EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Randy Moss hadn't even reached halftime of his first NFL game, and Minnesota's fans were already hooked.
Long after the trade that sent him to Oakland and ended his tumultuous-yet-spectacular first stint with the Vikings, his popularity lived on. Now the man once dubbed "Superfreak" has returned on the back stretch of his dramatic career for a second chance to play to the home crowd.
"Very exciting, man," Moss said, anticipating his first home game for the Vikings since they acquired him from New England. "I don't know whether to be nervous or what. ... I'm just looking forward to coming in there and energizing that Metrodome."
Moss fueled Minnesota's powerful offense in 1998 as a one-of-a-kind rookie who couldn't be covered one-on-one, making tricky catches in traffic and blazing down the field to haul in deep balls from Randall Cunningham after Brad Johnson got hurt. The tone was set in the season opener, when Johnson found Moss for touchdown passes of 48 and 31 yards in the first half.
The Vikings finished 15-1 in '98 and scored more points than any team in history (the season ended with a crushing loss in the NFC championship game). Coincidentally -- or maybe not -- Moss was traded by the Raiders in 2007 to the New England Patriots, who then broke the Vikings' scoring record.
"Before we drafted Randy, we had a hard time selling out games," said former teammate Cris Carter, now an analyst for ESPN. "We've always been the team to follow there in the Twin Cities, but never like when we had Randy. Randy gave us kind of a sizzle, a little pop. He gave us a bigger visibility as far as the league was concerned. And the fans of Minnesota? They didn't have any bad experiences with Randy. Randy scores touchdowns, and fans love that."
He had 17 of them his first year.
"Man, the people that I meet outside the state of Minnesota, all they know is me being in the purple 84," Moss said. "I still have love. You can come and look at my closet: I still own my purple truck with the 84 inside."
The trouble off the field and in the locker room that Moss found was well-documented and the main reason why the Vikings traded him in 2005. He still expresses disbelief and disappointment about being dealt, just one of many signs of the affinity the lanky guy with the West Virginia drawl developed for playing here.
"I've forgiven the other people, the organization, for just kicking me to the curb," Moss said this week, "and hopefully I'm back here to make up for that."
Moss has appeared at the Metrodome, now named Mall of America Field, just once since his departure -- a preseason game with the Raiders against the Vikings in 2006. Those purple No. 84 jerseys were still easily spotted in the crowd over the years, and fans will be rewarded for their loyalty on Sunday when the Vikings host the Dallas Cowboys. One regular fan who gets decked out in full Vikings garb and sits in the front row behind the goalpost was often targeted for celebrations by Moss when he caught a touchdown pass.
"If I score on his side of the end zone you can best believe I'll be up in those stands," Moss said.
He's had a whirlwind week-and-a-half catching up on a new playbook, and the Vikings were quite pleased with his performance against the New York Jets last week despite the lack of familiarity. The coaches have noted progress in practice this week, believing he'll be able to be more comfortable with his routes without having to stop and think too much about his assignment.
"He's a smart guy. I think that's probably what impressed me the most," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press