holding my nose . . . and my breath

>> 10.08.2009

When the announcement came down that Matt Stafford would be the Week 1 starting quarterback, I reacted with mixed emotions.  I was pleased because I thought it was the right decision, for now and for the future.  I was excited because I was pumped to see the kid play right away.  I was relieved because I wanted the ridiculous QB "controversy" to die as quickly as possible; I knew that after a couple of games with Stafford at the helm--and, especially, after the first win--all the arguing would settle down.

There was a part of me, however, was overjoyed to be able to cling to a small hope: that Daunte Culpepper would never take another snap for the Detroit Lions.  That he'd never do that ridiculous "rolling" thing in Honolulu Blue ever again.  That this would be our lasting memory of Culpepper in a Detroit Lions uniform:

I often get questioned about this . . . why all the vitriol?  Why all the scorn and derision?  Why am I, Mister Let’s Look At The Bright Side, downright angry about Daunte Culpepper playing for the Lions?

It goes back to my roots as a Lions fan, really. Of course, I hated the Vikings in general. But I especially hated how the national media seemed to have an undying love for the Dennis Green-era Vikes, annually anointing them the "sexy pick" for the Super Bowl.  From around 1997 to about 2007, the Vikings put up amazing offensive numbers, played mediocre football, and were constantly worshipped as an great team. To my eyes, Daunte Culpepper was merely one of several flawed quarterbacks who lined up under a perennially excellent offensive line, threw to two superlative receivers, lit up the stat sheet, won little plastic football trophies for legions of nerds*, and played amazingly mediocre football.

The Rise of the Overrated Vikings occurred while I was in high school, and the pigskin places of the nascent World Wide Web were just firing up their servers.  On chat rooms, email lists, USENET--and eventually Web forums and message boards--I fought the good fight, railing against Culpepper, his supporters, and his smoke and mirrors.

It was so obvious!  So transparent!  Daunte Culpepper was out there winging it, accumulating many yards and touchdowns--but his inefficiency, inability to read defenses, and knack for making rotten mistakes at the most critical times had his team playing .500 ball.  Just like Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, and Brad Johnson before/alongside him, Culpepper put up incredible numbers, but never won anything.

Culpepper became, to me, the avatar of all I disliked about sports, everything bad about fans and analysts and boo birds and bandwagon jumpers. Everything easy and cheesey, "BOOM!" and Budweiser, fake tans . . . and twins! about football.  I've never, ever, been one of those "sports is for the cretins" types, even in my most intellectual of "intellectual phases".  But the constant praise of Culpepper as some sort of megastar, unstoppable force, or--heaven help us--MVP smacked of meatheads praising a meathead; of cavemen watching a caveman and his big cannon arm spray that rock around to whoever comes up with it, and going "OOG WIN FANTASY LEAGUE! OOG VOTE DAUNTE PRO BOWL!

It's easy to see why I, the self-appointed keeper of the spirit of Lions fandom, would be just a little bit put off by my chosen team signing Jabba the Daunte off the street, and putting him on the field just a few days later. It's easier to see why I absolutely did not want him under center for The New Detroit Lions.  Schwartz has said he's made a point of changing practically everything about the Lions, down to the pictures on the walls.  He’s wanted nothing the same between last year and this year, nothing any returning player could point at and go, "Oh, that's still here? Heh, this place'll never change".

Well, come Sunday, there might be a 6'-6", 250-plus-pound leftover from 0-16 calling signals for the New Lions. The Captain of the Failboat might be at the tiller as we sail towards a battle with the reigning World Champion Steelers. Ugh, it's all so wrong to me.

Okay, time to look at the bright side.  Daunte has proven that the last five years have changed him; instead of being reckless with the ball to generate points, he's now a walking check-down.  Maybe eliminating turnovers will be enough to keep the Lions in the game.  Maybe Kevin Smith returns to form, and the defense comes up huge.  Maybe, just maybe, the Lions win despite who's under center . . . as always, no matter what, I'll be cheering my guts out for them to do so.

*I'm a fantasy football nut, and nerds are my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms!


Neil,  October 8, 2009 at 6:31 PM  

Ty, you're pretty good at this whole vitriol thing. I am impressed :)

Pacer,  October 8, 2009 at 11:14 PM  

Ty-very passionate and eloquent but this is something for this year we will never agree on. Daunte is a capable back up. If Stanton in any of his years could have stayed healthy, then you would not have this problem. But he didn't. Daunte knows the system and apparently the players have faith in him as much (but obviously for different reasons) then Stafford. Few QB's in 2009 can throw some of the passes that Stafford can-several qualified observers have stated that. However he is consistently missing open receivers. Seems to me he is progressing every game and missing a game is not going to set him back any.

