MANKATO – Shaun Hill has built a name for himself heading into his 14th NFL season. That wasn’t the case during his first go-round with the Vikings.
In fact, in his first go-round, his first name essentially was “Hank.” As in Hank Hill, the slow-talking, beer-slurping, sloppy Southerner in the animated television show “King of the Hill.”
“I guess it’s my southern drawl,” Hill said. “[Then- running back] Michael Bennett gave me the nickname. Hated it. The guys on this team don’t know about it, I’m sure.”
Only one current player, long snapper Cullen Loeffler, was on the team when Hill left via free agency after the 2005 season. As an undrafted rookie from Maryland in 2002, Hill lasted four seasons and played only two snaps. Both were kneel-downs in the 2005 season finale, a victory over the Bears and the final game coached by Mike Tice.
Hill knew late that season that he wouldn’t be returning to Minnesota in 2006. It was pretty clear Tice wouldn’t be returning. Tice, the Maryland alum who loved him some Terrapin talent, was Hill’s staunchest supporter.
As it turns out, Tice had a better eye for backup QBs than most thought. Hill, 35, played nine additional seasons for San Francisco, Detroit and St. Louis before coming back to the Vikings because he was the 49ers’ No. 3 quarterback when current Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner held the same role in San Francisco in 2006.
“When I pulled out my notebook the other night, I wrote down, ‘Training camp: Year 14,’ ” Hill said. “I have no idea how it happened. That’s crazy.”
As he was eyeballing his exit back in 2005, Hill wondered if any other team would even know who he was. That got him to thinking about “Hank” Hill.
“That had pretty much become my name,” Hill said. “We had a receiver, Travis Taylor, my last year here. I was sitting there thinking one day that I’m in the last year of my contract. If I have to go somewhere else and a coach calls a player on the team and asks about Shaun Hill, will they know who he’s talking about?
“So I go up to Travis Taylor and I say, ‘Travis, what’s my first name?’ He looks at me and says, ‘Hank, ain’t it?’ ”
No. It’s Shaun. A name dependable enough for Turner to push for when Matt Cassel balked at settling for being Teddy Bridgewater’s backup and was traded to Buffalo. Hill got a two-year, $6.5 million deal with $3.2 million guaranteed.
Not bad money for a guy who has four seasons without playing a down and two more that included only two kneel-down snaps.
“We had to get Shaun,” Turner said.
If any coach the past two years has been forced to appreciate the importance of depth at quarterback, it’s Turner. As Browns offensive coordinator in 2013, he had three quarterbacks start at least three games. Last year, there was a three-game stretch when the Vikings started three different quarterbacks because of injuries.
Hill was asked to name his favorite backup quarterback. Like Tice, he turned to a former Terrapin: Frank Reich, the former Bills backup who once held the largest comeback victories at the collegiate and NFL levels. Subbing for Jim Kelly on Jan. 3, 1993, Reich led the Bills to a 41-38 overtime victory after trailing 35-3 early in the third quarter.
Reich made 20 career starts, going 5-15 with a 72.9 passer rating from 1985 to 1998. Hill has made 34 starts, going 16-18 with an 85.5 rating. He went 3-5 in eight starts with the Rams a year ago.
Coach Mike Zimmer said the key to being a good backup quarterback is producing maximum efficiency with bare minimum first-team practice reps. Turner said is also takes a player who is as in tune with his deficiencies as he is with his strengths.
“We had a guy with the Rams, Mark Herrmann,” Turner said. “He was the perfect guy. He was like Teddy. You couldn’t get him excited. He knew the offense. When he went into the game, he wasn’t trying to win the game. He was trying to make sure we continued getting completions and moving the ball.
“We were playing the Raiders. Jim Everett got knocked out and Mark goes in and completes seven straight and we go down and score. It’s guys who can play within the system and are really good decisionmakers.”
Turner thinks he has that in Hank, er, Shaun.