Vikings' McDaniel inducted into NFL Hall of Fame
By Mike Popovich
Canton (OH) Repository.com staff writer
Randall McDaniel saw himself as a big kid playing a kid's game.
He chose to keep a low profile rather than bask in the limelight. People saw him as a regular guy, a man who easily could relate to everyone.
McDaniel took on a different persona on the football field.
Some defensive players never knew what hit them when they went head-to-head with McDaniel. He had speed, strength and tenacity.
McDaniel starred for 14 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He missed just two games -- none in his final 12 seasons. Once deemed too small, he cracked the starting lineup in his second game and went on to start in 202 in a row before retiring.
No one has played in more Pro Bowls than McDaniel. He was elected as the NFC's starting left guard 12 straight times, once at age 36 with the Bucs.
Skill players loved having McDaniel on their side. He blocked for six 1,000-yard rushers and five 3,000-yard passers during his career.
Fellow linemen respected McDaniel's dedication and work ethic.
"He was the consummate pro," former Vikings and Bucs center Jeff Christy said. "He never seemed out of shape. He did what he had to do in the locker room. When somebody needed to speak up, he spoke up.
"He was just a great all-around player and person."
McDaniel grew up in Avondale, Ariz., and was a three-sport athlete at Agua Fria Union High School.
A basketball future looked like a possibility the year McDaniel averaged 24.2 points. Track may have been another option. He once ran the 100 in 10.6 seconds.
McDaniel's first love was football even though he did not play competitively until high school.
"The first time I wanted to play football, I was 8 years old," McDaniel said. "My mom took me to Pop Warner (Youth Football). They weigh us in and tell me I'm too big to play with kids my own age. I need to lose 20 pounds.
"I said, 'Let me play with the older kids,' because I did that all the time in our neighborhood. They said, 'No, we can't. Those kids are older. You have to play with the kids your age. Lose the weight.' I said, 'Screw that.'
"I started playing baseball. I played all the way up until high school and excelled."
McDaniel had a breakout season in football as a junior and became an all-state tight end his final year. College football and basketball coaches showed interest in him. Wayne Bateman, his high school basketball coach, suggested he seriously consider the basketball offers.
"He was a Charles Barkley-type force," said O.K. Fulton, a former Agua Fria Union coach, athletic director and assistant principal. "He could jump and do all the things inside like Charles Barkley. But he could not shoot from outside. He would have had to develop that."
Fulton knew where McDaniel's heart really was.
"He was a wonderful basketball player, but football was where we ultimately thought he would go," he said.
McDaniel knew he was going to sign with Arizona State to play football the moment the university offered him a scholarship. He lettered all four seasons and made the transition from tight end to guard during a bye week his sophomore year.
ASU's 1986 season was easily McDaniel's favorite college football memory. He was a consensus All-American who helped lead the Sun Devils to their first Pac-10 title and a win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
"That group of guys, we came together that year," McDaniel said. "We go to Pasadena and play Michigan, everybody knew who Bo Schembechler was. To look over at that sideline, see him and that blue and yellow, it was like a dream come true.
"(We said) 'Let's beat this Big Ten team everybody knows about and put Arizona State on the map.' And we did. What a feeling that was."
Many consider McDaniel the greatest offensive lineman in Arizona State history. Former Sun Devils and Ohio State Head Coach John Cooper later said he was one of the best players he ever had a chance to coach.
"I always thought he would turn into a great player," Cooper said.
The Vikings made the NFC championship game even though they finished 8-7 in 1987. Three losses came with strike-replacement players, but the offense was far from explosive.
Little did they know they were getting a future Hall of Famer in the bottom third of the NFL draft.
Minnesota chose McDaniel with the 19th overall selection in 1988. The rookie was thrown in the fire right away. An injury to Dave Huffman thrust him into the starting lineup in Week 2 against New England.
"Dave Huffman hurt his back but finished that first game against Buffalo," McDaniel said. "The following week I still did everything the rookies normally do.
