I Love Hate You, Randy Moss (Part 3 of 3)

Moss - 03Note: This is the last installment of a three part series detailing my personal, complicated feelings about Randy Moss. I love him for the player he was, but hate him for what could have been. Hit it here for Part I and Part II.

Hate is a strong word.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that a person should never truly hateanything. It simply takes up too much time and mental energy to actively hold disdain for something or someone. But as a younger, less mature man, I can honestly say that I hated Randy Moss. I’m not proud of it. It was the sort of irrational feelings that a fan projects on a player who wasn’t as great as he could have been (despite being a future first ballot Hall of Famer) while sulking his way out of town. Twice.

Hate is the sort of “beer bonging in the parking lot, cursing at the TV, writing nasty things to players and their families on social media” mentality that’s far too prevalent in sports today. But that’s how I felt. As a 19-year old kid who spent his formative sports years loving Randy Moss – from Marshall through seven years with my favorite team – I felt betrayed by how he handled himself late in his tenure with the Vikings. I hated him. With a passion.

“He didn’t play hard, he didn’t care, therefore I hate Randy Moss” was my immature rationale at the time.

If Twitter had been around back then, no doubt I would’ve said something nasty to @RandyMoss. The three Moss jerseys I’d accumulated by that point would’ve been burned if they weren’t so expensive and if I wasn’t clinging (ironically) to the slim hope that he might come back to the Vikings someday. Both sides would see the error of their ways and make up. Much like parents who split up and then reconcile for the kids. I was the kid hoping that Papa Moss and Mama Vikings would get back together so we can be a family again and live happily ever after.

What a stupid kid.

I’ll reiterate that I’m not proud of my then hatred for Randy Moss. I can see now that those feelings are wrong. They were shallow and petulant. Sports are important, but they’re not life or death. It was just a phase for me thankfully, however we all know some fans who never evolve out of that mentality. You’re thinking of them right now, aren’t you?

The Moss love was mainly covered in the first two parts, but there’s still some love left in this story before we get to the hate, apathy, and eventual closure.

***

Despite the soul crushing NFC Championship Game loss to the Falcons capping the 1998 season, all wasn’t lost.

Even though the game was a defeat that would haunt Vikings fans for ages (Gary Anderson hasn’t missed in two years, why wasn’t Denny more aggressive at the end of the game?, etc), we didn’t know it at the time. That loss would only be a footnote in Vikings history if the Purple were able to rip off a Lombardi or two in the next few years with Cris Carter still hanging on, John Randle and the defense being opportunistic, and that young wide receiver from Marshall that no one could cover continuing to be uncoverable. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

If the ’98 season was lthe original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, then ’99 was the sequel. Still damn good, but not as good as the original. (Also Puma was the official jersey provider of the NFL in ’99 and it never looked quite right.)

Billick had taken the head job in Baltimore, Cunningham’s “lighting in a bottle” was empty, and our quarterback for most of the season was the immortal Jeff “OG Jay Cutler” George since Brad Johnson was traded to Washington for a first, third, and a future second round pick. The first rounder turned into Daunte Culpepper by the way (11th overall).

Despite the turnover, the window was still wide open and Moss avoided the sophomore slump. He tallied 80 catches for 1413 yards – both improvements from his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign – and added 11 touchdowns. The Vikings went 10-6 and won a wild card game before getting boat raced by The Greatest Show on Turf in the divisional round 49-37.

In fairness, they were a team of destiny that year. But we would be that team in 2000, right? Right.

***

In 2000 Moss proved to be unstoppable again, despite being consistently double-covered and at times triple. The offense continued to roll despite losing Billick and Carter losing a step. We’d won a playoff game three years in a row and our future franchise quarterback was ready to start getting his roll on.

Moss and Culpepper put on a show that year as The Freak hauled in 77 catches, 1437 yards, and 15 touchdowns. Moss earned his third straight Pro Bowl nod (MVP of the game that year), his second All-Pro selection, and was in the MVP conversation until he was eventually edged out by Marshall Faulk.

