Daunte Culpepper broke his five-week silence with reporters this week when he discussed his former team, the Minnesota Vikings, with the Miami media. For some former teammates of Culpepper's, the silence might end before the game Sunday when the Vikings play at Miami.
Running back Mewelde Moore, who was Culpepper's teammate for two years, doesn't have Culpepper's new number. "I tried to give him a call one time, but his phone number changed so I couldn't reach him," Moore said.
Ten months after he underwent surgery to reconstruct ligaments in his right knee, Culpepper started a Dolphins preseason opener. But Culpepper's remarkable comeback story quickly turned into a nightmare that so far has ruined two straight seasons.
Last year, Culpepper suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through the season. After an odd beginning to the relationship between Culpepper and Vikings head coach Brad Childress that included miscommunication about his rehabilitation, he was traded to the Dolphins for a second-round pick.
In four games as the Dolphins starting quarterback, Culpepper was sacked 21 times. In those four games, he threw two touchdowns and three interceptions with a ho-hum 77.0 quarterback rating. Miami was 1-3 in those four games.
"For him to come back as quick as he had, I think it's almost a miracle itself," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "Usually, that's probably a two-year process with that kind of knee injury, anyway."
Culpepper and his surgically repaired knee were benched in favor of Joey Harrington, who hasn't fared much better. In five games as the starter, Harrington has thrown for six touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a less-than-impressive 65.7 rating.
Speculation is rampant on whether or not Culpepper attempted to return to action too early.
"I know it was a devastating knee injury," Childress said. "You just never know how those things respond. That's a big man on those legs. He plays that game a different way than, as I mentioned, Joey Harrington does. It's water over the bridge and I'd rather not go back there."
Moore said the Vikings have moved on as well.
"Daunte was a leader here for years," Moore said. "But this is a business and we do what we have to do. He was assigned to a different job in a different area and that's where he's taken care of his business. Brad's our leader now."
Dolphins head coach Nick Saban said he isn't second-guessing their decision to let Culpepper play earlier this season.
"We took all of the medical information and Daunte's attitude and competitive spirit and made a decision with him that he was ready to play," Saban said. "I think that his mobility affected his effectiveness a little bit. He got hit a little bit more than we liked. In the player's interest, we decided to hold him out until we could get him to where he could move and be explosive like he has been in the past."
Naturally, Culpepper is disappointed he can't play Sunday. After being dealt by the Vikings to the Dolphins, Culpepper has had this Sunday marked on his calendar. Most players who get traded relish the opportunity to show their former team what they dealt away.
But his repaired knee won't allow the eagerly awaited matchup, so Culpepper has to watch from the sidelines.
"It was a game I was looking forward to," Culpepper said. "Unfortunately, my knee isn't as good as my spirit, my soul and my mind are. I still have to be smart about my knee and keep moving along, keep progressing and keep getting better. It hurts my heart not to play in this one. It's tough – trust me."
Culpepper said he doesn't think his knee needs additional surgery. He is trying to remain optimistic for a return still this season. "Being the positive person I am, of course I want to (return)," he said. "But I'm going to be smart about it and we're going to be smart about it as a team and we're going to do what's best for me."
Culpepper's relationship with Childress was never right from the start. Culpepper chose to be his own agent and one of his first dealings with Childress was focused around a pay raise, which rankled Childress. The two were also at odds about where Culpepper should rehabilitate his knee. Culpepper wanted to rehab near his home in Orlando; Childress believed the best place for Culpepper to train was Winter Park in Minnesota.
"One thing I really want to say about that is that it's really sad there's a lot of misinformation out there about me, and they let that kind of go and snowball," Culpepper said. "That's the only disappointing thing. I've moved on. I'm in a situation where I'm just trying to get my knee right."
Culpepper wishes the Vikings would move on as well.
"I just wish anybody up there in that organization would kind of just let it go," Culpepper said. "I know I have. I moved on. I'm really focusing now on myself and this team and trying to help us be the best team we can be. I really wish they would let it go because it's ridiculous."
That statement seemed odd at this point, as there has been very little coming out of Winter Park about Culpepper and his situation.
He started 80 games over six seasons for the Vikings and threw 135 touchdowns during his tenure in purple. His best season was in 2004 when he threw for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a rating of 110.9. Were it not for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's record-breaking season, Culpepper could have been the NFL MVP.
Even though Culpepper was dealt more setbacks in his comeback from a serious knee injury this season, Harrington said Culpepper's spirits are still good.
"He's the same guy when I first came in," Harrington said. "Obviously he's frustrated, which you can expect from anybody."
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