Many Happy Returns
Don't tell the gossip columnists, but Days of Our Lives has nothing on the soap opera that is unfolding among the Vikings' kick returners. At the start of the season the main job belonged to Qadry Ismail, who was married on April 8 to his college sweetheart at Syracuse, Holly Oslander. Said Ismail before the opener, "I'm not going to lollygag and take anything for granted with my job, because I know that's not the kind of person Holly married."
Alas, Ismail lollygagged—assuming that's a term that can be applied to fumbling a kickoff—in the Vikes' Week 2 victory over the Lions. Coach Dennis Green was so upset that he benched Ismail, whose 23.1-yard kickoff return average last season was the best for the Vikings in a decade, and replaced him with Bobby Phillips, a rookie out of Virginia Union who subsequently became the first player in NFL history known to be married in a mall.
The blessed event happened on Sept. 29, during the team's bye week. Phillips had arranged to be married in a St. Paul church by a minister who was supposed to meet him and his betrothed, Melinda Williams, at the Mall of America. But the minister was a no-show, so Phillips took his bride-to-be to the mall's Chapel of Love.
"They tried to treat me like a celebrity," says Phillips, "but I said, 'Uh-uh, I'm no celebrity. I just want to get married.'"
Phillips is still on the return team, but he's primarily a blocker for David Palmer, who took over as the No. 1 returner against Dallas in Week 3. Palmer will be married next month to Carmelita Davis, whom he met while playing at Alabama. Besides taking over the job of mothering Palmer's three children, Carmelita will continue helping Palmer deal with the loss of his stepsister, Naqutta Adams, who was shot to death last summer in Birmingham.
The three return men get along fine—Ismail and Palmer were roommates during training camp last summer—but will they all live happily ever after in Minneapolis? The coaches, who were down on Palmer during a six-catch rookie season last year, now seem delighted with his work both as a returner and receiver. And Phillips, who's living alone while Melinda finishes her studies at Virginia Union, seems to have adapted well to life in the NFL.
That leaves Ismail, who is in the final year of a three-year contract, as the odd man out. Last season he caught 45 passes and tied a team record with at least one touchdown catch in four consecutive games. But he's now a forgotten man. Besides being relegated to the backup return role, Ismail has gotten out of Green's doghouse only long enough to make eight catches in six games.
Feeling at Home
Green might have felt a bit wistful on Sunday as he looked across the field at Brad Culpepper, the former Viking who is an integral part of the Buccaneers' seven-man, defensive-line rotation.