowing our native tribes to maintain a monopoly on casinos (state-run casinos were a stadium funding option that went nowhere).

Obviously, these are trying times for race relations in the city of Minneapolis. My insight is minimal on that, but I’ve been around long enough to know Minnesota racism when it comes to sports.

Read the comments in public forums on articles that praise the NBA. If it’s before the monitors get to them, you’ll see it.

The fact Minnesotans now chant “Teddy, Teddy, Teddy’’ doesn’t change in the least the covert racism that I sensed so strongly in the criticism of ­Culpepper.

He was demonstrative, attention-seeking, get-a-roll-on kind of guy. He wore chains that could break a weaker man’s neck and competed with Moss to drive the flashiest vehicle.

Bridgewater is straightforward, almost humble, in presenting himself to the public. What’s he drive? Don’t know, but I’d guess not a Ferrari.

There’s no accusation of manipulation here … just the reality that Teddy gives off a completely different vibe than did Culpepper.

There’s no comparison in numbers between Culpepper as a 23-year-old first-year starter in 2000, and Bridgewater, just turned 23, as a second-year starter in 2015.

Yet, Culpepper never had a period in his career — including his magnificent 2004 — when he received the same level of support from Vikings fandom as Bridgewater enjoys today.

And that leads to this summation: Please, Minnesota, continue to cheer mightily for Bridgewater, but that doesn’t get us off the hook for the incessant shots taken at Culpepper even at the height of his excellence.

 

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. • preusse@startribune.com