Whether you’re a sports writer, analyst, or fan, rarely do you have the chance to interact with the athletes whom we most admire.
I have not had that privilege since interviewing Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton last January—and I was excited to say the least, to be granted the opportunity to interview another multiple-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, once proclaiming that he wanted “to be the best ever!”
Most remember how unfair it was to compete against anyone in Madden who decided to play as the Minnesota Vikings. All one had to do was drop back with Daunte, roll out of the pocket, tap the circle-button, and complete 80-yard bombs to Randy Moss at will.
During the last full-season Daunte was able to play prior to injury, he set an NFL record by recording a total of 5,123 combined yards (4,717 passing and 406 rushing). The record still stands to this day and may never be broken unless the NFL expands the regular season to 18 games.
The scary part is that before Randy Moss fell victim to injury a third of the way through the season, Daunte was on pace to throw for 5,651 yards and 58 touchdowns, while posting a 127.0 quarterback rating—literally.
But it all came to a halt in 2005.
Most remember the catastrophic knee injury Culpepper sustained that season—and the struggle it has been for him to come back to being 100 percent.
I believe that continuing to remain dedicated to recovery for half a decade speaks volumes about both Daunte’s character and his passion for the sport of professional football.
Having been a fan of Daunte’s for many years, his presence alone sparked my interest in the prospect of seeing what the UFL had to offer when he signed with the Sacramento Mountain Lions in June 2010.
After having watched a number of UFL games last season and seeing some of the throws Daunte was able to make, two things struck me in particular:
No. 1: The UFL exceeded all of my expectations, providing both a respectable and entertaining form of American football.
No. 2: Daunte Culpepper can still play.
It wasn’t before seeing some of his UFL games last season that I could truly say that he looked to be back to 100 percent.
Naturally, as you might expect, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Daunte last week.
I wanted to know about his experiences in the UFL last season, what it was like to be reunited with head coach Dennis Green, how he felt about his record-breaking 2004 season, and what we can all expect from him in 2011.
Thankfully, Daunte was happy to share his thoughts on the topics.
Ryan: How would you describe your experience with the Sacramento Mountain Lions while playing in the UFL last season?
Daunte: “I am thankful to have had an opportunity to be able to both prepare and play with the Mountain Lions last year. The passion for the game and the level of competition met my expectations. It was really refreshing to focus on playing the game of football that I truly love to play.”
Ryan: Having started your NFL career under head coach Dennis Green during your first two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, what was it like to be reunited with him in Sacramento?
Daunte: “Coach Green brought back all of the great memories of being under his system of believing the best in his players while keeping the expectations at a high level. He knows how to instill belief in your abilities while preparing his players to play at the highest level with a great sense of accountability.
It was truly a welcomed reunion to be with both coach Green and coach Kruz (Mike Kruczek) as my offensive coordinator. Those guys spurred me on to prepare for the next opportunity when it comes.”
Ryan: As I'm sure you're well aware, your combined passing and rushing totals from the 2004 NFL season (5,123 yards total) still stands as the all-time NFL record at the quarterback position. Do you ever sit back and think that if Peyton Manning had not had such an incredible season of his own that same year, you would have been named the league's MVP?
Daunte: “To be honest, I moved on expecting to compete for the MVP the next year before my now-famous knee injury in early 2005. I was honored to be in the MVP conversation with Peyton and breaking Dan Marino's combined passing and rushing record in 2004.
However, none of that stuff matters in comparison to having an opportunity to pursue a championship. I still have my eyes on that goal more than breaking records or receiving individual awards.”
Ryan: At this stage of your career, you're still half a decade younger than Brett Favre and I've seen some of the throws you were able to make last year—what can we expect from Daunte Culpepper in the future and what are your plans for 2011?
Daunte: “I am really hoping to have some conversations with a few NFL teams before deciding whether to exercise my player option with the UFL for 2011. I have heard that there is a need in the NFL for game-ready quarterbacks for next year.
My passion for playing professional football has only increased each year since finally being 100 percent healthy. To be able to run and throw with no concern about my knee has been exhilarating.
I am truly thankful for the opportunity to play last year in the UFL and will welcome the chance to return if I cannot find an NFL team that is interested in considering what I can bring to the table.
I have learned that you get in where you fit in and last year, I fit in with Coach Green and the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL. We were one play away from playing in that championship that I still have my eye on; in whatever professional football league I play in!”
After having concluded my interview with Daunte, I was impressed.
Here is a player who has remained dedicated to the sport of professional football for over a decade, and you can tell how passionate he continues to be despite past adversity.
Having watched him play in the UFL last season and after seeing his leadership on the field, his ability to throw the football, his ability to move around the pocket with poise, and after experiencing his enthusiasm first-hand, I am convinced now more than ever that Daunte Culpepper has both the ability and dedication to continue to find success in professional football.
I would like to personally thank Mr. Culpepper for taking the time to do this interview. As both a sports writer and a fan, it was a true pleasure on my behalf and I would like to wish him the best of luck in all of his future professional football endeavors.
UPDATE FOR THE READERS:
I feel it worthy to note how impressed I am by Daunte's continued efforts to stay in touch, even after the conclusion of our interview. He wanted his fans to know and was kind enough to share with me today (2/7/11) that his wife just gave birth to a "healthy baby boy!".
I would like to congratulate the entire Culpepper family and pass along my best wishes.
You would be hard-pressed to find a bigger class act than Daunte; as I continue to be more and more impressed by his character. From my interactions with him, it has become abundantly clear that he truly values and appreciates the support of his fans. Being one myself, I can honestly say that the feeling couldn't be more mutual.
Thanks again Daunte!
Ryan Michael is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report: Any questions, comments, or professional inquiries can be directed to his email at firstname.lastname@example.org.