Ode To Denny

Daunte Culpepper's NFL career is at a crossroads after the unfortunate events that took place in Miami Friday. His career in many ways mirrors that of the man who drafted him -- Denny Green. While Culpepper likely still has an NFL future, we have probably seen the last of Green, whose coaching career will likely be defined by drafting quarterbacks that made their name after he was gone.

The Daunte Culpepper malaise took a new and pathetic turn Friday, as Culpepper was banned from full-contact workouts in Miami, escorted away from practice by a team security official and responded by saying he would reject a restructured contract to help the Dolphins. The events brought back into focus the sad reality of the NFL. His career isn't over, but his days as a prime-time NFL quarterback to build a team around almost assuredly are.

Memories in the NFL are short and those who don't succeed are forgotten. In baseball, a moderately hard-core fan can list off backup catchers with ease. For Twins fans, names like Sal Butera and Phil Roof are names they recognize. The NFL is different. Neal Anderson was a tremendous running back in his time. Unfortunately for him, he followed Walter Payton and nobody adequately could follow Walter Payton. Anderson is little more than a footnote in NFL lore. Former Vikings head coach Dennis Green may find himself falling in that category.

There were plenty of Vikings fans that didn't like Green. He wasn't "media friendly" and he had a chip on his shoulder – viewed as well-deserved in many circles, but not something that endeared him to the Vikings faithful. Culpepper, it can be argued, cost him his job in Minnesota. Matt Leinart, it can be realistically contended, cost him his NFL coaching career.

To view Green's coaching legacy should go beyond "taking a knee" with 1:30 on the clock and two time outs in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. Two of his assistants – Brian Billick and Tony Dungy – have championship rings. Green doesn't and, odds are, never will. Billick, viewed by some as an offensive innovator, won his title with a defensive-oriented team. Dungy, acknowledged as a defensive genius, won his title on the back of a team based on offense. Green's legacy, it would seem, is centered on making a decisive choice at quarterback and never seeing the fruits of his labor realized on his watch.

Green got the Vikings head coaching job in 1992. He bailed out to avoid a firing in 2001. In his span as head coach, the Vikings consistently made the playoffs. What made that ironic is that, unlike the blueprint for success, Green had a revolving door at quarterback. Rich Gannon was his first starter, followed by Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham and Jeff George. The year George became the main man was in 1999 – the year after the Vikings set the NFL on fire by setting an offensive scoring record and posted a 15-1 record. The team had a chance to draft Jevon Kearse – a pass-rushing freak that could have augmented a Vikings defense that might have been one player away from a NFL title. Instead, Green looked long-term and drafted Culpepper. As a starter in 2000, Culpepper became a household name and Green was exonerated for declining a pass-rushing DE that the Vikings desperately needed. Culpepper regressed in 2001 before getting injured and, once he was gone, the Vikings tanked and Green took an off-ramp to the "high road" before being fired.

After a couple of years of cashing Red McCombs' required paychecks, Green resurfaced with the Cardinals. He took over a team that has done for success what Rosie O'Donnell has done for swimsuit fashion. The team he inherited had Josh McCown – a trivia answer at best – as it's starting quarterback. In his second season, he did what he has done in the past with success – bring in a veteran quarterback in Kurt Warner. While the team didn't set the world on fire, the offense boasted a pair of 100-reception wideouts.

Faced with a similar dilemma in the 2006 draft, Green defied the short-term wisdom of adding an offensive lineman or a defensive playmaker to draft Leinart. Like Culpepper, Leinart will be the face of the franchise as the starting QB. But, like Pepp, Green won't be around as head coach to see his decision blossom on his watch.

The Culpepper mess has commanded national media attention as to where his next landing spot will be. He will remain in the NFL, but whether it's as a starter or not is uncertain. But he built his resume under Green, who brought him along slowly and showed the league that you can sit on a first-round draft pick for a year and succeed.

Of the teams Culpepper could land with, the Vikings are not on the short list, the long list or the "last resort" list. If he can't handle being a backup, his career might be over and he may join Green in the fraternity of the NFL that feels they were done wrong. They may both be right. Culpepper has a lot of football left in him in the right situation and if his knee gets healed. So does Green. But the question for both is, despite their success in their chosen professions, will anybody hire them for what they believe they're worth? Probably not.

Thanks for the memories, Denny. Thanks to you too, Daunte. But neither of you are likely to see the NFL limelight again.

Turn the page.

* The big news out of Seahawks minicamp is that Nate Burleson has a goal for 2007. Seeing as Burleson, who was signed by Seattle more out of spite for the "poison pill" deal Steve Hutchinson cashed in on, signed a quasi-identical seven-year, $49 million contract, one would think the goal was to go the Pro Bowl or be a 1,000-yard receiver. Nah. His goal is to secure the role as No. 1 return man. Considering that his contract is, in actuality, a three-year, $9 million contract, Burleson may have been better suited to stay with the Vikings.
* From the "Related, But Unrelated Department" comes this: When Hutchinson signed with the Vikings, his job at left guard went to Pork Chop Womack. While PCW had a better nickname, he paled as a replacement. Whether he would be the starter this year or not, he likely took himself out of consideration by having two knee surgeries this week. The VU resource doesn't include medical manuals, so we will leave to you and your doctor to determine what two "bilateral arthroscopic surgeries" are and what the rehab from that entails. If nothing else, Shaun Alexander misses Hutch. Mike Holmgren does too. Regrets are few in the NFL, but seeing Hutchinson in purple leaves a stain in the Seahawks organization.
* Gannon, who has built a relationship with Brad Childress for the better part of the last decade, observed practice Friday and spoke to the Vikings quarterbacks – giving insight as to what they need to do to be successful.

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