Randy Moss enters hall of fame with 'special place in my heart for Vikings'
MINNEAPOLIS — In the first four games of his NFL career, Vikings receiver Randy Moss was off to a solid start, but he wasn't exactly being dubbed a future hall of famer.
Then came Oct. 5, 1998, a Monday Night Football game at Green Bay, Moss' first nationally televised game.
"I was standing outside the visitor's locker room about two hours before the game talking with (ABC sideline reporter) Lesley Visser, and then Randy came bopping along," recalled Hunter Goodwin, then a Vikings tight end. "(Moss) basically kind of interjected himself into the conversation, and he said to her, 'My name is Randy Moss and you'll probably be interviewing me later today.'
"After he walked away, she kind of thought that comment was overconfident and self-serving, and I just remember saying, 'You will be interviewing him.' And he went out and put on a great performance.''
Moss caught five passes for 190 yards, with touchdown receptions of 52 and 44 yards, in the Vikings' 37-24 victory.
Moss was on his way to NFL stardom.
On Saturday night in Canton, Ohio, he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being elected in his first year of eligibility.
"I think for me to be able to put a jacket on just speaks about the journey and the people that helped me get along, the people that helped me get there along the way, and also the people that I've touched," Moss, now an ESPN analyst, said during a recent conference call.
Moss, 41, expects a number of fans from his native West Virginia to come to the ceremony. He is from the hamlet of Rand, population about 1,600.
Nicknamed "The Freak" for his rare athletic ability, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver played in the NFL from 1998-2010 and in 2012. While with the Vikings from 1998-2004, and for a brief stint in 2010, he had three of his four All-Pro seasons, and five of his six Pro Bowl campaigns.
Forever memorable was his rookie season. After being ineligible at Notre Dame and Florida State because of off-the-field issues, Moss starred at Marshall, then a Division I-AA school, and slipped to Vikings with the No. 21 pick in the draft. It fueled Moss his entire career.
That was especially true in 1998, when he caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns for the 15-1 Vikings and was named All-Pro.
"He came in with a chip on his shoulder from going in the bottom half of the first round," said Goodwin, who played with the Vikings from 1996-98 and 2002-03. "He sure knew everybody who passed on him."
When Moss first arrived in Minnesota, he was bothered by a sprained ankle, so teammates didn't see a lot from him him during spring workouts. Then came training camp in Mankato.
"You could see glimpses then of what was to come with how good he was in practice, because nobody could stop him," said Brad Johnson, Minnesota's starting quarterback in 1998 before being injured and replaced by Randall Cunningham. "He and Cris Carter got into a fun argument on who's going to catch the most touchdown passes, but you're thinking, 'This is a rookie. Is he out of his mind?'"
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, Carter led the NFL with 13 touchdown receptions in 1997, but rookie Moss caught five more than Carter's 12 in 1998.
"I remember in that training camp, (offensive coordinator) Brian Billick had us three quarterbacks — me, Randall and Jay Fiedler — stay after practice, and he said 'Let's see if we can overthrow (Moss),'" Johnson said. "He was so fast that we couldn't overthrow him if we were throwing a normal high ball."
The Vikings beat Tampa Bay 31-7 in the regular-season opener, with Johnson throwing Moss his first two NFL touchdown passes, 48 and 31 yards.
"The first touchdown pass was a play called 'change right speed right bomb,'" Johnson said. "And the second touchdown was a play called 'train right jet right 748 Y shallow.' When it's somebody like Randy Moss, you remember."
Moss had a strong debut that day with four catches for 95 yards, then averaged 59.3 yards receiving the next three games. Then came Green Bay.
"I get a pat on my shoulder and it's (future hall of fame defensive tackle) Johnny Randle," Moss said of after that game. "Johnny Randle telling me as a rookie, 'Man, we going out and we're going to party tonight.'"
There were plenty more celebrations that season for Moss and the Vikings. He had another huge game against the Packers in November, with eight receptions for 153 yards, and on Thanksgiving he caught three passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns in a 46-36 win at Dallas.
"It was a bad Thanksgiving," said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, then the Cowboys' defensive backs coach.
The Vikings' season, though, ended in disappointment, a 30-27 overtime loss to Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game at the Metrodome, denying Moss a trip to the Super Bowl.
Moss, who also played for Oakland from 2005-06, New England from 2007-10, Tennessee in 2010 and San Francisco in 2012, made another trip to the Super Bowl but was unable to emerge a winner. He caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and an NFL-record 23 touchdowns for the undefeated Patriots in 2007 but lost Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants, 17-14.
Moss' final game was a 34-31 loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII after the 2012 season. He finished his career with 156 touchdown receptions, second in NFL history behind Jerry Rice. He had 587 of his 982 career receptions, and 92 touchdowns, with the Vikings for 9,316 of his career 15,292 yards.
"He was a good friend and a good teammate, and it's so well deserved that he's going into the hall of fame," said former Vikings defensive back Corey Chavous, who played in Minnesota from 2002-05. "For him to maintain that excellence for as long as he did is very hard to to."
Chavous battled Moss in practice and played several times against him, including a 1998 playoff game with Arizona. He remembers Moss' smarts.
"He did things like when you covered him, he would never put up his hands right away to catch the football, so you might not know the ball was coming,'' Chavous said. "He was able to recognize coverages so well. I don't know if there's any receiver who called out as many defenses as he did."
Safety Brian Russell, who played with the Vikings from 2002-04 and went up against Moss during stints with Cleveland and Seattle, recalled his tremendous athleticism.
"He was the best athlete I've ever seen," Russell said. "He would challenge anybody to a foot race. Young guys would show up in training camp who had been track stars, and they'd think they could beat him. But Randy would beat everybody, and he would be backpedaling the last five yards. He had this different gear."
Moss had at least 1,200 receiving yards in each of his first six Minnesota seasons. In 2004, he had career highs of 111 receptions for 1,632 yards while catching 17 touchdowns.
"I don't know if there was a better player in the league that year," Russell said. "He was unstoppable."
While missing three games because of injury in 2004, Moss caught just 49 passes for 767 yards. He was traded to Oakland the following March.
Moss' declining productivity combined with a handful of incidents to get him dealt. He walked off the field with two seconds left in the 2004 regular-season finale at Washington. A week later, in a playoff win at Green Bay, he pretended to moon vocal fans at Lambeau Field and was fined $10,000 by the NFL.
"That's just the love and passion that I have for the game," Moss said. "It was just the fans having their fun. I didn't know it was going to really get that type of negative attention or, of course, I wouldn't have done that. ... But it's not like I pulled my pants down or anything like that. ... If I had to do it all over , no, I wouldn't change it."
After being elected to the hall of fame in February, Moss said he wished he could have played his entire career in Minnesota.
"I wanted to retire here and raise my family," he said.
On Saturday, Moss will become the 14th man who spent the majority of his career with Minnesota to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. All have prominent displays in the Vikings Museum, which opened two weeks ago at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
"I hold a special place in my heart for the Vikings," Moss said.