Randy Gene Moss was born on February 13, 1977 in Rand, West Virginia. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) A dingy, depressing hamlet on the outskirts of Charleston, his hometown didn’t offer much in the way of hope for a professional sports career. The leading industry in Rand was mining, and most of the people who were born and raised there stayed there.
Randy’s mother, Maxine, was a single parent who did whatever was necessary to ensure the youngest of her three children grew up healthy and happy. To provide for Randy, she worked long hours as a nurse’s aide. Maxine demanded that Randy to go to church at least three times a week, and foul language and alcohol were forbidden in the house.
Randy often found himself on his own, but he respected his mother’s wishes and steered clear of trouble. A good student, he had another role model in a half-brother, Eric, who was a star in the classroom and on the athletic fields. Randy wanted to be just like his sibling and followed him all over the place. In fact, that is how he was introduced to organized football. Not yet old enough to play in the local youth league, Randy gladly carried Eric’s equipment to and from practice. The youngster could barely wait for his chance to suit up.
The other motivating factor in Randy’s life was his mother. Maxine often returned at the end of an exhausting day of work and went right to bed. Randy vowed to lessen her burden. He knew he could do that with a career in the NFL or NBA.
Because Rand didn’t have its own high school, Randy attended Dupont High in nearby Belle. Racial tension was always simmering at the school, where only a small percentage of the students were black. While it was rare that any serious problems ever erupted, the African-American kids from Rand weren’t exactly embraced by their classmates.
Randy also dominated on the gridiron, where his blinding speed was a formidable weapon. Only one kid in the area, Jason Williams—who would go on to stardom for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat—came anywhere close to matching Randy’s skills. The two became close friends. Williams played quarterback in the eighth and ninth grades, an easy job with Randy as his top receiver.
Not everyone at Dupont liked the idea of black and white students intermingling. “Red Neck Alley” was a section of the school aptly nicknamed. Lockers were decorated with Confederate flags and Ku Klux Klan symbols. Randy was a primary target for the kids who inhabited that area.
Randy found safe haven on the football field, where he led the Panthers to state football titles as a sophomore and junior, in 1992 and 1993. He and Williams nearly delivered a state hoops crown in 1993-94, when they paced Dupont all the way to the finals. By Randy’s senior year, he was West Virginia’s best schoolboy prospect, earning Player of the Year recognition in both football and basketball. He had given up baseball and track by this point, though he demonstrated all-state ability in both.
Randy was recruited by most of the major college football powerhouses, including Notre Dame and Florida State. The Mountaineers of West Virginia were also in hot pursuit. When Randy opted for the Fighting Irish, fans in his home state weren’t happy.
At Dupont, the kids from Red Neck Alley now had another reason to dislike Randy. They already were incensed by his choice of girlfriends, a white girl name Libby Offutt. (She and Randy already had a child.) In March of 1995, a fight broke out at school, and Randy jumped into the fray. When the police showed up, he was arrested. Since Randy was 18, he was charged as an adult. With public sentiment against him, the teenager felt he had no choice but to plead guilty. Randy was sentenced to 30 days in jail and got expelled from school. Alarmed by the turn of events, the administration at Notre Dame rescinded his scholarship.
When spring practice began in 1996, Randy took the field with a collection of players ticketed for the NFL, including Pete Boulware, Warrick Dunn, Tra Thomas, Reinard Wilson, Danny Kanell and Andre Wadsworth. He looked right at home. Fans and coaches raved about their newest receiver. Some called him the best Seminole freshman ever.
But new troubles awaited Randy. While preparing to serve out the jail time from his assault conviction, he tested positive for marijuana. When Bowden heard the news, he ended Randy’s scholarship. Again, the talented teen’s future was in doubt. His probation was revoked, and he was incarcerated for an extra 90 days.
ON THE RISE
Randy used the additional three months behind bars to sort out his life. With no other Division I-A schools interested, he needed to find a college willing to take a chance on him. Ironically, that was when he learned that you can go home again. Bob Pruett, a former FSU assistant, was now the head coach at Marshall University, a I-AA school in West Virginia planning to make the jump to I-A. Randy contacted Pruett and asked for a third chance. The new coach said yes, providing Randy keep his nose clean.
