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!