As of Thursday afternoon Stafford has not practised-apparently the knee is still swollen. It may be wise under those cirmcumstances to sit him for Sunday's game. Not sure it would make any difference who is quaterbacking the Lions against Pittsburgh.

witless chum,  October 9, 2009 at 8:15 AM  

I know how you feel. I can remember being very disappointed when the Wings signed Brett Hull, the king of constantly diving bitchery in Dallas and St. Louis. "I have to root for him, really?" And now Todd Bertuzzi, again, but at least he's less noticable than Hull because he won't do anything.

I've wondered if the Lions should be quietly shopping Daunte. His contract is up and he's going to do someplace with a less-firm starter. If Mayhew can snag a fourth round pick and bring back O'Connell or a grizzled vet type to replace him, letting Stanton be the backup, why not? It's not exactly going to ruin our playoff run if Stafford gets hurt again.

Ty,  October 9, 2009 at 8:56 AM  


Thanks, man! It's rare that I get this worked up . . . maybe it's just a remnant of my youthful, idealistic fandom. As the king of vitriolic, chair-smashing, drain-cleaning Lions fandom, your props mean a lot. Thanks, man.


Anonymous,  October 9, 2009 at 9:19 AM  

F Culpepper in the A with an X

Ty,  October 9, 2009 at 9:33 AM  


Oh, I freely admit that at this point in his career, Culpepper's a picture-perfect backup. Hardworking, experienced, doesn't make mistakes, played in a lot of systems for a lot of coaches, has a different enough game from the starter to force teams to gameplan differently for him, yet knows the system like the back of his hand, I just hate that guy.

Like, not as a person, of course, I just hate what he stands for.

Okay that sounds wrong too, I . . . crap. You know what I mean.


Matt,  October 9, 2009 at 2:23 PM  

Pacer: You're right on. Culpepper SHOULD start this week. Whoever starts for the Lions at QB, it's not going to matter on the final scoreboard. Either the Lions, as a whole, play balls-out and upset the Steelers or they don't and they don't. Culpepper or Stafford, it doesn't matter either way. Given that, sit the kid and let his knee rest up for the Packers (and then rest again on the bye). That knee also avoids getting pummeled by James Harrison et al.

Witless: As for shopping him, I just don't think there's a market. Yes, absolutely, if they can get a pick for him, do it. I just don't think anyone will be offering. Most teams already have solid starters and solid back-ups (if not talented, at least established), so Culpepper isn't needed by anyone THIS season (barring an injury down the road). As for NEXT season, like you said, his contract is up and Detroit won't be bringing him back, so even if a team wants him, they simply have to wait until the off-season and sign him (why give up a pick for a player you can have for "free?").

Anonymous: Couldn't have said it better myself.

Pacer,  October 9, 2009 at 10:47 PM  

In 2010 Daunte is going to go to where he believes he has a chance to start. If that does not happen he may well be back with the Lions. The trading deadline is fast approaching (October 19, I believe) and the only way Pep is going anywhere this year is if someone gets hurt prior to that date.

I just don't see the problem with Pep as a backup now or in the future. I like Stanton but he is injured every year. If not them, then who, to back up Stafford. A " grizzed veteran", I guess, as I believe QB's like O'Connell will look for possible starting positions due to his age. I can't see a young QB with potential wanting to be a backup to a young franchise QB unless of course they have no other option.

Ty-I almost hope the Lions lose on Sunday because if the Lions somehow cut down on their mistakes and Pep protects and moves the ball and somehow they beat the Steelers, you are probably going to be so torn you won't sleep for a week. And no one on this post wants to see that. Go Lions-I think.

Scotty G,  October 14, 2009 at 12:20 AM  

I think that the way Dante played was best for proving your analysis of him correct, not what was best for the team. The best for the team would have been Dante having an outstanding game. Not because we want him as our qb, but in the hopes of raising his trade value and suckering someone to sacrifice a decent draft pick. Did someone say Dallas? They will need a new backup soon.

Scotty G,  October 14, 2009 at 12:21 AM  

responded to wrong article. Sorry:(

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