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In line for a return trip to Metrodome

McDaniel, Christy face big game against Vikings with extra interest. It's against their former team.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


TAMPA -- Randall McDaniel often is teased about the unorthodox way he prepares to block, with his left hand down and his left leg kicked awkwardly behind him.

But there was nothing unusual about the stance he took last week of declining all interviews about his return to Minnesota.

It was with the Vikings that McDaniel, likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer, made 11 Pro Bowls in 12 seasons.

When McDaniel was released with one year remaining on his contract by Vikings coach Dennis Green in February, the news might not have been like a dagger through his heart. But it did spill a little bad blood.

"I hope he's taking it personal," guard Frank Middleton said. "Usually when you take something personal, you play better. For the team's sake and for his, I hope that he is. I'm taking it personal and I'm not even from Minnesota. I think it's more about what we've done the two weeks before that's got him focused."

McDaniel won't be making his first return to Minnesota alone. He'll be joined by former Vikings Pro Bowl center Jeff Christy, who has literally been his right-hand man for the past seven seasons.

It was Christy, visiting Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent, who persuaded the Bucs to take an immediate interest in signing McDaniel after he was dumped by the Vikings.

"We weren't planning for Randall McDaniel," general manager Rich McKay said. "You were planning for a center, hopefully Jeff Christy, and then a veteran guard. We didn't know where that guard was coming from, but we sure didn't think it would be Randall McDaniel.

McKay said McDaniel was so determined to be reunited with Christy and remain in the NFC Central that the contract negotiations took less than five minutes.

"I think that was a reflection of him being very motivated and us kind of having a feel for what the right thing to do was," McKay said.

Last week, Green denied there was any acrimony between himself and McDaniel, although the issues are well-documented.

"Guys have to make a lot of decisions along the way. Some you like, some you don't like," Green said. "I'll make some, some they like, some they don't like. But we'll always try to do what's best for the program.

"He was a tremendous player for Minnesota all those years. I think they're always tough, but definitely when you've got a guy who's headed to the Hall of Fame, I think it's difficult. This is unrestricted free agency. But it doesn't change that much. Players rarely finish their career where they start. There's been a few exceptions. Even Joe Montana didn't. Not many guys have."

The problems between McDaniel and the Vikings became more public shortly after Green assumed the role of head of football operations before the 1999 season.

McDaniel believed he had a handshake agreement to extend his contract, but Green wouldn't honor it. So McDaniel held out of minicamp and the two were said to have only talked once that season.

When the end came, McDaniel, one of the NFL's best players, was ushered out with a tersely worded, one-sentence news release.

McDaniel responded by having his farewell news conference at an elementary school where he volunteered as a teacher, and the only member of the Vikings to attend was long-snapper Mike Morris.

Since arriving in Tampa Bay, McDaniel has consented to nearly every interview -- until last week. But Green fails to acknowledge the rift.

"Too often I think you guys are limited to what you hear," Green said. "And most often, what you hear is not true."

Like McDaniel, Christy has no regrets about leaving the Vikings as a free agent.

"I'm happy with the move," Christy said. "I think it was the best move I could've made and I'm really happy with the way it turned out, but we've got to get back on track."

Interestingly, Christy said he and McDaniel were not very close when Christy arrived in Minnesota in '93.

"We actually didn't get along too well," he said. "Randall was an old-school guy and he was set in his ways. It's hard for an older guy like that to get to know the new guy. He didn't know if I was going to be there one year, two years or whatnot. I think once he realized I was going to be there, once he realized I could play, I think he accepted me."

While McDaniel is mum on the subject, Christy said it will be unusual playing at the Metrodome for another team on Monday night.

"It'll be strange the first time I go into the visitor's locker room," he said. "When I was in college, we played the University of Minnesota up there so I've been in the visitor's locker room before in a game situation. But it was a while ago. I'm sure it'll be different the first time I go onto the field, but I don't think it's anything extraordinary."

There's no question the Bucs offense has benefited from the addition of Christy, 31, and McDaniel, 35, but it's not as easy to measure how much the Vikings miss them. Minnesota is undefeated and getting good play from center Matt Birk, 24, and guard Chris Liwienski, 25.

"I think you always have some guys in the pipeline," Green said.

"You hate to lose players that have been with you a long time, I really do. But I think, in effect, if they got paid a little bit less you keep them all. It just doesn't work out that way."

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