The Thundering Herd, the top squad in the Southern Conference, was already a contender for the I-AA national title, thanks to an explosive offense led by Florida transfer Eric Kresser at quarterback and running back Doug Chapman. With Randy in the fold, Marshall was a powerhouse. In the season opener, he scored three touchdowns in a blowout of West Virginia State. He hit paydirt twice more the following Saturday against Georgia Southern, and then reached the end zone in each of the next three contests. Going into the eighth game of the year, Marshall was undefeated, and Randy was poised to break a host of NCAA records.
He burned The Citadel with four TDs and followed that effort with scores in the final two regular season contests. His total of 19 touchdown catches was more than any freshman receiver in the history of college football.
Marshall began the I-AA playoffs against Delaware. Despite constant double- and triple-teams, Randy piled up a school-record 288 receiving yards and added three TDs. The Thundering Herd won easily. Next they dispatched Furman and Northern Iowa.
Facing Montana for the championship, Marshall relied on Pruett’s tried and true strategy and got the ball to Randy. In a 49-29 shellacking of the Grizzlies, he caught nine passes for 220 yards and ran 32 yards for a touchdown on a reverse.
Randy’s final stats were dazzling. In addition to his total of 28 TDs, he set an NCAA mark for freshmen with 1,074 receiving yards. He also ran back 18 kickoffs for 612 yards, leading the nation with an average of 34 yards per return. A consensus first-team All-American, he was named Division I-AA Offensive Player of the Year by the Grid Iron Report and was also Southern Conference Freshman of the Year.
As the 1997 season opened, Randy and the Thundering Herd faced a major challenge. The school joined the I-A Mid-America Conference, which would bolster the level of competition Marshall encountered. For Randy, that meant better coaches and athletes would be focused on stopping him, not to mention greater exposure to NFL scouts.
Marshall opened against West Virginia, the school Randy had snubbed with such disastrous results. He got a little pay-back, grabbing seven passes and scoring a pair of TDs. A week later, he scorched Army with touchdowns on plays of 79 and 90 yards. Against Kent State, Randy racked up more than 200 receiving yards and scored three TDs. A few weeks later, he and Pennington connected for five scores to set a school record against Ball State. Thanks to Randy, the sophomore quarterback finished the year with 3,480 yards and 39 TDs.
The Thundering Herd went 7-1 in the conference and 10-3 overall. In the playoffs, they won the league title game against Toledo. In the Motor City Bowl, they beat SEC representative Mississippi.
Randy finished the regular season as a legitimate Heisman candidate. He racked up 2,178 all-purpose yards, good for first in the MAC and third in the NCAA. His 25 TDs shattered the conference record of 13 set by Kent’s Eugene Baker the previous year. Randy capped off his sensational season with six catches and a breathtaking 80-yard touchdown in the victory over Mississippi.
Despite Randy's impressive credentials, Charles Woodson of Michigan ended up with the Heisman. Woodson admitted, however, that Randy season’s was probably superior. The sophomore did win the Fred Biletnikoff award as college football's top receiver, and USA Today named him the best pass-catcher in the nation.
Randy felt he was ready for the NFL and declared himself eligible for the draft. No one questioned his physical tools. At 6-4 and a well-muscled 200 pounds, he had the size, strength, hands and jumping ability to excel in the pros. In addition, he was already faster than anyone in the NFL. Still, Randy was considered a risk by most teams. The rap against him was his attitude. In the button-down world of pro football, his off-field problems raised serious red flags. It didn’t help that Randy had been arrested the previous fall for domestic battery after a loud argument with Libby.
A few teams sent representatives to Marshall to interview Randy. He impressed them with his soft-spoken manner and football intelligence. Then he undid the goodwill he had created by missing the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Randy claimed he had an abscessed wisdom tooth, but the speculation was that he was avoiding the mandatory drug test.
Randy failed to see the writing on the wall, believing his talent would win out and make him a Top 5 pick in the 1998 draft. One by one, however, clubs passed on him. He became particularly annoyed when the Cowboys chose not to take him. The team had given him the impression that it would select him if he were available, and Randy believed Dallas would be a good place for him to play. Losing out on that opportunity was a bitter pill to swallow.
