Straight Hall of Fame, homie — The Randy Moss story
10 of the finest moments for one of the greatest to ever play the game of football
Randy Moss is a Hall of Famer. He’s also my favorite athlete of all time. And in my obviously unbiased opinion, he’s the greatest receiver to ever play the game.
Moss was electric, a human highlight reel. When one of Minnesota’s 700 different quarterbacks dropped back and threw the ball as far and as high as they could, you knew exactly where it was going and exactly what was about to happen. The defense did too, but that never really mattered.
Moss just out-ran, out-jumped, and out-balled everyone else. He lit the NFL on fire as a rookie in 1998, leading the Vikings to the brink of the Super Bowl and the greatest offensive season in NFL history, and that was only the beginning. Now he’s enshrined forever in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
These are my 10 favorite memories and highlights of one of the greatest players to ever lace ‘em up…
1. September 6, 1998 against the Bucs
Where it all began.
This was Randy Moss’s first professional game, and it was the moment we Vikings fans knew everything had changed.
We’d heard rumors all preseason. I don’t remember watching the games, but we saw highlights and heard all the buzz. In my local fantasy league, a rookie receiver none of us had ever seen play got so much hype he was taken early in the third round. It all seemed a bit much.
And then the game started. We drove 19 yards to open the season, then punted. A quick Bucs 3-and-out turned into good field position and the Minnesota offense marched right down the field for six, an easy one-yard pass to Cris Carter (all he does is catch touchdowns, after all). So far Moss had only touched the ball once.
We didn’t have to wait long for that to change. On the next possession, with the ball at midfield, Johnson dropped back and unleashed a bomb. Johnson never had the best arm, but with Moss on your side, that never mattered all too much. Moss was double covered by Pro Bowlers Ronde Barber and John Lynch, but that never mattered much either. He reached out and tipped the pass forward to himself, one of his signature moves, tipped it again, and corralled it in the endzone for a touchdown. Pure bliss.
Minnesota must have liked what they’d seen, because they went right back to Moss on the next drive — this time for 31 yards and another score. Twenty-four minutes as a pro, 5 targets, 4 catches, 95 yards, and a pair of touchdowns. Moss would go on to catch 17 TDs that season, most ever for a rookie and fourth most by any receiver in NFL history. It was his first of 39 career games with multiple TD receptions.
The rout was on, and so was the Hall of Famer’s career. He never looked back, and neither did we.
2. Randall Gene Moss, Green Bay Packers killer
One month later, the Vikings were 4–0 and facing their first real test of the season, a Monday night visit to the arch rival Green Bay Packers.
Moss was already a star — four touchdowns in your first four games will do that — but this was when we knew he was a super-duper-star.
On the Vikings’ second play from scrimmage, Randall Cunningham dropped back and threw the ball as far and as high as he could. For my money, football never looked more aesthetically pleasing than when Cunningham was throwing it deep to Moss. The ball dropped right into Randy’s hands and he was gone, a 75-yard TD bomb that sent visiting fans into a tizzy — but the play was called back thanks to a holding penalty on Todd F. Steussie.
Minnesota didn’t wait long to go back to Moss. Early in the second quarter, Moss adjusted to an under-thrown bomb and out-maneuvered two Packers into the end zone, and there was no penalty this time. A 52-yard TD for Moss. Ten minutes later, the Vikings went deep again — 41 more yards for Moss and another Minnesota TD a few plays later. Late in the third, the Vikings struck deep for another 46 yards to Moss. On the following drive, Cunningham hit Randy for a 44-yard TD to bury the home team 37–10.
Everything you need to know before hopping on the Purple Train to glory (or death, whichever comes first)
Two touchdowns and four 40+ yard catches in one game (five, really). The Broncos had only three 40+ yard pass plays all last season. Randy Moss had four in one game.
Later that year, the Packers came to Minnesota. Moss had 8 catches for 153 yards and a TD, bringing his season total against Green Bay to 345 yards and a trio of TDs. Green Bay was so shook they used their first three picks of the 1999 draft on the secondary. The next time they visited Minnesota, Moss had 5 catches, 131 yards, and 2 TDs anyway. Credit for trying?
The Packers never really found a solution for Randy Moss. In 15 Vikings games against Green Bay, Moss had a hundred yards or a touchdown in 13 of them. He had 100+ and a TD six times. In all, Moss tallied 1,343 yards and 15 TDs against the Packers, his highest totals against any opponent. He was a bona fide Packer killer.
One of those games against the Packers came in the playoffs … but we’ll get back to that. ...
3. Thanksgiving against the Cowboys
The only team Moss dominated more than the Packers was the Dallas Cowboys.
Moss was the #21 draft pick in 1998, which means 19 teams passed on the chance to draft him (the Bengals passed on him twice, because of course they did). Moss played 28 games at Marshall and scored 54 touchdowns, at least one in every game. He wasn’t even the first receiver drafted. The Titans picked Kevin Dyson instead. You better believe Moss would never have been caught dead getting tackled at the one in the biggest moment of his career.
