Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/24/12
On October 30, 2005, the Minnesota Vikings had just beaten the rival Green Bay Packers for their second win of the season and were going on the road to take on the Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper had his best game of the season against Green Bay, throwing for 280 yards and two touchdowns as the Vikings came back from a 17-0 halftime deficit to win 23-20. Still, Culpepper was having a dismal season, with six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions through the first six games. Certainly not what he or the team expected coming off his stellar 2004 season when Culpepper threw for a league-leading 4,717 yards with 39 touchdown passes while also adding 406 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings even won a Playoff game, going on the road to beat the rival Packers.

But everything changed when Panthers' cornerback Chris Gamble hit Culpepper's right knee on that fateful day in Carolina, leading to a catastrophic injury as Culpepper tore three ligaments (ACL,MCL, PCL) in the knee and was done for the season. Backup Brad Johnson would lead Minnesota to a 9-7 record, but head coach Mike Tice was fired immediately after the season finale.

Culpepper's knee injury was something of a turning point for the Vikings, as the Wilf family had recently bought the team, Brad Childress replaced Tice as head coach and brought a similar offense to what he helped run during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. Add the fact that the team was unhappy with Culpepper's desire to rehab his injury away from team facilities, and it seemed to be a marriage headed for divorce almost from the start. Culpepper was ultimately traded to the Miami Dolphins, and eventually played for the Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions before playing in the UFL for the Sacramento Mountain Lions (and former Vikings head coach Dennis Green).

Let's take a look at some things that qualify as food for thought in an alternate universe where Daunte Culpepper did not suffer his career-altering injury.

- Culpepper was only 28 years old at the time of the injury, and even given his style of play as a running quarterback likely had many peak seasons left. He had signed a 10-year, $102 million contract in May 2003, and with that type of investment was certainly viewed as a long-term solution under center. I would argue the Vikings did not have another long-term plan at the position until taking Christian Ponder in the 2011 NFL Draft. Tarvaris Jackson does not qualify.

- Tice may have been retained as head coach, assuming the Vikings faired better than that 9-7 record in 2005. With new ownership and better resources available to him, Tice may have enjoyed better success than he had and may have deserved a chance under better circumstances. At the time of his hiring, new head coach Brad Childress' West Coast Offense seemed ill-suited to Culpepper's strengths even if he was 100 percent healthy, so his unwillingness to alter his rehab plan only further distanced him from the new coach. This arguably set the stage for the inflexibility and stubbornness Chidress exhibited throughout his tenure, for better or often worse.

- With a healthy and productive Culpepper under center, there may have been no need for the two-year flirtation with Brett Favre that marred the 2009 and 2010 preseasons. This is a bit of a reach, with all the other elements that were at play, since there is no guarantee Culpepper would have stayed healthy or even lasted that long as a Viking. But during those seasons he would have been 32 and 33 years old, respectively, and at least theoretically would have still been in his prime. One has to think, at minimum, a healthy and younger Culpepper would have been a significant upgrade over the 2010 edition of Favre. A "win now" mentality with an aging roster and Favre under center helped set the stage for the current circumstance the franchise is in. Not to say Culpepper was or would have been a cure-all, but he seems to have been the first domino to fall (in all senses) and his injury set in motion a series of events that may not have happened otherwise for the Vikings franchise.

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