Never Easy for Culpepper

The last three years have provided a roller-coaster of emotions for quarterback Daunte Culpepper, from injuries to benchings to releases, and finally thinking he was back again. Now, he gets to face another of his former teams and even shakes off a potential war of words with DT Pat Williams.

Daunte Culpepper gets to play two homecoming games in a single season.

The Oakland Raiders, in the throes of a five-game losing streak, are hopeful that his second homecoming brings the kind of success the first one did.

Back on Sept. 30, Culpepper got his first start in place of the injured Josh McCown with the Raiders against the Miami Dolphins, who gave up on him four games into his only season with the Dolphins in 2005.

If that weren't enough, new Dolphins coach Cam Cameron opted to bring in Trent Green as the starter and wouldn't even allow Culpepper on the practice field, fearful that an injury to his twice surgically repaired knee would bind him to the club contractually.

Culpepper went through the grievance process and eventually was released at his request, ultimately signing with the Raiders after talking to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With that as a backdrop, Culpepper rushed for three touchdowns, passed for two more and led the Raiders to a 35-17 win in Miami. His end-zone celebrations included pointing to his knee and flashing an "OK" sign to the Dolphins fans.

The Raiders were 2-2 and actually in first place by percentage points in the AFC West.

Raider Nation was hopeful things had finally turned around after the team had gone 15-49 the previous three seasons.

Instead, the Raiders haven't won since.

Hidden in the Miami win behind 299 yards rushing was a subpar Oakland passing game. Culpepper threw only 12 times, completing five.

When the Raiders returned from their bye, division foes San Diego and Kansas City loaded up and stopped the Raiders' running game, and Culpepper and the Raiders weren't up to carrying the offense in the air.

After three games in which the Raiders produced two offensive touchdowns, McCown was re-inserted as the starter. The Raiders lost to Houston and Chicago, McCown hurt his right quadriceps, and Culpepper had his job back.

He would have had it back even if McCown were healthy.

"You take everything into account, but I just felt after watching film and putting everything together, it was time to go with Daunte and see if he can give us a little spark," coach Lane Kiffin said. "It's nothing against Josh. Neither quarterback playing over the last month has done much for us offensively.

"We haven't produced anything close to what we would like to do. So we'll see if Daunte can give us a little spark this week going back to a place where he was at for long time."

Culpepper handled himself with grace and without rancor after losing his job to McCown. If there were extra emotions bubbling under the surface about facing the Vikings, he was keeping them under wraps with an easy smile and stock answers.

After Culpepper passed for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns with Minnesota in 2004, the Vikings dealt wide receiver Randy Moss to the Raiders.

"Once that happened, we all felt that in this business, you never know," Culpepper said.

The following season, Culpepper had just six touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and had been sacked 31 times before tearing all the major ligaments in his right knee.

The injury, plus his involvement in the "Love Boat" scandal with many Vikings teammates, prompted the trade to Miami.

"I had a great time there, and it just seemed like we didn't see eye to eye for a couple of different reasons, and it was time for me to move on," Culpepper said. "I'm glad I got the chance to continue to play the great game of football. There's really no hard feelings. It's just the business of the game, and I'm grateful and blessed to be where I'm at."

Culpepper's rushing numbers (36 yards on 15 carries with no run longer than 9 yards) indicate he is not even remotely the runner he was before his knee injury. From 2000 through 2004, Culpepper had more than 400 yards rushing every season, with a high of 609 in 2002.

He took on defensive linemen and linebackers and broke tackles.

Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams sees a different player lining up for the Raiders.

"I watched him on film today," Williams said. "I don't think he's full tilt yet. I don't think he's full speed yet. He looked kind of hesitant on that knee."

Culpepper's standard answer regarding his injury is that with experience, he is better than ever.

"Pat's a good player and he's been in this league a long time," Culpepper said. "He was a great teammate of mine, so I know Pat very well. I'm just going to continue to watch the film and on them and see what I can get on them. They've got to worry about stopping us, not me, so he can say what he wants to say."


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