Moss always played with a chip on his shoulder, but one team in particular really irked him: the Dallas Cowboys. Moss thought he’d received a promise from the Cowboys at #8. He hung out at Deion Sanders’s house before the draft. Dallas owner Jerry Jones even visited West Virginia before the draft. But the Cowboys didn’t take Moss, and he never let them forget it.
The Vikings played the Cowboys on Thanksgiving that year. Randy was ready.
On the fourth play of the game, Dallas corner Kevin Smith bit on a flea flicker and Cunningham threw a beautiful strike to Moss, a 52-yard touchdown. The Vikings scored again the next possession, then got the ball back and immediately went deep to Moss again. Dallas had double coverage on Moss this time, and Kevin Smith drew a flag for interfering, but it didn’t matter. Moss caught it anyway and waltzed in for a 56-yard TD. It was the worst performance for Kevin Smith since every Jay and Silent Bob movie.
Moss drew a 50-yard pass interference penalty in the third quarter and caught a two-point conversion two plays later. Near the end of the quarter, he struck once more. This time Moss caught a four-yard flare, broke a tackle, then outran everyone down the sidelines for a 56-yard score. He was so electric even Pat Summerall almost got excited. It was Moss’s first of nine career 3-TD games. He went 9–0 in them.
Twelve NFL teams had three or fewer touchdown passes of 50+ yards last season. Randy Moss had three in three quarters against the Cowboys. As a rookie. In front of a national Thanksgiving crowd.
Happy Thanksgiving to me.
We played the Cowboys again the next season. Moss had two more TDs. He had another 127 yards and a TD against them in a playoff win. The next year, we got another Thanksgiving game in Dallas. Moss racked up 144 yards and two TDs. Mercifully, the NFL has not scheduled Minnesota for another Thanksgiving visit to Dallas since.
Randy Moss could probably suit up tomorrow and score another two touchdowns on the Cowboys. He played six Vikings games against Dallas in his career, tallying 30 catches, 607 yards, and 10 touchdowns.
Maybe they should’ve just drafted him — but I’m sure glad they didn’t.
4. The highlights … oh, the highlights
Randy Moss was so good I wrote 3,000 words and 10 favorite memories and still ran out of space to show off some of his all-time highlight plays.
There were the couple flea flickers every year. God bless ‘em. Robert Smith was so fast that you couldn’t give him any daylight, but if the defense took even half of a stutter step toward the line, Moss was already gone.
There were the one-handed catches … I think mostly because he could. Why bother with both hands when one is just as good? Moss could out-run any opponent and out-jump them to the ball, and half of the defenders interfered with him so he got used to using one hand to fend the defense off while corralling the ball with the other. Ho hum. A spectacular catch over Raiders Hall of Famer Charles Woodson in 1999 comes to mind.
Of course there were the bombs. Nothing in sports was more exciting than seeing a Vikings quarterback drop back and throw the ball as high and deep as possible. It was never deep enough. Minnesota ran a 40-and-5 drill in practice where the QB would drop five steps and throw a 40-yard bomb. They always underthrew Moss. Turns out 45-and-5 wasn’t enough either, so they had to settle for 50-and-5. That’s how fast Moss was. I will never understand why Minnesota didn’t throw two or three deep balls to Moss every single quarter.
Some teams would double- or even triple-team Moss to take him out of the game, and Minnesota would have to find other creative ways to get him the ball. On a Sunday night trip to Arrowhead in 1999, Moss struggled with a pair of fumbles lost (and a TD, but still). The Chiefs held a 7-point lead with two minutes left and made the mistake of punting to Randy Moss. Oops.
Moss was a human highlight reel.
5. The Moe Williams play
My favorite Randy Moss play of all time wasn’t even The Randy Moss Play. It was The Moe Williams Play.
The great thing about Moss was that 22 defensive eyes were on him at all times, so even when he wasn’t making a huge play, he opened the field up for everyone else.
Tied at seven on the final play of the half against the Denver Broncos, Daunte Culpepper rolled out for an obvious Hail Mary. The ball was underthrown (when wasn’t it?) and Moss came back to make the catch at the 11 with four defenders around him. As Denver converged on him, Moss no-look flipped the ball over his right shoulder as he went to the ground, hitting backup RB Moe Williams in stride as Williams strode into the end zone untouched. An incredible display of natural ability, unselfishness, and innate awareness.
It was my favorite Minnesota Vikings play of all time. Until recently.
6. The 2007 Patriots season
Randy Moss is so good he even got me to enjoy the Patriots, at least for one season. Moss was part of the greatest offense in NFL history in 1998, then again in 2007 for the 18–1* New England Patriots. Moss finally got a Hall of Fame quarterback and put up an NFL-record 23 receiving touchdowns.
It’s easy to gloss over that number, but let’s not. Drew Brees threw 23 touchdowns all last season. The previous two MVPs Cam Newton and Matt Ryan didn’t even hit 23. Randy Moss caught 23 all on his own.
He caught one more in the playoffs, what should have been a Super Bowl winner, if David Tyree’s helmet had not been made out of stick’em.