When it came time for Minnesota to pick in the 21st slot, coach Dennis Green could think of no reason to hesitate. The Vikings already had a collection of potent skill players, including Brad Johnson, Robert Smith, Jake Reed and Cris Carter. If Randy produced, great. If he didn’t, the Vikings would be fine. The goal for Green—who had a way with “troubled” talent—was to work his magic with Randy and turn him into a star.
After a stellar preseason, Randy earned a regular spot in the Minnesota offense. With Carter and Reed as the classic possession receivers, the rookie provided a deep downfield threat for the Vikings, giving their offense a powerful new dimension. Minnesota got off to a great start, winning its first two games. Then the season took a turn for the worse when Johnson broke his leg. Green turned to backup Randall Cunningham, and instructed him to throw the long ball. The veteran was more than happy to do as asked.
In a Monday Night Football match-up in Green Bay, Cunningham went deep every chance he got. Many of those bombs were launched toward Randy, who hauled in five passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings won 37–24. When Minnesota beat the Packers again several weeks later, the team wrapped up the Central Division crown. Fans began dreaming of a Super Bowl run.
For Randy, the most satisfying victory of the year came in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. Eager to make the Cowboys pay for ignoring him in the draft, he caught touchdown passes of 51, 56 and 56 yards. Minnesota won 46–36 in an entertaining barn-burner.
The high-flying Vikings finished the regular season at 15–1 and set a new single-season record for total points with 556. With 69 catches for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns, Randy was named Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press, College & Pro Football Weekly and Football Digest.
Armed with homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, the Vikings seemed destined to represent their conference on Super Sunday. They began the postseason with a 41-21 rout of the Arizona Cardinals. In the NFC Championship Game, however, they blew a comfortable lead to the Atlanta Falcons. After their 30-27 loss, Randy and his teammates were left wondering “what if.”
MAKING HIS MARK
Minnesota’s playoff collapse ushered in a host of changes. Johnson was traded to the Washington Redskins, opening the starting job for Cunningham. The Vikings backed him up with free-agent Jeff George and first-round pick Daunte Culpepper. On defense, the team had holes to fill, both along the line and in the secondary.
As it turned out, those areas of uncertainty plagued the club all year long. Minnesota ranked a dismal 27th in total defense and surrendered 21 points a game. George stepped in for Cunningham midway through the campaign, and while he put up good numbers, he wasn’t an effective leader. The Vikings managed a 10-6 record, but sputtered in the playoffs. After defeating the Cowboys in a Wild Card match-up, they were drubbed by Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams.
Randy was a notable bright spot in 1999, with 80 receptions for 1,413 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also returned 17 punts, where he added a 12th TD. Questions about his durability dogged him early in the season, but he answered his critics with a flourish beginning in November. In a win at Chicago, he earned honors as the NFC Offensive Player of the Week with 12 catches for 204 yards. He posted three more 100+-yard receiving games over the campaign’s final six weeks to bring his total to seven, a new team mark. In the playoffs, Randy was simply too much for Dallas or St. Louis to handle, piling up more 300 yards in receptions. He was rewarded for his efforts with his second straight selection to the Pro Bowl (where he was voted the game’s MVP). He was also named All-Pro by USA Today.
In two seasons, Randy had established himself as one of the league’s brightest stars. He also was among its most controversial. During the '99 campaign, he was fined twice for his on-field antics—once for abusing a side judge and again in the playoffs when he squirted water at an official. Randy was criticized for his behavior by some, while other chalked it up to "Randy being Randy."
The Vikings went 11-5, posting the NFC’s second-best record. They did it by scoring more points than their suspect defense let up. While that formula got them through their first playoff meeting with the New Orleans Saints, it backfired against the Giants a week later. New York quarterback Kerry Collins overwhelmed the defense, and Minnesota fell 41-0.
Randy caught a couple of long passes in the game, but he basically gave up when New York opened up a big lead early. Television cameras caught him dogging it on more than one snap. Everyone from Brett Favre to Minnesota state senator Dean Johnson hammered him in the press.
