In 1987, there was a work stoppage in the NFL and I was in the Phoenix area in late August trying to sign some potential players for the Dallas Cowboys' replacement team. After signing some players, I went to Arizona State University to watch practice in the afternoon. After practice, then-Sun Devils head coach John Cooper invited me to dinner with him and wife Helen. Talk turned to NFL prospects. There were three Sun Devils among the top 30, but the conversation always came back to Randall McDaniel. To be perfectly honest, we rated him as a second-round pick at the time.
But Cooper convinced me to stay overnight and come by the next morning to watch film of the previous year's Rose Bowl game. And here's another reason why I remember this anecdote so well: School wasn't in session yet, it was about two weeks before classes began, and the campus was deserted. The Coopers dropped me off at my car after dinner, but we soon discovered the battery was dead. Rather than stick around to get a tow or figure out something else, I spent the night with the Coopers.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2009 is as good as it gets. Among the six enshrinees, you will find: Two of the most feared pass rushers of all-time (Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas)… an Olympic gold-medal sprinter (Bob Hayes)… a defensive back with a knack for the end zone (Rod Woodson)… a man who has been to more Pro Bowls than anyone else (Randall McDaniel)… and an original AFL owner (Ralph Wilson).
NFL.com's Gil Brandt has some observations and recollections of each:
After watching film the next morning, McDaniel proved to be everything Cooper said. He led the toss sweep against a fast Michigan defense. McDaniel lined up at quick guard and pulled as well as anyone you've ever seen. He had tenacity on inside run blocks, was outstanding with hand placement, and very good at pass protection.
During the '87 season, two of our Cowboys scouts, Dick Mansperger and Bob Griffin, saw the same thing I had watched earlier in the year. McDaniel shot up the charts.
McDaniel had arrived at ASU as a tight end, and played there for one year before Cooper moved him to guard. It was a move McDaniel didn't want to make at the time, but after one week of practice at the position he was the full-time starter at guard. And by the time his college career was over, he had all sorts of college honors. He later thanked Cooper for the position change, admitting that he did not think he'd ever have earned so many Pro Bowl nods as a tight end.
I actually had met McDaniel prior to that scouting trip before the '87 season, at a preseason All-America weekend event. I had the opportunity to spend three days with him, and during that time, I thought I forged a nice friendship with him. But I was still quite surprised when he called me after the 1987 season, his senior campaign at Arizona State University, and asked me for advice regarding the selection of an agent. I made three recommendations and he selected one of the three -- Jack Mills of Boulder, Colo., who still represents him today.
To give you an idea of McDaniel's love of the game, he played in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, whereas many top prospects shied away from playing in even one college all-star game. He performed a full workout at the combine when most players were begging out of that.
Offensive tackle Paul Gruber was the top-ranked offensive lineman on our draft board going into the 1988 draft, with McDaniel second. We had the ninth overall pick in the draft -- and we took wide receiver Michael Irvin.
McDaniel was selected 19th overall by the Minnesota Vikings, and he was starting by Week 2 of his rookie season. He went on to start 170 consecutive games. Only one player at the guard position started more consecutive games for one team -- Bruce Matthews. McDaniel and Matthews will now share space in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
McDaniel had a bad stance, and he didn't have a sculptured body -- he lifted weights and everything, but was not what you would call "chiseled." Still, he played as well as anyone in the NFL.
And he got better and better every year that he played. Stability was a big factor in his success, and he continues to exhibit that trait. McDaniel still holds the same job he took when he retired from the game -- a special education teacher in the Minneapolis school district.