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Ex-roomie speaks for two

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2000


When it's difficult to get a man to self-assess, it can be a good idea to talk with his best friend.

Eleven-time Pro Bowl guard Randall McDaniel for two or three seasons has courteously sidestepped in-depth public conversation about playing for the Minnesota Vikings.

Unhappiness being suppressed.

Mike Morris, seven-year NFL roommate of the cinch Hall of Famer, often was McDaniel's audience of one, witness to the competitive passions and personal concerns of a proud, perplexed pro. A real pal with an understanding ear.

Morris speaks authoritatively ... eloquently.

Today, the first of March, a Bucs off-season march to a powerfully improved offensive line is to take a well-proven, size-13 step.

McDaniel flew to Tampa Tuesday night. If, at age 35, Randall's durable football body gets the okay of Bucs medics, he will sign to play for Tony Dungy.

"There's no better place, no better coach right now," Morris said by telephone from Minnesota. "Tony has to be the most patient, in-control person on the planet. From around the NFL, you hear guys wishing they could suit up for his Bucs."

Randall must be nodding.

Still, you do wonder, how much can the well-decorated veteran have left after McDaniel's dozen seasons in NFL war pits? Randall never misses a game. An undersized 275-pound marvel who is extraordinary at wrestling 300-pound enemies. Warren Sapp will be delighted to have Randall as friend, not foe.

"I know for a fact Randall wasn't planning to go any place except to the Bucs because of Dungy, who we learned to love and admire a few years ago (1992-95) when he was coaching the Vikings defense.

"There's plenty of great football left in Randall McDaniel. His hands are maybe a little beat up from the scuffles of 12 seasons, but he is still a quick animal who can probably turn a 4.6 time in the 40, plus having unique explosiveness.

"I've been around the NFL a long time," said Morris, a center in the league for 13 years, still on Minnesota's roster at age 39 for abilities as a long snapper. "In my eyes, only John Hannah played offensive guard with the effectiveness and longevity of McDaniel. He's so smart. So good. Plays hurt. Always shows up. Randall is a long-running wonder who's lost almost nothing."

So, suppose Mike Morris has a touch of bias. What if McDaniel is, say, only 95 percent of what he was at Vikings peak. Using not a millisecond to consider, I'll take him over 100 percent of Jorge Diaz at left guard for the Bucs.

McDaniel had differences with Denny Green's philosophies. Randall was flustered by his coach's shuffling of assistants. An old pro had unexpressed difficulties with some of Green's player personnel decisions.

"I'll tell you why Randall clammed up," Morris said. "He's such a class person, who never forgets a wonderful mother teaching, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything.' Randall felt, the past two or three years, that he couldn't say much positive, so he just didn't talk."

There's always been a zany swatch to the McDaniel portrait as a superb blocker. It's his stance. You'll be hearing a lot about the funky way Randall arranges his feet and legs in preparation for a play.

"It'll be the ugliest stance in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," said Morris, uncorking a belly laugh. "Randall's knee got tweaked in his first or second NFL season. He manipulated a stance to ease the stress. It worked so effectively, McDaniel stayed with it. It's from no football textbook, but nobody can criticize how it works for him."

There were multiple reasons for McDaniel's departure from the Vikings. A declining relationship with Green was an obvious factor. Minnesota is also a salary-cap-strapped franchise.

At his age, McDaniel was not offered the wages his experience and accomplishments merit. It was not unlike Tampa Bay's dilemma with linebacker Hardy Nickerson, a free agent who left at age 35 for higher stakes from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

When he lines up for Tampa Bay, the gent from Arizona State will glance right and see a familiar hunk. McDaniel isn't the only chunk of Minnesota's OL that jumped to Dungy. Jeff Christy, a Pro Bowl center, has been hired to replace Tony Mayberry.

Purple to pewter.

"Christy is the smartest center I've ever seen," Morris said. "Those two fellows work together beautifully. What they will do for (Bucs running backs) Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn is phenomenal. Tampa Bay is hitting at its weakness. They've bought a couple of great horses from the Vikings.

"Wow, the fans in Florida are lucky. They've got Tony Dungy, that terrific new stadium and some legitimate Super Bowl hopes. So much defense. All that pewter. Tampa Bay is a fabulous situation."

Randall Cornell McDaniel grew up in Arizona. He and wife Marianne have no children, but much of their time is dedicated to youth assistance.

They work with homeless kids through the YMCA. Randall is a volunteer teacher at a Minnesota elementary school.

"During the season, we get Tuesdays off," Morris said. "He spends that time teaching. When his football career ends, I'm guessing that Randall will become a teacher."

There is a non-football accomplishment of which McDaniel is enormously and justifiably proud: having never missed a day of school from kindergarten through 12th grade.

McDaniel understood, after being released by the Vikings, that a news conference was appropriate. He invited reporters to his elementary school Feb. 11. To sit in a tiny auditorium, alongside third-graders. It became a lesson in pro sports economics and human considerations.

"Checking my own emotions on Randall's new marriage with the Dungy Bucs," Morris said, "No. 1, I'm happy for my buddy. He's a great, deserving player who's going to a strong team with a great guy as the coach. But, No. 2, I'm jealous."

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