Randy Moss had a career-high 111 receptions in 2003. A year later, he had a hamstring injury and caught 49 passes, while reaching new heights on the annoyance meter.
The Vikings traded him to Oakland for what became the No. 7 overall draft choice in 2005, and then they used that spot to draft receiver Troy Williamson, a speed burner from South Carolina.
Red McCombs, in his last few weeks as Vikings owner, told the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman that scouting director Scott Studwell “couldn’t have been more excited about a player’’ than he was Williamson.
Daunte Culpepper had a career-high 4,717 passing yards with 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2004. A year later, Culpepper and the Vikings were off to a horrible start, and then he suffered a gruesome, career-changing knee injury in Game 7.
New coach Brad Childress feuded with Culpepper over Daunte’s rehab plan and traded him to Miami and Nick Saban for a second-round choice in 2006. A year later, Saban was on his way to Alabama.
Childress had Brad Johnson as a veteran quarterback, and said he wanted to pick up a “developmental’’ QB in the draft to be “molded like a piece of clay.’’ That quarterback was Tarvaris Jackson of Division I-AA Alabama State, taken at the end of the second round (No. 64).
The view here has been that the dual desperation of replacing Moss one year and Culpepper the next has linked Williamson and Jackson in the memory banks of Vikings fandom.
That link was there for all to see in one astounding moment Dec. 30, 2007, in Denver. Williamson was playing what would be his final game with the Vikings, and Jackson was attempting to finish a sporadic season of hope with a stirring road victory.
The Vikings came up with a play that allowed Williamson to be running open in the middle of the field. Jackson moved to his left to make time for Williamson to get deep, and unloaded an on-the-mark pass for what would have been a 72-yard touchdown.
This was a last glimpse of the Williamson that Studwell and coach Mike Tice had dreamed about: the fastest blur in shoulder pads blowing past a secondary, getting open and going long distance for TDs, Randy-style.
The football went through Williamson’s hands and hit him in the facemask. The game wasn’t over, as Jackson brought back the Vikings improbably for two late touchdowns to force overtime, but the Vikings days were over for Troy, No. 7 overall.
Childress was asked to reminisce about that play in a phone call this week and said:
“My stats man, the great Bud Goode … he always has said, ‘Brad, you know what receivers have to be able to do? Receive.’
“Bud would show me his stats on the impact of dropped passes. We’re focused on how many catches, not drops. But drops are killers … cost points, kill drives.
“We didn’t draft Troy, but we loved the speed, just like the previous staff. We just couldn’t get the ‘receive’ part fixed.’’
The Childress-Williamson relationship was very rocky even before the drop in Denver. The Vikings made a horrendous PR blunder when it became known they were going to fine Williamson a game check in 2007 for missing a game to attend his grandmother’s funeral planned for the following day.
The fine was rescinded, but not Williamson’s bitterness — over that and being inactive several times.
It wasn’t that way in the months leading up to the 2007 season. Dr. Alan Reichow, son of Vikings super scout Jerry and head of Nike’s vision institute, discovered a vision flaw with Williamson.
Troy was given drills, and thousands of caught footballs confirmed a new efficiency. Reichow’s work with Williamson extended to the lights being changed in the Vikings’ indoor practice facility, as well as the angles of the Metrodome lights for football games.
I spent 90 minutes in Childress’ Winter Park office in July 2007: 45 minutes devoted to great Mike White recruiting stories from Chilly’s days as an Illinois graduate assistant; the other 45 with the coach optimistically talking about Williamson’s dedication in working with Reichow to absorb these helpful hints.
Didn’t work. Still drops, at awful moments.
The death of Tarvaris Jackson this week in a one-car crash at age 36 got me to contemplating (always dangerous):
Tarvaris was a No. 64 pick from non-major football playing the most complex position in American sports. There were times during a winning streak in 2007 fans were permitted to think, “Little more molding, fewer injuries, T-Jack has a chance.”
So the question is, if Williamson had been an early version of Tyreke Hill, blazing speed and a receiver who could receive, would Tarvaris have made it, and Brett Favre would have never worn Purple?
“Can’t say that for sure,’’ Childress said. “We did have Sidney Rice after Troy, and he had the ‘receive’ part down. Favre called me over one day at practice, pointed toward Sidney and said, ‘He goes and gets the ball better than anyone I’ve played with.’ ”
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