After all, the Vikings are still looking for an adequate replacement for Henry Thomas, the All-Pro who led Minnesota's pass rush for eight seasons before signing with Detroit this year. In 1992 and '93, Culpepper, working primarily as a backup to Thomas and John Randle, played enough to make only 19 tackles.
The Vikings released Culpepper in the final preseason cut of 1994 because they felt that at 6'1" and 270 pounds he was too small to be anything but a backup. The Bucs, who felt otherwise, snapped him up and immediately put him in at nosetackle to replace the injured Mark Wheeler. Bingo! Starting 15 games, Culpepper led Buc linemen in tackles and led the team in sacks.
"I played in a fantastic defensive system at Minnesota, and I learned a lot," Culpepper said early last season. "I was fortunate Tampa Bay had an opening. It's great to be so close to Gainesville."
Gainesville is where Culpepper forged a unique college career. A three-year starter at defensive tackle for the Florida Gators, he also was a four-time all-Southeastern Conference academic selection and student body vice president as a senior. Nevertheless, because of his size he wasn't picked until the 10th round of the 1992 draft.
Culpepper bears far more gratitude than animosity toward his former team, so it probably was only a coincidence that last year he played one of his best games against the Vikings, piling up six tackles and a sack in Tampa Bay's 20-17 overtime win. On Sunday, in a game that ended with the same result, Culpepper had one tackle.
But for the Florida guy, it was just nice to be playing. And playing so close to home.
It took 17 years, which is how long it has been since Fran Tarkenton threw his last pass for the Vikings, but we finally know the 6-foot St. Francis was even smaller than anybody might have thought. Listen to Chuck Foreman, who played in the same backfield with Tarkenton for six seasons: "Everybody on the team knew he was for himself.... It was no secret. He was just a 'me' guy." Added ex-defensive end Jim Marshall, "There certainly were indications he had his own agenda."
These illuminating comments came in the wake of a snit that has left Tarkenton scrambling to rebuild his image. On Oct. 2, six days before Miami's Dan Marino broke Tarkenton's record for completions and moved closer to his marks for passing yardage and touchdown passes, Tarkenton lashed out at the NFL for not asking him to participate in the media circus.
"These records are similar to Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record," Tarkenton whined, "yet do you know how many calls I've gotten from the NFL about this? Zero. None. Zilch. I guess the people in New York are more worried about suing [Cowboy owner] Jerry Jones or catching people cheating on the salary cap than about celebrating the players who made this game great."
Never mind that the Dolphins have been trying to contact Tarkenton to ask him to attend the game in which Marino figures to break the record for touchdown passes, or that the Vikings want him to participate in a media conference call. Tarkenton requires a call from the league office.