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McDaniel: NFL’s Big Kahuna

The Buc, making his record 12th Pro Bowl start today, has been accepted as one of Hawaii’s own.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


LA'IE, HAWAII -- Tongan drums signal the beginning of a sacred Kava Ceremony, which is reserved for Polynesian kings and chiefs. On Saturday, it was for another frequent oceanic navigator from the Vikings and Buccaneers.

Randall McDaniel, a fixture at the Pro Bowl and in the Hawaiian community, was honored at the Polynesian Cultural Center. He drank from a Kava, a root that was fermented for 25 years in Fiji, and was stunned by the emotional event.

"I'm a big football fan and I see a lot of players come through the cultural center," said Villi Fehoko, the master Tongan drummer who McDaniel has known for a decade. "The night I saw Randall, I was delivering a drum to people whose son was dying and Randall asked if he could pose for some pictures and signed autographs for the family. We've been like family ever since.

[AP photo]
Tampa Bay's Randall McDaniel, practicing here for today's Pro Bowl, spends much of his free time in Hawaii visiting schools and recreation centers.
"They call him the Big Kahuna," Villi said. "He owns the island. He's the big dog."

On Saturday, he received a fitting tribute.

Said Linda Fehoko: "He was acknowledged in a traditional Polynesian way, acknowledged by real warriors and real chiefs. It's the kind of honor that only chiefs bestow upon their sons. There must be approval for those types of things from the chiefs in Fiji.

For 12 consecutive years, McDaniel has ended the NFL season at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

Last season, he broke the record of 10 straight appearances held by Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor and Bears linebacker Mike Singletary. Today he breaks the overall record of 11 held by Reggie White, putting distance between himself and any would-be pursuers of the milestones.

"I never planned on doing it," McDaniel said. "I figured if I could make it a few years, that would be a great accomplishment. I just was fortunate to come back for 12 years. It's a real compliment from your peers to be voted back in for 12 years and get in every year because they still think you're doing a great job.

"This year I'm coming back to add to my own record. Hopefully, I can stick it out there far enough, but now you've got Jevon Kearse and all these young guys coming on and they've been coming from their rookie year on. But it's got to be consecutive, that's the key."

If there is irony to McDaniel's return to the Pro Bowl this year, it's that his NFC squad is being coached by Minnesota's Dennis Green.

A week or so after setting the record for consecutive Pro Bowl starts, McDaniel was released by the Vikings, receiving a letter from the team that he did not disclose until this year.

"The box they checked was I could no longer compete for my job with the guys who were there. That ticked me off," McDaniel said.

"This is great to get back to the Pro Bowl this year. It seems I'm not too old, I'm able to do some things right."

Green has had nothing but praise for McDaniel this week.

"Very few players play their entire career for one team," Green said. "Randall brings a lot of pride as a football player and he's an exceptional athlete."

In Hawaii, McDaniel is greeted like a warrior returning from battle by sea.

He spends much of his free time after practices visiting schools or recreation centers, signing autographs for children and meeting old friends. There's always dinner at the Chart House in Waikiki or at the Big Island Steakhouse near Aloha Tower.

"From noon on, it's basically your free time. And because I've been over here so many years, I've met people over here," McDaniel said. "I go back to the same restaurants to see if the same people are working there."

McDaniel calls the Fehokos his adoptive family. Linda has coordinated his visits to schools for nine years. Villi, a celebrity in his own right, always prepares a celebration for McDaniel's trip to the cultural center, a non-profit attraction with reconstructed villages from Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, Marquesas, Tahiti and Tonga.

"In Hawaii, everybody knows Randall McDaniel," Villi said. "They see Randall on TV and people call. I gave him a T-shirt of me playing the drums and he wears it and people will come to him and ask 'Do you know Vili?'

"We hang a sign in front of our house -- Randall McDaniel, No. 64. People drive by and honk."

Linda, whose Polynesian name is Sisarara, said McDaniel's popularity among Hawaiians eclipses even those NFL players who are native to the island.

"He is 'Hanai.' A brother to me, an uncle to my kids," Linda said. "It means you can come here and do whatever you want, no one questions you. You receive the love of the Polynesian people. When you become Hanai, every type of gift is given to you.

"This has not been done for any other NFL player, not even ones from Hawaii like Junior Seau. For him not to be Polynesian and to be getting this honor in Hawaii is amazing."

What McDaniel can't understand is how some players who are voted to return to the Pro Bowl decide not to go because of the slightest injury.

"I wouldn't turn down a trip to come over here. I mean, it's paradise," McDaniel said. "Why would you want to miss it? I mean, if I've got a little nick, I can suck it up for one more week. You can't just pack up and go to Hawaii every day of the year. And like I say, the fans are so great. They don't have any professional sports here. It's nice to come over and if you sign autographs, it's no big deal. Twenty minutes out of your day is nothing. These people don't get to see NFL players, they have no access to you. It's not hard to be courteous and sign."

McDaniel has two years left on his Bucs contract and he plans on fulfilling it. After that, who knows?

"It's the perfect year to go to the Super Bowl," McDaniel said. "And if I can get that before I leave, that would be great. If I can't, I had a great career, I have nothing to complain about. I enjoyed it and move on."

But how could McDaniel not end a season if it wasn't at the Pro Bowl, in Hawaii, the Big Kahuna following the Tongan drums to his adoptive home.

"That's something I never think about," McDaniel said. "It's always a blessing when it happens and I get to come see friends again. It's one of those things where it's an honor just to come over here."

But Villi isn't having any of that.

"Every time he gets ready to go back, I say to him, 'See you next year?' " Villi said. "He looks at me and says, 'Are you putting pressure on me?' Then his wife says, 'You'd better listen to Villi, his arms are bigger than your arms.' "

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