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The Roll May be Changing Venues
The writing was on the wall a while back, and some may have thought that former Minnesota Viking Pro-Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper should never have tried to play football ever again. Indeed, his decision to fire his agent and represent himself following his ouster in Minnesota may have been the first step in a perilous journey that ended in his virtual banishment from the professional game.
He expressed his frustrations with the NFL in his retirement letter:"When Free agency began this year, I had a new sense of excitement about continuing to rebuild my career in the same way that I had rebuilt my knee after my catastrophic injury in 2005. Unfortunately, what I found out was that the league did not share any of the optimism about me as an Unrestricted Free Agent that I expected. In fact, there was an overwhelming sense that there was no room for me among this year's group of quarterbacks; whether in a starting, competing or a back-up role. No matter what I did or said, there seemed to be a unified message from teams that I was not welcome to compete for one of the many jobs that were available at the quarterback position. It seems that the stance I took in both Minnesota and Miami regarding my rights as a person and player has followed me into Free Agency."
The fumble-prone quarterback was the centerpiece of an often frightening Minnesota Viking offense in the years before Randy Moss was ran out of town. The offense was scary for opponents and fans, who were just as likely to see a 250 yard passing game, at least one fumble, an interception or two and a sideline tantrum by either Moss, Culpepper, the various coaching staffs, or all of the above.
Culpepper's 2004 season is the stuff of legend, and following his Madden 2005 cover photo, he shredded his knee the following season in a blowout loss to the Carolina Panthers. Culpepper's later stints in Miami, Oakland, and an aborted attempt at a roster spot this year in Pittsburgh for former Viking coach Mike Tomlin were all star-crossed and embroiled in intrigue while the word that came out of the various camps were that he was unable to comprehend a role as anything less than a franchise starter, including a guaranteed amount of that sort of money on that sort of contract, and that stubbornness at age 31 brought to an end a career that many will argue ended sadly short.
Even at his pinnacle Daunte Culpepper was a player who epitomized a lesson in starkly opposite contrasts. Fleet of foot and much larger in size than the average NFL quarterback, Culpepper could be a rangy, hard-fighting competitor and in the blink of an eye commit a careless fumble or blown play. He was always diametrically loved and reviled in the hardcore Viking fan base.
Culpepper's letter goes on to state: "After taking a long look at my career and my personal convictions, I have decided to begin early retirement from the NFL effective immediately. Since the beginning of training camp I was told that my opportunity would come when a quarterback gets hurt. I cannot remember the last time so many QB’s have been injured during the preseason. I have been strongly encouraged from family, friends and league personnel to continue to be patient and wait for an inevitable injury to one of the starting quarterbacks in the league. I would rather shut the door to such “opportunity” than continue to wait for one of my fellow quarterback’s to suffer a serious injury. Since I was not given a fair chance to come in and compete for a job, I would rather move on and win in other arenas of life.
"The decision I made in 2006 to represent myself rather than hire an agent has been an invaluable experience. I now understand why so many people within the NFL community are uncomfortable with a player really learning the business. The NFL has become more about power, money and control than passion, competition and the love of the game. Regardless of this shift, player’s rights are still supposed to be a part of this league. Since I will not be given the opportunity to honor the memory of Gene Upshaw by wearing a patch on my uniform this year, I will instead spend some of my energy applying what he taught me about standing up for what is right and not sitting down for what is clearly wrong.
"I want to thank my family and my fans for their unwavering belief in me as a person and a player. I embraced both the peaks and the valleys of the game and my career. I am a better person today as a direct result of the experience of playing in the NFL. I can now focus on the enjoyment of watching some of the greatest athletes in the world play the game I love without the distraction of waiting for those elusive return phone calls."
Speculation abounds on what Culpepper may seek to do next. Indeed, perhaps the "new arena's" he hopes to win in may be The New Yankee Stadium in 2009. The Yankees, who drafted Culpepper coming out of high school and again after his career at the University of Central Florida came to an end, are in need of pitching help, and Culpepper may still have what it takes to hurl the baseball. He was been clocked with a 95 mph fastball years ago, and no one has ever questioned the ability of his throwing arm. If his knee can hold up, the newest addition to The Yankees could be a most compelling back story, unrivaled in several boring years.