"They didn't tell me I was going to start until Friday. That was a scary moment because that same practice, I got poked in the eye. I had a big patch over my left eye and ended up going to a dark shield. But I got out there, and it was a blast."
A Hall of Fame career quickly took off.
McDaniel helped the Vikings offense improve from 15th to seventh in the league in yards and was named all-rookie in '88. His 15 starts broke a 26-year-old team record for most starts at guard by a rookie. A year later, McDaniel made his first Pro Bowl trip. He became the fifth player in Vikings history to earn a berth so early in his career.
Minnesota's offense had some star-studded players during McDaniel's early years.
Quarterback Wade Wilson and receiver Anthony Carter were Pro Bowl selections. Receiver Cris Carter was an up-and-comer. Herschel Walker, acquired for five players and six draft picks, led the running game.
Playing in obscurity like most linemen, McDaniel was not easily recognized. His peers knew him. By 1992, he was rated behind only Washington tackle Jim Lachey in voting for best NFC offensive lineman.
Tackle Gary Zimmerman, a 2008 enshrinee, was lining up with a player who had the speed of a defensive back yet was still one of the strongest guys on the team.
"He's got all the physical talents," Zimmerman said early in McDaniel's career. "I've seen him make hits where he's off-balance and just roll people, and I don't know how he does it."
UPS AND DOWNS
Future Hall of Famer Warren Moon was in good hands after he became Minnesota's starting quarterback in 1994. The McDaniel-led line held opponents to just one sack every 22.7 pass attempts, the second-best ratio in Vikings history.
The offense looked unstoppable in 1998 when the Vikings scored a league-record 556 points and became only the third NFL team to win 15 games during the regular season.
Quarterback Randall Cunningham threw for 3,704 yards and 34 touchdowns, his best season as a pro. Robert Smith rushed for almost 1,200 yards. Cris Carter was named to the Pro Bowl for the sixth time. Randy Moss caught 17 touchdown passes, an NFL rookie record.
McDaniel was on top of his game, too. He allowed only 1 1/2 sacks all season while Vikings running backs averaged 5.4 yards a carry on his side of the line.
An elusive Super Bowl ring was within McDaniel's reach, but his dream was shattered in the NFC championship game. Atlanta came back from a 27-20 deficit in the final two minutes of regulation and beat Minnesota 30-27 in overtime. The Vikings became the first 15-1 team to fail to make it to the Super Bowl.
"We had the game won," McDaniel said. "In the end, little simple things, little simple mistakes happened, and we didn't get the job done.
"It took me a couple weeks to get over it. Normally it's a day or two, and we move on. That one kind of hurt a little bit."
A year later, McDaniel was on his way out of Minnesota.
His release by the Vikings after the 1999 season came as a surprise. He extended his NFL record for consecutive Pro Bowl starts to 11. His consecutive starts streak overall was up to 170, the fourth-longest in team history. He helped Smith rush for more than 1,000 yards for the third straight season.
The Vikings said they released McDaniel for salary cap reasons. In a letter he received from the team, McDaniel later revealed the team felt he could not compete for his job with the players who were there.
Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy thought differently. He told McDaniel he wanted him to play for the Buccaneers. A week later, McDaniel signed with Minnesota's division rival.
Dungy was right about McDaniel. In 2000, he helped Warrick Dunn rush for more than 1,000 yards for the fourth straight season, including a career-best 210 against Dallas. His protection for Shaun King helped the Bucs quarterback throw a career-high four touchdown passes against the Vikings.
Afterward, McDaniel was selected to his 12th straight Pro Bowl.
"You go out and do your best," McDaniel said. "That's the way I always played. No matter where you go, you have to go out and put your best foot forward. That's what I did."
McDaniel retired after the 2001 season. The Bucs placed him on the expansion draft list for the Houston Texans, but he was not selected.
Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl the following year. McDaniel left a message for Christy, congratulating him. Christy called back and said he wished his former teammate was there to share in the celebration.
"I go, 'Christy, I made my choice,' " McDaniel said. "Here's my thing: I had 14 great years. I have no regrets.