To many in the media, Randy’s actions against the Giants confirmed his reputation for being moody and unpredictable. Earlier in the year, during a loss to the Bucs in Tampa, he made contact with an official while arguing his case for interference. The league fined him $25,000.
Randy got that money back—and then some—when Minnesota owner Red McCombs signed him to an eight-year deal worth $75 million, including an $18 million signing bonus. McCombs defended the move, calling Randy “the best at what he does.” In reality, the Vikings were willing to put up with a certain amount of distraction in return for Randy's game-breaking ability. They were not alone in that assessment.
Randy managed some image repair the following August, after offensive lineman Korey Stringer died during training camp. Stringer was a beloved teammate and among Randy’s closest friends. Green asked to Randy to address the media. When he broke down in tears before the press, fans and reporters softened their stance on him.
The death of Stringer haunted the club all year. The Vikings made untimely turnovers, gave up far too many big plays and paid the price with a 5-11 record. For his part, Randy set a personal high with 82 receptions and topped 1,000 yards for the fourth year in a row. His best effort of the campaign came in a Monday Night meeting against the Giants, when he caught 10 catches for 171 yards and three scores. It was symbolic of his growth as a player—he did it against the team that had embarrassed him and his teammates less than a year earlier.
Later in the season, Randy established a new team record with three straight games with a reception of more than 60 yards. Like his teammates, however, he admitted that he often felt a step behind in 2001. Football simply wasn’t as much fun without Stringer.
Unfortunately, Randy lost much of the goodwill he carried into the season with some questionable judgment off the field. One comment in particular—“I play when I want to play”—angered fans throughout football. Those words made him the embodiment of the spoiled professional athlete. After the season, Randy further tarnished his reputation when he ripped Culpepper for his sloppy play.
In the front office, Green took the heat for Minnesota’s poor season and was replaced by Mike Tice. The new head coach inherited a thin defense and was unable to turn the unit around during the 2002 season. Minnesota dropped five of its first six and was out of the money at 3-10 in early December. A three-game winning streak to close out the year was about the only highlight for Viking fans.
Randy set a career high for catches with 106, but his yards per catch (12.7) and TDs (seven) dropped to the lowest of his career. Ironically, Tice had made it a priority to get the ball to his Pro Bowl receiver more often. His so-called “Randy Ratio” held that the Vikings were most effective when at least 40 percent of Minnesota’s passes were directed to Randy. The theory did not hold water, at least in '02.
Randy also had another eventful year off the field. He spent a night in jail in September after being charged with a variety of traffic offenses in downtown Minneapolis. Police also discovered a small amount of marijuana in the ashtray of his Lexus. When Tice went easy on Randy and didn’t suspend him, critics railed against both of them.
For Brad Mason, Minnesota’s community relations director, that development was particularly frustrating. There was another side of Randy that the receiver was determined to keep private. When it came to kids, he gave liberally of his time and money. Mason wanted to publicize these good acts, but Randy always refused.
Tice’s new math looked better in 2003. The Vikings went to Randy frequently to start the year and posted six straight victories. Randy helped engineer a victory at Detroit with a 72-yard TD from back-up QB Gus Frerotte. A week later, in a blowout of the San Francisco 49ers, he registered a season-high 172 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Frerotte was among those amazed by what appeared to be a transformation in Randy. He took Minnesota’s young receivers, Kelly Campbell and Nate Burleson, under his wing, tutoring them on enemy defenses and the nuances of excelling in the NFL. Even more impressive were Randy’s newfound practice habits—and his desire to do the little things during games. The praise for him was nearly universal.
The Vikings, however, couldn’t maintain their hot start, wearing down as the season entered the second half. Minnesota won only three times from November through December, and with a playoff bid on the line on the last Sunday of the year, the club lost to the lowly Cardinals.
In 2004, for the first time in his career, Randy missed significant time because of an injury. He pulled a hamstring midway through the season, tried to play through the pain, and was finally inactivated by the Vikings. With Minnesota just beginning to get ho, his injury was particularly badly timed.