The Vikings ended the 2000 season 11-5, won the NFC Central for the fourth time in the nine year tenure of Denny Green, and were within one game of the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons. The table was set. It was time eat some damn Lombardi steak.

Nope.

The only steak we got was the one that Ma took out of the freezer to compress our black eye after the Giants socked us in the face with a sock full of quarters during the 41-donut NFC title game. When something-called-Greg Comella scored, I knew we were in trouble. On top of that, the old Meadowlands “turf” was such a frozen mix of permafrost and banana peels that many of the Vikings players wore baseball cleats because: who knows. The Vikings could have had hoverboards out there that day and it still wouldn’t have mattered. Kerry Collins threw five touchdowns for the Giants plus Moss and Carter combined for only five receptions.

It just wasn’t our day. We got our asses kicked.

This was the turning point in my relationship with Randy Moss. Before this game he could do no wrong. Afterward it was open season. A sophomore in high school at the time, my pimply face took note of one distinct fact about my idol that game: Randy quit.

He flat out, unequivocally said “screw this noise” and mailed it in early that game. The exact moment he decided he wasn’t about that life was in the first half when Daunte took a shot downfield to Moss. It fell incomplete and Randy got laid out. As the cameras panned to him while he laid there, I knew. He might have been hurt, he might not have been, but the look on his face said, “I don’t care about the Super Bowl. I don’t care about potentially matching up with my former offensive coordinator and testing my greatness against that historic Baltimore Ravens defense, I’m done.” Randy Moss quit. And then Jason Sehorn held him to two catches on six targets for 18 yards.

Taking plays off had already been a knock on Moss, but I defended and accepted that. Even if he didn’t go HAM every play, he still required extra attention from the defense and defenders could conceivably sleep on Moss when he was dogging it and give up a big play. Those are the sort of excuses you make for the ones that you love.

But this was different. This was a full on quit in one of the biggest games of his career. Once the Giants came out and punched him in the mouth, he folded. Now that may be an unfair opinion, but it’s the one I had then and still stand by now after “going back and taking a look at the tape”. I never cared about him taking plays off, squirting an official with a water bottle in the Rams game the year before, or the other random antics that were beginning to bubble to the surface with Moss, but this was different. This was a watershed moment in my relationship with the Man from Marshall.

***

Now two NFC title game appearances in three years isn’t garbage, but it sure felt like it. Not even good garbage either. Like the dumpster outside of a Taco Bell after St. Patty’s Day during a waste management strike. Just a retch of vomited Guinness and chalupas. Thats what the stretch from ’98-’00 felt like.

Headed into the final year of his rookie deal in 2001, Moss and his camp held then owner Red McCombs and the Vikings to the fire and leveraged the richest contract for a wide receiver in NFL history. 8-years, $75 million with an $18 million signing bonus. He was worth every penny, but like in any industry once you start making the big money the slings and arrows begin coming at you with more frequency and volume. That target on your back grows and your faults get torn apart more by the fans and the media.

That’s literally the definition of ‘mo money, mo problems’, and I don’t think it sat well with Moss.

He always struck me as a guy who was very guarded, never trusted anyone, always skeptical, and always slightly unhappy. At first I identified with Moss’ attitudes towards to the world because I shared them. Admittedly, I was quite jaded as a teenager and Randy Moss was my spirit animal. But eventually I grew out of that. About the same time that I learned that being a boorish fan was stupid, I also realized that having a cynical, “me against the world” type attitude wasn’t healthy for me either. Randy never did.

2001 was terrible. The tragic death of Kory Stringer at training camp in Mankato put a dark cloud over the team that they never emerged from. Stringer was a gentle giant, a guy who fellow lineman Todd Steussie described as “everybody’s best friend”, and the type of person the world certainly could use more of. The team and fanbase wandered through the fog of the ’01 season with a broken heart and ended up 5-11. Moss finished the season with 82 catches for 1233 yards and 10 touchdowns, but failed to make the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.

Denny Green, the coach who took a chance on Moss and maximized his talents, was fired despite being the second winningest coach in franchise history and while having 2001 being the only losing season in his 10 years at the helm. Cris Carter, the mentor that kept Moss even, focused, and (probably) out of trouble, was released to finish his career with an unremarkable season in Miami. Randy was on his own. Which was not a good place for him to be at that point of his life.

