MANKATO, MINN. -- Mark Mullaney slowly runs his big, bandaged hand through his hair, as if he can feel each and every gray strand.

"You know, physically I feel as good as I ever have," said the Minnesota Vikings' 34-year-old defensive lineman. "I look younger than half these young guys here. Except for a few gray hairs here and there."

Paul Wiggin, Minnesota's defensive line coach, can't argue. "He's always in great shape," Wiggin said. "I've never seen Mark Mullaney when he didn't look like a finely honed instrument. You'd never guess he's 34."

In his 13th training camp, the oldest Viking is the only playing remnant of Minnesota's Super Bowl years -- and looking to a shot at one more Super Bowl.

"When you get to this point in your career, you start looking back at what you accomplished and what you didn't accomplish," the 6-foot-6, 243-pounder said. "I look back at the injuries that kept me from reaching my goals back when I was playing some of the best football of my career and think of what might have been.

"I wish I hadn't broken my collarbone {in 1983}. I wish I hadn't been poked in the eye or sprained my neck {both in 1984}. I look back and say I wish I was healthy for those seasons, but I guess it doesn't do me any good. I had the potential to be a great player, I think."

Mullaney, the Vikings' No. 1 draft choice in 1975, never became a great player. But he has been a good one. His 45 1/2 quarterback sacks rank him fifth on the team's all-time list, and he twice had 109-tackle seasons.

But now, as his playing days wind down, he is fighting younger, more recent first-round draft picks for playing time. Doug Martin, Keith Millard, Gerald Robinson and Chris Doleman all are ahead of Mullaney on the depth chart.

"I feel like I can still contribute," said Mullaney, who retired early in training camp last year but returned two days later and went on to start nine games in Minnesota's 9-7 season. "But the Vikings are looking toward the future, and you can't blame them. There's some good, young talent here."

He said that Coach Jerry Burns, defensive coordinator Floyd Peters and Wiggin have told him that "I'll pretty much assume a backup role and make my presence felt on third-and-long in pass-rushing situations."

Mullaney said he might play more than most people think. "Last year, 75 percent of the defensive linemen in the league didn't play full seasons because of injuries -- including me," he said. "I'm counting on getting the chance to start a few games and -- who knows? -- I may have one of my best years."

And Mullaney thinks he has a chance at returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1976.

"I'd like to get another Super Bowl ring, only I'd like it to be a winner's ring this time," he said. "I think this is a playoff team. We were young last year and we really didn't know how good we were.

"Some of the young players have seen my ring and have asked me about what it feels like to play in the Super Bowl. I tell them that once you get a taste of that, there's no other feeling quite like it. It's the ultimate goal for any athlete: a shot at being a world champion."