The team had entered the campaign with high hopes. First-round draft choice Kenechi Udeze joined Steve Martin and Antoine Winfield as key newcomers on defense. Receiver Marcus Robinson and tight end Jermaine Wiggins gave Culpepper two more options in the passing game. Overshadowed by the record-shattering performance of Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, the Pro Bowl quarterback enjoyed a marvelous season, throwing for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns.
Randy was his favorite receiver, when he was healthy. In a 27-22 victory over the Bears, he caught seven passes for 119 yards and two scores. He also hauled in an 82-yard bomb for a TD in a crucial late-season win over the Lions in Detroit. That pushed Minnesota’s record to 8-6.
In the driver’s seat for a playoff spot, the Vikings fell apart in their last two games, first losing to the Packers by a field goal on Christmas Eve and then laying an egg in Washington. By then, Randy was beyond frustration. With seconds remaining against the Redskins, he walked off the field, even though Minnesota was down by three points and about to try an onsides kick. Fans were livid, and the media was outraged. Months earlier, Randy had been fined $5,000 for a fight that broke out between the Vikings and Bears. This was far worse.
Thanks to rampant mediocrity in the NFC, the Vikings still managed to bumble their way into the postseason at 8-8. Randy, however, remained the lead story in Minnesota. In an interview on FOX TV before the team's opening playoff game against Green Bay, Jimmy Johnson pestered Randy into admitting his Washington exit was the wrong thing to do.
With all eyes on him, Randy delivered against the Packers, scoring two touchdowns in a 31-17 victory at Lambeau Field. He did it all with a wild afro that his teammates loved. Before long, several other Vikings adopted the same ‘do.
That camaraderie was one of the keys to the team’s victory. Minnesota’s players rallied around each other in the face of the negative publicity generated by Randy. But they didn't shut him out; he was actually one of the ring leaders. That’s why they laughed with him when he pretended to moon Green Bay fans after his second touchdown. Randy caught the 34-yard TD pass on a gimpy right ankle, which he had sprained earlier in the contest. His desire to play through the pain was not overlooked.
The season ended for the Vikings in Philadelphia, as the rested Eagles handled Minnesota with ease, 27-14. It was a generally quiet day for Randy, who didn't appear to be at 100 percent because of his painful ankle.
Speculation soon turned to Randy's future in Minnesota. His big contract and sometimes questionable attitude gave the Vikings two legitimate reasons to shop him around. They found a suitor in Al Davis, who saw Randy as a perfect fit for the Raiders and their vertical passing game. Oakland offered the seventh pick in the 2005 draft, another late-round selection and linebacker Napoleon Harris. While not fair market value for a star of Randy's status, it was the best deal the Vikes were going to get, so they pulled the trigger.
Randy joined fellow newcomer Lamont Jordan in what Raider fans assumed would be a significantly amped-up offense led by head coach Norv Turner. Were they ever wrong. The team lacked experience and depth at almost every skill position, and the defense did not give the offense many chances to get on the field. Oakland finished at a dismal 4-12.
Randy was the player that opponents focused their defensive game plan around. While he opened the field for receiving mate Jerry Porter and quarterback Kerry Collins, he found it more and more difficult to shed the double-coverage he often faced. Randy finished the season with 60 receptions for 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns—not bad numbers for many NFL pass catchers, but hardly the Pro Bowl stats he was accustomed to.
Turner was canned after the 2005 campaign and replaced by Art Shell. The former Oakland head coach did even worse in his return. The= Raiders won a meager two games and scored a league-low 168 points. Porter was benched for most of the year, which guaranteed that Randy was double-teamed on virtually every play. Oakland quarterbacks were sacked 72 times, and Randy's numbers dropped again. In 13 games, he caught just 42 passes and barely surpassed 500 receiving yards. His three touchdowns were also a career low.
The Patriots and Packers stepped right in—both clubs had Hall of Fame quarterbacks but were light on dependable receivers. New England sent a fourth-round pick to Oakland and assumed Randy's hefty salary. Randy was so pleased with the deal that he reworked his contract to give the Pats some wiggle room under the league's salary restrictions.