***

Mike Tice wasn’t the right coach for the Vikings.

Not because he was a bad coach – he did well despite Nathan Poole, The Loveboat, and The Whizzinator – but rather because Mike Tice wasn’t the right coach for Randy Moss. Therefore he wasn’t the right coach for the Vikings, because Moss was the team at that point. I never got the feeling that Randy respected him.

From Tice’s whole “Randy Ratio” proclamation, to teaming up with new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to have him run more short, intermediate routes instead of the deep ball that had always been his bread and butter, Moss never seemed happy with the pairing.

Despite setting career highs in 2003 with 111 receptions, 1632 yards, and tying his then record high of 17 touchdowns (plus a sweet ass lateral to Moe Williams for a score), you could tell. Without Green and Carter, Randy started to degenerate. Both on and off the field. Openly taking passive-aggressive shots at Mike Tice in interviews, running over traffic cops with weed in the car, and just a general sense that the rules didn’t apply to him because he was talented and making the most bank on the team. All of his interview and press conferences were antagonistic, arrogant, or both. Without a father figure like Denny or a big brother like Carter in his life, Moss lost his way and went off the rails.

***

I was in my second year in college in 2004, the final year of Moss’ first purple stint. Admittedly, I wasn’t watching the games with the same intensity that I did as a kid and certainly not devouring every statistic and anecdote about my former favorite player like when he was at Marshall and his earlier years with the Vikings. Most of my Sundays at that point in time involved ordering pizza to try and Spartan the Persian-like hangover hammering my Thermopylae head and simply trying to wake up before noon kickoff to bet on the games. I was still a fan of course, but I was generally over Moss’ antics.

The Freak slogged through an injury plagued 2004 season, setting career lows in most statistical categories besides touchdowns (13). But the last straw for me, and probably most Vikings fans at the time, was when Moss left the field early Week 17 at Washington. Down 21-18 with 2 seconds left to play, the Vikings were lining up for an onside kick. Even though chances were slim that the team would even have a shot at a Hail Mary, Moss had already left the field. It didn’t sit well with fans, coaches, or players.

Fellow wide receiver Marcus Robinson even ripped into him after the game saying, “He’s going to do what he’s gonna do, and it’s not a reflection on me or anybody else. That’s Randy Moss. He can do basically what he wants to do.” The problem with Moss was that he fully believed the latter and no one could tell him otherwise.

The Vikings snuck into the playoffs at 8-8, but drew Lambeau and the 10-6 NFC North champion Packers in the Wild Card round. In what would be a crown jewel in team history, the Vikings beat down Green Bay in the third Border Battle of the season as the defense picked off future Viking quarterback Brett Favre four times while Daute rolled on four touchdown passes as Minnesota pulled off the upset 31-17.

But we all know what that game was about, the “disgusting act” that got Joe Buck all riled up. After Daunte hit Randy for the dagger touchdown with about 10 minutes to play, Moss got up, ran near the goalpost, and mimicked mooning the losing and lubed up Lambeau crowd.

It was quintessential Randy Moss. He was making a cerebral revenge statement – Packer fans are notorious for mooning visiting team’s buses as they arrive and leave the stadium – but at the same time putting himself before the team by committing a selfish me-me-me-look-at-me stunt. Some of the older crowd thought it was lewd and hated it, but I loved it. One last happy memory from my first sports crush (not named Dominique Moceanu) and the fact that the resulting $10,000 fine spawned the infamous line “straight cash homie” was hot sauce on the burrito.

***

But it was over.

Before the 2005 draft, the cord was cut. Randy Moss was traded to the Raiders for linebacker Napoleon Harris and a first, fifth, and seventh round draft pick. One too many asshat antics like the Washington game and The Freak, the Man from Marshall, the most integral part of two NFC Championship Game teams was sent out to Oakland to wither in obscurity. Moss was only 28-years old at the time, but more than a few felt like his career was over. Myself included.

