Randall Cunningham loved what he saw when he lined up Monday as the Minnesota Vikings opened training camp.
To his right was Jake Reed, a four-time 1,000-yard receiver who was bothered by a bad back last season but has pronounced himself fit.
And to his left was 12-year guard Randall McDaniel, who reported to training camp despite the team's unwillingness to renegotiate his contract.
That meant all 11 starters were back from an offense that set the NFL record last season with 556 points.
"I'm so happy our whole offense, including Randall McDaniel, stayed together," said receiver Randy Moss, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year, thanks in large part to the protection that allowed the Vikings to throw the ball deep.
McDaniel was the league's highest-paid interior lineman when he signed a four-year, $12.5 million deal in 1997. But since then, he's become the third-highest paid player on his own offensive line, behind left tackle Todd Steussie and right tackle Korey Stringer.
McDaniel skipped the team's mandatory minicamp in May after his agent said Jeff Diamond, the team's former vice president of football operations, had promised to renegotiate his deal, which runs through 2000.
After Diamond resigned, the Vikings said they wouldn't redo any contracts with more than a year remaining on them.
So, McDaniel, a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, considered retiring but ultimately decided he couldn't stand to see the Vikings go to the Super Bowl without him. He put the acrimony behind him and focused on football, not finances.
"I'm here now," McDaniel said. "I'm going to go out and do my job like I always have and we'll see what happens after that."
"Once I start playing, the last thing I want to talk about is contract," McDaniel added. "So, I'll be out playing football."
On Monday, to the delight of the Vikings and their faithful, there was that familiar weather worn jersey with the huge No. 64 that was first issued to McDaniel back in 1988 and has faded from purple to baby blue.
"Yes, indeed. I'm just happy," Cunningham said. "I knew that situation would work itself out. He's a great player, amongst the best in the business. I'm not going to politic or anything we all love him as a teammate. And I guess they'll take care of him and do what they need to do."
Even second-year pro Matt Birk, who might have taken over at left guard, said: "I'm thrilled Randall's back. I've said all along, I hope he comes back. That's what's best for the team and ultimately it's best for him not to end his career on a bad note like that."
New offensive coordinator Ray Sherman, who coached the Vikings quarterbacks from 1995-97, knows how important it is to have McDaniel.
"I'll tell you what, when you've got a guy who's been a Pro Bowler, I mean, you don't want to lose guys like that," Sherman said. "And he still keeps himself in great shape. He's still a leader on this team and you need all the good players you have."
Owner Red McCombs said McDaniel's presence ensured against distractions as the team begins its quest to atone for last year's playoff debacle.
"It's really big to have everybody in camp. But to have a guy like Randall is super big because that would be the story of the camp if Randall were not in camp," McCombs said.
Coach Dennis Green was just glad it didn't come down to a holdout.
"We don't talk about distractions. All we do is go with the guys that are here," Green said. "Randall's one of the great players in the National Football League and he worked very hard today."
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