After the trade, the Raiders ripped Randy publicly. They criticized him for his lack of effort, but more pointedly suggested that his skills were eroding and that he failed to recognize this fact of football life. Randy admitted it had been hard to get up for games—and even harder to put out in practice—but begged to differ on the second point. So did Tice, his former coach in Minnesota. He predicted a “return to greatness.” In his opinion, the Patriots had robbed Oakland blind.
The Pats also believed they had a steal, and they were right. Plugged into New England's well-oiled offense—which included fellow newcomers Wes Welker and Donté Stallworth—Randy quickly became the leader of an elite receiving corps. Tom Brady was elated. He and Randy meshed perfectly. They seemed to bring the best out of each other.
The Patriots started what would become an historic season by demolishing the Nw York Jets 38–14. They followed that blowout with another 38–14 win over the San Diego Chargers. In their next two wins, they totaled 72 points against the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals.
Randy went over the 100-yard mark in each contest, becoming the only player ever to reach that plateau in his first four games with a new team. Both he and Brady were on a record-breaking touchdown pace.
Week 6 matched New England with Dallas, a game that attracted the NFL's highest-rated regular-season audience of the 21st century. Randy opened the scoring by hauling in a short pass from Brady on the Pats' first drive. Dallas actually took the lead 24–21, but New England scored 27 points and held the Cowboys to just three the rest of the way for a 48–27 victory.
Three weeks later, the Patriots visited Indianapolis—and welcomed another record-breaking TV audience. Once again, Brady had to rally his team from behind. The Pats beat the Colts and talk of an undefeated season grew louder.
With the division title all but wrapped up and no major challenges ahead, New England fans turned part of their attention to the possibilities of new touchdown marks by Brady and Moss. Both records seemed well within reach.
The Pats entered the final game of the regular season at 15-0. The contest meant nothing to their opponent, the Giants, who had already wrapped up a playoff berth. Pride, however, took over for New York, and New England found itself in a dogfight.
The Giants played tough and clung to a lead in the fourth quarter. Randy already had one TD under his belt. Brady, meanwhile, had already tied Peyton Manning's touchdown record. Late in the game, Randy raced past the New York secondary and was wide open down the right sideline. Brady underthrew him, and Randy was unable to come back to make the catch. On the next play, the Pats went right back to well. Brady hit Randy in stride with a perfect pass to give New England a 38–35 lead. The scoring play also gave Randy and Tom their respective records. A few minutes later, Randy reeled in a short pass to surpass Stanley Morgan's team record of 1,491 receiving yards. When the Pats held on for their victory, the New England locker room became a big party.
There are some who say players should be judged only by what they do on the field. Others feel professional athletes are role models and have responsibilities off the field. Because of his past transgressions, Randy may never be viewed as the NFL's most solid citizen. But after redeeming his rep as a player with a record-setting season—and comporting himself well in public during 2007—he may finally be regarded in a positive light by NFL fans. He couldn't ask for a better reference than Brady. The New England quarterback loves him.
Of course, Randy has never cared all that much about how fans or the perceive him. He speaks his mind, good or bad, and accepts the consequences, also good or bad. And as the Patriots and their fans have discovered, when Randy is good, no one is better.
RANDY THE PLAYER
Randy has been criticized by some for a lack of discipline in his pass routes. But that has never hurt his production. Randy is such an obvious target (and usually receives such a big cushion) that all he really needs to do is present himself to his quarterback. The fact that he can still out-sprint every defensive back in the league makes him a constant deep threat, as well. Indeed, that is where he is most effective. When in doubt, there is always the “jump ball,” which is undefensible when thrown where Randy can fully extend his grasp.
The rap against Randy has been his me-first attitude. He developed it as a defense mechanism in high school, where basically no one had his back. Although his public image is a bit overblown, he rarely helps himself in this regard. His “mooning” gesture against Green Bay in January of 2005—labeled as obscene by FOX announcers—will be long-remembered, despite the fact that the network’s viewers had been treated to erectile dysfunction ads (and Homer Simpson’s naked posterior) countless times during the season. His unwillingness to practice hard in Oakland was a little harder to defend.
Even so, Randy is well-liked by his teammates. He said all the right things when he joined the Pats and, more important, he did all the right things to back up his words once the season started. There is not a fan in New England—nor a player on the team—who questions whether Randy is a gamer.
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