Backup QB Syndrome in Force

It shouldn't come as any surprise if many Vikings fans start the chant to bench Daunte Culpepper today if things go badly against the Packers. When you think about it, backup QBs are a rich tradition in Minnesota's revolving door QB policy.

Let's hope Daunte Culpepper isn't a news junkie. In fact, let's hope he's a recluse when it comes to the media.

For the past month, Culpepper has been called everything from a has-been to bum from local sports talk radio to national sports television. In one Twin Cities newspaper, a shortsighted columnist summed up the Vikings loss to the Giants by pleading for Todd Bouman to be the starter. In the other newspaper in the Twin Cities, a reader poll is still underway discussing Culpepper. The question asked doesn't wonder if Culpepper will be yanked from today's game, it asks "when will Daunte Culpepper get pulled?"

The media attention to his struggles intensified when he was pulled from last Sunday's game – a contest in the third quarter that, at the time of his being told he was being benched, the team still trailed by just seven points. From that moment on, Culpepper has endured the worst week of his life.

Everybody, it seems, has an opinion. Most are weak opinions – trade him, keep him on the bench, cut him – but they show how passionate people are about changing things around for the better. Bouman has become the fair-haired boy, just as Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham and Jeff George were before him. He can do no wrong in their eyes. It may not help that, in nine quarters – just a little more than two games -- as the Vikings quarterback, Bouman has found Randy Moss 20 times for 412 yards and four touchdowns.

Perhaps it has been the conditioning of Vikings fans to want somebody new at quarterback. It's nothing new -- it's become a trademark of the Vikings in recent years.

The last franchise quarterback the Vikings had was Tommy Kramer. From 1979-86, Kramer was the guy out there almost every Sunday during the time when the Purple People Eaters of the ‘70s were ferreted out one by one – including coach Bud Grant and the guy he replaced, Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton. For the next three years starting in 1987, Kramer began taking a back seat to backup Wade Wilson – the Todd Bouman of his generation. That would start the ball rolling.

The first year Wilson didn't have Kramer looming over his shoulder to come off the bench as an aging gunslinger was 1990. In that year, because of injuries Wilson lost his job to Rich Gannon. They battled it out for the next two years -- fans alternately cheering for the one not starting -- until new sheriff Denny Green arrived and sent Wilson back to Texas. Gannon had the job until injuries and ineffectiveness let Sean Salisbury sneak into the equation – a QB low point for the Vikings since Archie Manning took a hellish beating in 1984.

With Gannon gone after one year with Green, Salisbury thought he had his chance … until Jim McMahon rolled into town with his permanent concussion. He lasted one year and Warren Moon hit the scene. He was the man in 1994-95, but the next historical Bouman was lurking – Brad Johnson. Like Bouman, he had long been sitting on the shelf in his original bubble wrap, but when Johnson came on in 1996, the groundswell began – get rid of Moon.

With Johnson finally entrenched in the starting job, Randall Cunningham was brought in for the 1997 season, because Denny Green loved having a veteran backup. Johnson played most of that season, but it was Cunningham who gave Green his first career playoff win and the fans spoke – we want Randall. Johnson lost his job in 1998 and the Vikings signed Cunningham long-term for big bucks. Settled right?

Nah. Jeff George was signed as a backup and, after a 2-4 start had fans bewildered, the backup rally cry began again. George came in, the Vikes went 8-2 and made the playoffs in 1999. For more than a decade, nobody had better backup quarterbacks than the Vikings – each of them eventually winning the job over his predecessor and banishing him from Minnesota.

Culpepper took over in 2000 and, once again, the new guy did great. In 2000, he went 11-5 and had a 98.1 passer rating. Since then, he's gone 6-14 with a 78.0 passer rating. So it should come as no surprise that fans and media have been calling for Bouman. It might just be too instilled in Vikings fans to never have the same QB for any extended period of time.

Somewhere Tommy Kramer is smiling and remembering.

* Are the Packers paper lions? Sure, they're 8-1, but only three of those wins have come vs. teams with winning records – Atlanta, New England and Miami. In contrast, few people claim the Saints are the best team in the NFC, yet they have wins vs. Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and San Francisco – four teams that are tied or leading their divisions and combined have lost just eight games this year (half of those to New Orleans).
* Green Bay's only loss was its only game played in a domed stadium this year.
* The Packers are a defensive anomoly. In the last four games, they have allowed opponents to rush for 120 yards or more in each game, yet the defense hasn't given up more than 14 points in any of them.
* Michael Bennett is looking for his fourth straight 100-yard game today. He may have a better chance than some think. In his only career game vs. the Packers, he ran 25 times for 104 yards on the cold turf of Lambeau Field.
* Culpepper is currently ranked 28th among qualifying NFL quarterbacks with a 71.1 passer rating. To put that low of a score in perspective, Mitch Berger had a 39.6 passer rating last year and his only attempted pass was an incompletion.
* What happened to those Packers we saw in September? In their first three games, the Pack allowed 100 points. In the last six games, they've allowed just 78 points.
* The Vikings are on pace to surrender 6,200 yards this season. For the sake of comparison, the awful team that toiled in the foreboding 1984 season allowed 6,352 yards and was the worst defense in team history. Or from the other side of things, as potent as the Vikings offense was in 1998, it amassed 6,264 yards. In other words, the Vikings defense is turning the opponents into the 1998 Vikings offense.
* The matchup of the game today clearly should be OT Bryant McKinnie vs. DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. After giving up his first career sack last week, McKinnie will be hard-pressed to put in his first sack-free game of his career.
* Imposing an offensive will is going to be key today. The Packers have the sixth-rated pass offense, which will go up against the 31st-rated pass defense. On the other side, the Vikings have the second-rated rush offense in the NFL, while the Packers are 14th on run defense. Don't expect any of those rankings to change much after today's game.
* If Iowa fans can take a goal post out of the Metrodome, maybe Packer fans with try to tear to the roof off the Metrodome. Favre is 2-8 at the Metrodome and 110-40 anywhere else during his NFL career.
* Your nine-game Randy Ratio numbers show an interesting trend. Maybe Mike Tice was right – he just shouldn't have blabbed it to anyone who would listen. In three games, Moss has caught nine or more passes – not all long bombs and not all highlight filled TD scampers. But, they are the two Vikings wins and the robbery that was an overtime loss to Buffalo. In games he hasn't had that many catches, the Vikings are 0-6 and have been getting blown out at some point in most of them.
* For the Ratio Record, Moss has been the target of 102 of the team's 316 QB-thrown passes. That comes out to 32.3 percent – still not too shabby. Of those 102 passes, Moss has caught 56 of them. Of the 46 incompletions, the NFL's official stat service claims 19 of them were uncatchable because of poor throws. He is "credited" with just seven drops – four of them coming in the loss at Seattle. The Ratio news rocks on.

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