Also, the fact that the first round pick from the Raiders (#7 overall) was used on hot mess Troy Williamson added to the Moss hate pile.

***

Beyond that record setting 2007 and eventual 18-1, I didn’t really kept up with my former favorite player. He’d be injured and unhappy in Oakland before New England picked him up for a song and then he went on to smash records with Tom Brady, including the still standing record of 23 touchdown receptions in a season in ’07. But the thing that stuck out to me was the press conferences. His downfall in Minnesota would ultimately be his ticket back home.

In 2010 after a Week 1 win over Cincinnati, Moss came in ranted to the press about his expiring contract and how it could be his last year in New England, that he didn’t feel appreciated, and even hypothesized that there were “a lot of people don’t want to see [him] do good”. Classic Randy Moss. Belichick, not afraid to move on from a malcontent, shipped him to Minnesota three weeks later.

Truth be told, I didn’t really care when he came back.

Coming off the high and disappointment of 2009, we all knew that the 2010 season was different by the time Brad Childress and the Vikings dealt a 3rd round pick to the Patriots to bring the troubled wide receiver back home. Coming off the Week 4 bye, the Vikings were 1-2. Favre was starting to look his age, Sidney Rice was out after training camp hip surgery, and the buzz around the team was nowhere near what it was the year before. It was eerily similar to the ’99 team compared to ’98.

Moss actually used his press conference powers for good initially, getting the rubes fired up by proclaiming “pull your 84 jerseys out” and stating it would be a “fun ride” the first week he was back at Winter Park. There was still hope that the 33-year old prodigal son was just the spark the team needed to make another run before the Favre clock ran out.

Admittedly, it was beyond surreal the following Monday night when Favre hit Moss for a touchdown after 84 beat Antonio Cromartie on a go route. The score was the 500th touchdown in Favre’s career. Who knows how many he’d have at that point if the Packers had taken the Marshall wide receiver at number 19 in the ’98 draft instead of letting him fall to their division rival Vikings at 21.

But the bottom fell out. Brett couldn’t stay healthy, Randy wasn’t happy with the team (or the catering) or talking to the media ($25,000 in fines), and everyone hated Brad Childress. It was a toxic situation punctuated by Chilly waiving Moss after a Week 8 loss to their trade partner New England 28-18 at Foxboro. The Vikings were 2-5 at the time and spiraled down to 3-7 before Childress was given his walking papers as well. Moss was claimed by the Titans and played out the rest of the season in obscurity.

***

Randy Moss remains the greatest wide receiver I’ve ever seen, when he wanted to be.

Now this may be generational bias since he burst onto the scene at Marshall right when I was at the age most kids start to seriously follow sports. I followed his fall in the draft right into the lap of my favorite team. Celebrated the moonshot touchdowns in the Metrodome as he beat triple coverage. Cursed the times he quit on plays, quit on his team, and was obstinate in the media.

It was always a mixed bag with Randy Moss, but ultimately his arrogance and aloofness were the reasons why he never brought a championship to the great state of Minnesota. He wore out welcomes faster than he could get by defensive backs. If Moss’ personality had been more amenable, he might’ve played his whole career in Purple and then who knows how many Lombardi trophies would call the lobby of Winter Park home. So many what ifs surround Randy Moss.

He ended up as a five-time All Pro, 11th on the all-time recptions list (982), 3rd in career receiving yards (15,292), and 2nd in career receiving touchdowns (156). Zero Super Bowl rings.

If I ever have the good fortune to meet Randy Moss, I’d focus on the good times. I’d talk to him about how I followed his career at tiny Marshall University, how magical that ’98 season was, and if the ‘Randy Ratio’ actually could have worked. I wouldn’t delve into my frustration and former hated because 1) he wouldn’t care and 2) I wouldn’t be able to stop once I got going.

Or hell, maybe I’d just avoid the topic all together. Talk car racing with him, ask about his daughter Sydney tearing up the basketball court at Thomas More College, or about his son Thaddeus getting an offer to play football at Louisville. Better to avoid the bittersweetness altogether and move on with our lives. Life’s too short to be bitter or mad at the world.

Despite of what was and what could have been.

 

 

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