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Culpepper greets, signs autographs in Moorhead

MOORHEAD, Minn. — It has been nearly a decade since Daunte Culpepper last threw a pass as the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings.

Culpepper’s playing days are past him, but his name still can draw a crowd of Vikings fans like it did Thursday at the grand opening of the new Sam’s Club in Moorhead.

Hundreds of fans lined up in the store eager to meet and get autographs of the former franchise quarterback who called Minnesota home from 1999-2005.

“The people of Minnesota and North Dakota have always been great to me,” Culpepper said. “People love their Vikings football and everywhere I go, since I’ve been here, people are saying, ‘We love what you did here’, and, ‘We love the Vikings.’ It’s just exciting for me, and I’m glad to be here.”

Culpepper, 37, now resides in Florida with his wife and six children, who keep the three-time Pro Bowler busy.

“The main thing I have been doing is raising my kids,” Culpepper said. “My boys play travel basketball, and I have been involved with them in that. You know, just living.”

Culpepper started 100 games in his 11-year NFL career, also spending time with the Miami Dolphins (2006), the Oakland Raiders (2007) and the Detroit Lions (2008-09). He threw for 24,153 yards and 149 touchdowns.

Culpepper, who guided the Vikings to playoff appearances in 2000 and 2004, ranks third on the Vikings’ all-time passing leaderboard with 20,162 yards behind only Tommy Kramer and Fran Tarkenton.

Following his NFL career, Culpepper played one season in the United Football League with the Sacramento Mountain Lions. He announced his retirement in the summer of 2012.

Since then, football hasn’t been a big part of his everyday life.

“I do some camps here and there,” Culpepper said. “A lot of my friends who I played with have camps that I help out with. Those are the only football activities I’m doing right now.”

Culpepper still monitors the NFL closely, and with the 2014 draft a little more than a month away, he said the Vikings — who hold the eighth overall pick — would be wise to keep their options open come May 8.

“That draft is a tricky thing,” Culpepper said. “I’m pretty sure (the Minnesota Vikings) are working very diligently to know the landscape of all the guys that are available. If it was me, the key to a good team is having a quarterback position that is solid and then you have to have your offensive line protect him. I might go with an offensive lineman and see what happens.”

Top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft include Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Blake Bortles of University of Central Florida — Culpepper’s alma mater — and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.

All three, however, might be gone when the Vikings pick.

“Johnny Manziel is a great player,” Culpepper said. “I think he is going to be successful in the NFL. … He has a fire in him to be successful. I love watching him play, and I think he’ll be great for the NFL too.”

Minnesota returns Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder at the QB position, but neither player separated themselves from the other last season. Newly re-signed Cassel figures to be the front-runner when camp starts later this summer, but Culpepper said he thinks Ponder remains a viable option as a quarterback in the NFL.

“I think (Ponder) has to continue to work,” Culpepper said. “He has all the skills, he can make the throws. Physically, I think he is a little underrated, and he is a better athlete than what he gets credit for. Being an NFL player is not an overnight thing. … You have to develop a guy, and I think Ponder can develop into a good quarterback.”