There was a column in Saturday’s print edition of the Star Tribune on what I perceive to be a very different reaction of Vikings fans to Daunte Culpepper and Teddy Bridgewater as the team’s quarterback.
Culpepper sat as a rookie in 1999, took over as the starter in 2000 and was the regular until injured in the mid-point of the 2005 season. Bridgewater started 13 games as a rookie in 2014 and has added 13 more to that total in 2015.
The contention in Saturday’s column was that Culpepper faced racism as Minnesota’s quarterback in the reaction of a sizable share of fans, based on the manner in which he presented himself to the public. And Bridgewater has been embraced by virtually the entire fan base because of his low-key, almost humble manner.
Culpepper’s production in his second season in the league (and first as a starter) was much greater than Bridgewater’s has been in 2014, yet in my view , he faced much-harsher criticism than has Bridgewater.
I agree that younger generations of fans in 2015 are much more color blind than they were in 2000. I also know what I heard and read, and there was Minnesota-style racism directed at Daunte throughout his career (including 2004, when only Peyton Manning’s then-record 49 touchdown passes prevented Culpepper from winning the MVP award).
I knew that part of the reaction to the column would be this: Why not a mention of the way the fans reacted to the Vikings’ other African-American quarterbacks who made a substantial number of starts?
They were Warren Moon (1994-96), Randall Cunningham (1997-99) and Tarvaris Jackson (2006-10).
The Culpepper-Bridgewater comparison is based on this: They are the only African-American quarterbacks who arrived here advertised as “franchise quarterbacks’’ – meaning, this would be Minnesota’s guy for the long haul.
We knew Moon was stopgap, even if he did last three years. We knew Cunningham was here as a fill-in, even as he replaced an injured Brad Johnson and then had a hellacious 1998 season.
And fans could only hope that Jackson, a second-round reach by Brad Childress, could be the guy. They weren’t told definitively that Jackson was going to be the franchise quarterback. It was a hope, not a promise from management.
When the front office tells its fan base specifically, “We drafted Daunte (or Teddy) in the first round to be our franchise quarterback,’’ the ante is upped and the reactions become more emotional.
In Daunte’s case, those reactions were extra-harsh, and in Teddy’s case, they have been largely generous. And I contend that has more to do with the manner in which the public perceived (and now perceives) their personalities than in performance.