Thursday, October 7, 2010

Randy Moss



The year is 1998. The Vikings open training camp with a lanky, arrogant, but oddly intelligent new toy; a rookie receiver by the name of Randy Moss. We've all heard the stories, top five talent drops into the Vikings lap in the middle of the first round because of character concerns. Moss lights the league up from day one. He had four catches for ninety-five yards and two touchdowns in his first NFL game, and the Vikings routed the Bucs 31-7. The lanky, arrogant, athletic freak that was Randy Moss never looked back. He helped the Vikings go 15-1, and he was literally a star from day one.

I still remember the day it was announced the Vikings had traded their star receiver. Mike Tice clearly had no ability whatsoever in controlling Randy, and rather than attempting to hire a much more proven coach that would likely be able to at least keep Moss in-line cheapskate owner Red McCombs decided to trade Moss. Yes, there's no doubt in my mind Zygi Wilf signed off on the trade, because he was the owner in waiting and there's simply no way McCombs dealt the team's best player without consulting with the man he was selling the team too. However, I don't blame Zygi. He clearly wanted to bring a new culture to the team, and after the Vikings finished the 2005 season (their first without Moss) with a meaningless win, Zygi wasted no time firing Tice and going after the then hot coordinator, Brad Childress. Look, Childress isn't a great coach. But he deserves a lot of credit for where the team was when he took over to where they are today, and even with some of his silly play calls and very strange interviews, I'm glad he's our coach. He's done a far better job than any other Vikings coach in my lifetime, and he was a big part of building what was the league's worst defense into arguably the league's best.

That day, though, when it was announced Moss would no longer be a Viking, I broke my cell phone. In my defense, it was a flip phone, but the flip part was extremely flimsy, so I was going to need a new phone in the near future anyways. Still, the minute I saw it go across the ticker on ESPNews, I threw my phone into the wall and the top half flew off. It was oddly calming. That day was among the worst I've felt as a sports fan.

Tuesday night was the opposite of that. What started with an accidental tweet from Bill Simmons soon enough was a confirmed report from Jay Glazer that the Vikes and Pats were close to a deal to send Randy Moss back to Minnesota. To understand how excited I was, imagine every Christmas morning from the time you were four until you were about sixteen, add all of that excitement together, and multiply it by 100. Randy Moss has always and will always be my favorite athlete. I don't care that he slowly rolled into a traffic cop who was trying to prevent him from making an illegal turn. I don't care that he walked off the field against Washington all those years ago. I don't care that he admitted he 'plays when he wants to play.' All I care about is that my favorite athlete of all-time is once again a member of my favorite football team.

Almost every Vikings fan loves Moss. Sure, there are some who think he's a bad teammate, a cancer, an embarrassment to our society, etc, but the majority of the Vikings faithful will always love Moss.

For me, it's easy to understand why I love him so much. He was the first real star player I watched consistently that I remember. 1998 was the first year I remember watching Vikings games, and actually caring if they won or lost. The Vikings were all-world that year, going 15-1, so naturally I was hooked. The Twins, my favorite Minnesota sports team, were terrible as always so it's not hard to understand why 10-year-old me was so entranced by the Vikings and even more so by the freak of nature that was Randy Moss.

This is the guy that gave us the wonderful 'straight cash, homey' and 'What's 10 grand to me?' quotes in a hilarious conversation on the way to his car. He admitted on HBO a few years ago that he used to smoke marijuana all the time before he got to college, and he still did it 'once in a blue-moon.' He later had to backtrack and deny using marijuana to avoid being put into drug testing by the league. This is the guy who, years after Cris Carter and Jake Reed had left Minnesota, leaving Moss as the lone remaining player of the '3-deep' group, was interviewed on ESPN for the Sunday conversation. I'll never forget that interview, not only because Moss was engaging, intelligent, funny and made sure to talk about how great his fans were, but because he was wearing the most hilarious hat I've ever seen. It was from one of the conference title years, '98 or '00, and it was a 3-deep Vikings hat. It said 3-deep on the front, with '80 Carter, 84 Moss, 86 Reed' on the side, and just a Vikings logo on the back. However, what made the hat so unique was that Moss had made some adjustments with a black sharpie. He had crossed out the '3' on the front and written '1' so it now read '1-deep.' He crossed out Carter and Reed's names and numbers, so it just said '84 Moss.'

Some people are likely to be turned off by that story. It could certainly be seen as selfish and meaningless, and another sign that Moss simply doesn't get it. But I don't love Randy Moss because he's a great people person*. I love Randy Moss because he can catch a football better than just about anyone in the history of the world. Jerry Rice is the greatest receiver ever, there's no doubting that, but Moss is more physically gifted. Rice had a much hungrier attitude, but Moss makes everything look so easy.

*Moss gets way too much bad publicity because most of the media has grown to dislike him. Did you know Moss donates hundreds of thousands dollars a year to middle-schools near his hometown of Rand, West Virginia, so those kids will have not only athletic facilities on site, but also so some children can eat lunch every day. Did you know almost every time Moss would score, he'd find a less fortunate kid, either with a physical or mental disability sitting near the end zone, and give that kid the ball. He'd always high five the kid too, and there's no way that kid ever forgot the moment. Did you know during a Monday Night game after Moss had been traded from Minnesota, he flew Ragnar, the Vikings mascot, to the Monday Night game he was playing in that night. Moss scored a touchdown in that endzone, and did his version of the Lambeau leap into Ragnar's arms. Vikings fans will always love Randy Moss, and it's about time the good stories start coming out about the guy.*

I love that the Vikings are going all-out to make another Super Bowl run. As a fan base, we love to criticize poor decisions and even when good decisions go bad, we criticize. It's in our nature. However, realistically, all we can ask for is that the coaching staff, the front-office and the owner do everything in their power to put the best possible product on the field. For a team that already had big-name stars like Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Steve Hutchinson, the Williams brothers, Antoine Winfield and a soon-to-be healthy Sidney Rice, adding Randy Moss makes this team arguably the most dangerous team in football.

Sidney Rice and Moss are the perfect complements to each other, and once Rice gets healthy this offense could realistically score 35 points a game. Rice and Moss, with Percy in the slot, Shiancoe at tight end and AP in the backfield... with arguably the greatest QB of all-time (I don't think Favre is, but it's certainly arguable) slinging the rock? I was more optimistic than most fans on the Vikings chances this season after their 0-2 start, but now I'm downright giddy. I will be shocked if the Vikings don't win the division again, and even more shocked if this team isn't playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in my life.

Randy, it's absolutely fantastic to have you back, and since you love to appease us Vikings fans, we all know you're going to score two touchdowns on Monday night and make us fall further in love with you.

Oh, and all the Vikings gave up was a third round pick. In Zygi we trust. Build the damn stadium already.