The start of training camp for the Vikings is still a few days away and the first actual preseason game is still more than two weeks off in the distance, but for one former Viking, his final curtain call will come at the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
Vikings great Randall McDaniel got the call to the hall Jan. 31, along with wide receiver Bob Hayes, linebacker Derrick Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith, cornerback Rod Woodson and Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. It will be the culmination of a career that has set the standard for offensive linemen league-wide and an honor that couldn't be bestowed on a more deserving recipient.
McDaniel, who set an NFL record with 12 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, seemed an obvious choice when he was in his first year of eligibility in 2008, yet got passed over for what some believed were less deserving candidates. Unlike other players, like former Viking Cris Carter, who sounded resentful for being passed over, McDaniel took the news in stride with his trademark style and philosophized that, when his day is ready, the hall will come calling and there was no use dwelling on it.
He didn't have to wait long, as he was voted in on his second year of eligibility. But what makes his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame groundbreaking from the Vikings standpoint is that he didn't have a Super Bowl appearance to fall back on. A lot of players with far inferior résumés to McDaniel's have been called to Canton because they were on championship teams in which they were significant contributors. Of the seven players who spent the majority of their playing careers with the Vikings, all of them had Super Bowl appearances on their résumés – Jim Finks, Bud Grant, Alan Page, Paul Krause, Ron Yary and Gary Zimmerman. McDaniel had no such supporting asterisk next to his name, having to earn his enshrinement simply by being the best at his position.
Those who saw McDaniel play were at first taken aback by his unorthodox playing stance. With his right knee bent almost completely under his body, it looked as though he couldn't take on a defender, much less dominate him. McDaniel overpowered defenders and used his technique to maul them – even though it didn't appear like he could before the snap.
When Matt Birk came into the NFL, McDaniel was one of his mentors and taught him how to play his position effectively.
"I learned a lot from him," Birk said. "He was a great teacher, but nobody would teach a player to copy that stance of his. It was strange and probably wouldn't work for anyone else. But it worked for him, so that was all that mattered."
McDaniel is the opposite of the perceived NFL star – arrogant, full of himself and out of touch with the common folk. McDaniel teaches special needs students as a paraprofessional at Hilltop Primary School in Mound, Minn. A gentle giant, he has transformed his life from schooling defensive players to schooling children.
As he takes his place among the NFL's immortals, he remains grounded, down to earth and eminently approachable to fans seeking a photo or an autograph. With all the discussion of character playing a role in whether or not a player is inducted into the Hall of Fame, McDaniel is an example for others to follow – a player who performed at the highest level on the field and has always conducted himself with class, dignity and human compassion off the field. Nobody is more deserving of the honor that will be bestowed on him than McDaniel.
McDaniel's accomplishments many
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