And he almost had one final TD two minutes later. With 19 seconds left to save the season, Tom Brady dropped back and threw the ball as far as he could. Everyone in the world knew the ball was going to Moss, and he beat two Giants defenders anyway and had a path to the end zone … but Brady under-threw him. One yard away from being the greatest play in NFL history.
Sorry not sorry, Boston fans.
7. This picture
I don’t know whose idea this picture was, but God bless. You’re the real Hall of Famer.
Kevin Garnett. Randy Moss. This is my entire childhood in one picture.
8. Straight cash homie
“When you rich, you don’t write checks.”
“Straight cash homie.”
9. The man Randy Moss is
Randy Moss played his whole life for that Hall of Fame moment Saturday night. And when he finally got there, he decided to share that moment with 12 other names.
Greg Gunn. Tamir Rice. Akai Gurley. Paul O’Neal. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland. Akiel Denkins. Alton Sterling. Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin.
On Randy Moss’s Hall of Fame tie were the names of 12 black men and women. But their skin color is not the only thing they share in common. Each name on Moss’s tie is dead, either killed by police or dead under suspicious circumstances while in custody. Moss didn’t mention the tie during his speech but it was conspicuous nonetheless. He explained the tie afterward:
What I wanted to be able to express with my tie is to let these families know that they’re not alone. I’m not here, you know, voicing, but by these names on my tie and a big platform as the Pro Football Hall of Fame… there’s a lot of stuff going on in our country, and I just wanted to let these family members know that they’re not alone.
There’s something Moss didn’t say. Moss is black too, and he had his own trials and tribulations with law enforcement. In 2002, a Minneapolis traffic officer stood in front of Moss’s car and was “bumped” (eyewitness accounts differ). Moss was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The police found less than a gram of marijuana in his ashtray, attributed to one of Randy’s friends. It was the beginning of the end for Moss in Minnesota.
It wasn’t the first time Randy Moss had been villainized. Moss got in trouble for smoking a joint in high school, something no other high schooler in history has done. He also served a 30-day sentence for battery after standing up for his black friends who were racially profiled. That cost Moss his Notre Dame scholarship, and it’s why 19 NFL teams passed on him a few years later. It’s probably no coincidence that the team with the second black head coach in NFL history is the one that gave Randy Moss a chance. Moss was fined in 2000 for “touching an official.” A year later the team fined him for “verbally abusing” a corporate sponsor on a team bus. Minnesota ultimately ran him out of town, and many fans joined suit.
Did Moss really “bump” a traffic officer? Did he really “abuse” a sponsor? Should he have been punished for “touching” an official? If Randy Moss were white, would we have used those same words and accusations?
There’s one more thing Randy Moss didn’t say, because he didn’t need to. Moss grew up in small-town West Virginia. He was a two-time West Virginia basketball player of the year next to Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, but he experienced constant racism despite his immense athletic prowess. What Moss didn’t say is that there’s an alternate world out there, one where Randy Moss is just the name on another Hall of Famer’s tie. If I can imagine Moss’s life taking a more insidious turn at the hands of one of those “innocent” police stops, you can bet he can, too.
The last touchdown pass Randy Moss ever caught was thrown by Colin Kaepernick. Moss didn’t physically kneel on stage at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the tie he wore knelt him right alongside Kaepernick, Eric Reid, and other NFL players in solitude with black men and women who have suffered unjustly at the hands of police brutality.
That’s the kind of man Randy Moss is. A man who celebrated the biggest night of his life by sharing it with 12 other families who can’t celebrate together anymore.
10. Once in a blue moon …
But we end right back where we started — with Randy Moss dominating an arch rival.
A couple years ago, I surveyed my friends to ask them about their most memorable Minnesota Vikings wins. We came up with a list of one.
It came in 2004 at Lambeau Field against the hated Packers. The 8–8 Vikings were heavy underdogs. The Vikings and Packers had played 87 times but never in the playoffs. Moss didn’t wait long to make his mark. He caught a pass on the second play of the game and was a decoy the next, a 68-yard TD to Moe Williams. The next Minnesota drive culminated in a 20-yard TD to Moss and a 14–0 lead before five minutes had even ticked off the clock.
The Packers came back — they always did — and cut Minnesota’s lead to seven with ten minutes remaining. That’s when Moss struck again. Culpepper saw single coverage on Moss at the line and didn’t think twice. He took the snap, rolled right and lofted a pass toward Moss. Moss caught it and stumbled into the endzone for the game-sealing TD.
And then Moss did something for the entire realm of Vikings fans. He ran straight to the Packers goal post, bent over, and pretended to pull his pants down and moon the entire Packers crowd. He was simply returning the favor from countless moons the Vikings had received from Packers fans every time they visited Lambeau. Victory was sweet and delicious.
The Moss Moon gave Joe Buck his most sanctimonious moment ever (and that’s saying something), and Minnesota lost the next week, but no one can ever take away that moment from Vikings fans. Randy Moss had slayed the enemy once again.
That’s our guy.
Randy Moss. The Freak. The kid from Rand, West Virginia.
The Hall of Famer.