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Daunte Culpepper Revisits 1999 NFL Draft Experience


"I felt like the luckiest person in the world to get picked to come here."

Those were the words of quarterback Daunte Culpepper when the Vikings tabbed him 11th overall in the 1999 NFL Draft.

It's hard to believe it's been 25 years since Minnesota drafted the UCF standout. It marked the earliest the Vikings had taken a QB in a draft … and to this day, that benchmark remains.

"I was kind of almost praying that I'd get picked to come here," Culpepper told reporters after being selected. "Because I kind of figured this was the best situation."

With the Vikings holding the 11th and 23rd picks a week before the 2024 NFL Draft, caught up with Culpepper this week to ask him to recall memories of his draft experience and time with Minnesota.

"Man, let me tell you, those days leading up to the '99 draft, they were electric! I was buzzing with excitement, just couldn't wait for that moment when my name would ring out from that draft stage," Culpepper said. "It was like living out a childhood dream, you know? Just soaking in every bit of anticipation and thrill."

Image scanned from a 35mm slide by Fotobridge, LLC. Image of Daunte Culpepper, Robert Smith, Korey Stringer, David Dixon from Game Day , 2000.

Don Banks wrote the following of Culpepper for the Star Tribune:

Nobody messes with Daunte Culpepper. He stands a shade under 6-4 and weighs about 250 pounds. He is capable of running over tacklers, and his arm strength is becoming the stuff of legend.

With ABC's cameras rolling last fall, Culpepper threw the ball 50 yards from one knee. He can launch it 80 yards with a full windup. He runs a 4.6 40, and he was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees.

Culpepper opted against pursuing an MLB career, however, instead going on to college to continue his path to the NFL.

Four years later, he'd done it. He told the Orlando Sentinel shortly before draft night, "No fear. No anxiety. Not much nerves."

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I want to enjoy it all," Culpepper emphasized.

The Sentinel's Saturday morning headline read, D-Day for Daunte. The article noted Culpepper's "place of employment will be decided this afternoon during the first round of the NFL Draft, conducted like a prize fight at Madison Square Garden."

Image scanned from a 35mm slide by Fotobridge, LLC. Image of Daunte Culpepper from Game Day , 2002.

That year, the draft was held at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. Quarterbacks were selected with the first three picks as Tim Couch (Browns), Donovan McNabb (Eagles) and Akili Smith (Bengals) went 1, 2 and 3.

Six of the seven picks to round out the Top 10 resulted in selections of players who each made at least one Pro Bowl, including Hall of Famers Edgerrin James at 4 and Champ Bailey at 7. Culpepper became the fourth of five quarterbacks selected in the first round when Minnesota tabbed him a spot before the Bears selected Cade McNown.

"When I heard my name echo through that draft hall and saw that spotlight shining down on me, I was on cloud nine. But then, out of nowhere, my whole family just stormed the stage with me! It was wild, man, like something out of a movie," Culpepper recalled. "I couldn't help but laugh, even though it was a bit embarrassing. They were just so darn proud and excited, never seen anything like it before."

The "entourage" of family members included adopted mother Emma Culpepper, 84, who made her first-ever plane trip to see the son she'd raised since infancy realize his NFL dream.

"Oooh, boy, if I ever have to ride again, let me ride on Delta," Emma Culpepper told media members. "I told Daunte, if I fly again, I'm going to always fly first class. They ruined me now. They started it, and they're going to have to keep it up."

Giving Emma the experience of a lifetime nearly equaled Culpepper's excitement at being drafted.

"She deserves everything and more," he said at the time. "She's taken care of people her whole life, and now it's time she gets taken care of and maybe experience some of the better things in life."

Image of Mike Tice, Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss from 2001 Pittsburgh Steelers game. Image scanned from a 35mm slide by Fotobridge, LLC.

When Culpepper arrived in Minnesota, his first impression was "everyone was just so dang nice."

"It was like a breath of fresh air. And the weather? Not too shabby, especially for springtime," Culpepper said. "Just felt good to be there, you know? But the winter wasn't so nice. Being a 'Florida Boy' I wasn't prepared for such a harsh winter."

Culpepper making it to football's highest level helped provide that for Emma, though he spent his rookie season learning from veteran passers rather than seeing immediate action.

A headline in the Palm Beach Post read, Vikings won't rush top pick Culpepper. The 22-year-old joined a Vikings quarterbacks room led by Randall Cunningham and Jeff George, who went on to make six and 10 starts, respectively, that season.

But Culpepper was named Minnesota's starter prior to the 2000 campaign, and that season he lived up to expectations – unlike Y2K.

Culpepper threw touchdown after touchdown to future Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Randy Moss, racking up 3,937 yards and 33 TDs to 16 interceptions. He logged 10 games with a passer rating above 104 and exceeding a 120 in seven contests.

Image scanned from a 35mm slide by Fotobridge, LLC. Image of Daunte Culpepper from Game Day , 2002.

During Week 7, Culpepper helped lead the Vikings to a 31-27 win over the Bills and set a franchise record with his fourth straight game with a passer rating of 100.0 or better.

"I don't think he could be too much better, otherwise you would have to assume he is perfect," Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green told media members. "He is a very strong player and a very focused player and a very tremendous player."

Culpepper that season helped Minnesota finish 11-5 and reach the NFC Championship Game, where the Vikings were felled by the Giants.

Culpepper played in four playoff games for the Vikings: a Divisional win and Conference Championship loss to cap the 2000 season, and a Wild Card win and Divisional loss following the 2004 campaign.

Over six seasons in Purple, he started 80 of 81 games played. He was 1,678-of-2,607 passing for 20,162 yards and 135 touchdowns with 86 interceptions, and his overall passer rating was 91.5.

Culpepper, who became known for "getting his roll on" after touchdowns and other splash plays, remains one of the most impactful quarterbacks in franchise history.

He's No. 1 in Vikings history in career touchdown passes by a QB/WR duo, having connected with Moss for 53 TDs, and No. 1 in combined TDs (passing/rushing) in a season with 41 in 2004 and 40 in 2000.

Culpepper ranks fourth in Vikings history in passing yards behind Fran Tarkenton (33,098), Tommy Kramer (24,775) and Kirk Cousins (23,265) and also in touchdowns.

But beyond any numbers he posted, the bonds he created with teammates remain the strongest. He said they were made stronger with every training camp at Mankato.

"Getting to reconnect with my teammates, putting in that hard work to build something special for the season ahead," Culpepper said, "those were the days, man, forging friendships and laying down the groundwork for greatness."

And to think it all started 25 years ago today, on an NFL Draft stage in New York City.