He made the amazing look easy, put fear in defensive backs' eyes and refused to bend to the whims of others. Those who were there explain what it was like to play with, coach, face and report on a singular football talent.
By Brooke Cersosimo | Published July 30, 2018
Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. These two prolific -- and polarizing -- wide receivers will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, along with fellow Class of 2018 members Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Robert Brazile and Bobby Beathard.
Moss and Owens, the latter of whom will not be in attendance for the enshrinement, were two of the most spectacular wideouts of their era -- or any era. Not only are they tied together through sheer dominance at the turn of the millennium, but they both displayed larger-than-life personalities and brash antics, on and off the gridiron.
Unlike Owens, though, Moss was inducted into the Hall in his very first year of eligibility -- making him just the sixth wide receiver to receive an immediate call to Canton.
Selected as the 21st overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, Moss played for five NFL teams throughout the course of his 14-year career: the Vikings (1998-2004; 2010), Oakland Raiders (2005-06), New England Patriots (2007-2010), Tennessee Titans (2010) and San Francisco 49ers (2012). The West Virginia native and Marshall product currently ranks fourth all-time in receiving yards (15,292) and second in receiving touchdowns (156), 100-yard receiving games (64) and 1,000-yard seasons (10). Also the 1998 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Moss holds the single-season record for receiving touchdowns (23). The six-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro was named to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
But Randy Moss' impact on the NFL goes beyond stats and accolades. Here's a look at the Hall of Fame receiver through the eyes of players, coaches and media members who experienced his rise to football immortality ...
[The Minnesota Vikings] weren't a team to move around, up or down in the draft. We weren't trading. I did my homework on Randy Moss, but it felt like, there's no way we're getting this guy. So, you don't look at his film quite the same way that you'd look at players you really think you're gonna get. (Vikings head coach) Denny Green calls me the day of the draft and says, "We're going to get Randy Moss." And Denny Green was as good a personnel guy as any coach I've ever known. But I remember thinking, You're [crazy] or something, because there's no way we're getting Randy Moss. Well, he gets by Dallas, and then there was a long stretch of teams that we didn't think were going to take him. It comes, we take him (at No. 21 overall). I'm jacked up, and now I go back and really start looking at the film. It was like, My God. I've got this kid.
The first impression you have of Randy is this quiet, very sweet, self-proclaimed country boy, with this untapped, raw ability. And you couldn't wait for it to burst on the scene. Right from the beginning when he took the field, it was Randy Moss and the little munchkins -- the defensive backs. They were completely at a disadvantage with what this guy could do.
When it really came home was about three weeks [after Moss was drafted]. Cris Carter used to run a workout camp in Fort Lauderdale, and Randy had gone down there for two weeks. Cris called me and said, "Brian, you have no idea how good this kid is." I said, "I know. I looked at the film." He goes, "No. Brian, listen to me. You have no idea how good this kid is." Cris was just blown away with his raw, physical abilities.
The first time I saw him in person was at practice when I was a rookie. I walked out onto the field, and he was sitting there, and it was the first celebrity sighting in my life. I didn't meet movie stars or grow up around celebrities, so it was the first time I was ever star-struck. I was nervous as hell every time I was around him or was trying to say something.
I was in high school when I first saw him play. It was right when people started to record games, put them on the internet and all that. And every game had the potential to be its own highlight reel in itself.
He and (Patriots quarterback) Tom (Brady) were just in sync. He knew where to be, and Tom knew where to put the ball. In covering him -- 2008 was my last year in the league -- I thought I was kind of savvy and thought I could anticipate where he was going. But I couldn't do it. Every time I anticipated one way, he went the other. And I just remember those long legs creating separation away from me.
He really quit [on the Vikings] in that NFC Championship Game against the Giants. He seemed to visibly shut it down, and it's unfortunate that the, "I play when I want," quote came out [around then]. Without that quote, you can always kind of suspect. But when someone has announced that they are capable of tanking and you see a high-profile playoff game or a season where they're not going hard, your mind makes the connection. … Randy then went to the Raiders, and I really got turned off, because he seemed to be openly dogging it. It's just hard. I can forgive a lot of things, but outright tanking is just tough.
Occasionally, there'd be a young fella who'd be bold enough to talk s--- to him, and it's like, he wouldn't budge, because he knew they were just trying to get underneath his skin. But if you got him in the mode where he wanted to retaliate, he would just embarrass you on the field. These young guys were always talkin' and barkin', and he would just throw up the signal to Daunte [Culpepper].
The classic one on Thanksgiving in Dallas. Of course, everyone does it now, but back then, it was kind of something new. We used to run these one-step smoke routes, we called them, where the coverage gave you a one-on-one on the backside if you had a [running back] on the field. [Randy's] arm would raise up, Randall [Cunningham] looks over at Randy and just smiles, and throws him this one-step. There were three Dallas defenders that all had undeniable angles to stop Randy, and he blows by them all. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen on a football field, and I've been at this game 45 years, man and boy.
The time we had with him as a production crew was always pretty pleasant. He's hysterical with a great sense of humor. His slang was just classic. The whole "homie" thing. Everything was "dawg." "What's up dawg?" Dawg. Dawg. Dawg.
He came back from Oakland in the spring of 2007, and we really weren't sure if he was the same Randy Moss (who was in Minnesota) or not. When he came to training camp and was out there bringing it, it added a whole other element to our offense that was just so rare. He's a rare guy that comes around … well, I don't even know how often a guy comes around that's a freak of nature and does things no one else can do. He came in ready to go, and it really took our offense to another level.
We were playing them in a preseason game in Atlanta, and I told DeAngelo Hall, "Hey, you're covering Randy, and he's pretty dang fast." DeAngelo said, "You know, I'm pretty fast, too." I said, "I know you're fast but he's like really fast." They go out there, and it's the third play of the game, and DeAngelo is playing off (coverage) and backpedals. Randy is probably 6 yards from DeAngelo and broke down the cushion a little bit, and Randy throws up his arm. When Randy threw up his arm, he was saying, Hey, quarterback. Just throw it deep because I'm about to run past this guy and score. And he ran right by DeAngelo for about a 70-yard touchdown. DeAngelo came to the sideline and said, "Coach, dang. You weren't kidding."
I would line up next to him, look at the DBs guarding him, and I could see the whites of their eyes and toes up off the ground, back up on their heels. They're scared. The play hasn't even started, and he's already won. All these things he would do on film, it wasn't like, OK, I'm going to try this tomorrow. Because you couldn't run as fast or jump as high, or you weren't as tall as him. He'd make a crazy play or just put his hand up at the line of scrimmage aborting the whole play call, and coach would be like, "Great play, Randy." Then turn to us and say, "You young guys, don't even think about trying it." That happened all the time.
The one video I really enjoyed of Randy Moss was when the Vikings were playing the Packers, and Randy got up off the bench to watch (Packers quarterback) Brett Favre. I love that clip. I think greatness appreciates greatness, because they're not threatened. And they know excellence when they see it. Favre tried to get Randy in Green Bay when he left Minnesota. There was a mutual respect there. Could you imagine if they were together in their primes? Oh my God.
I always loved the fake mooning in Lambeau. I was watching that game on a little TV in our bedroom, and my oldest daughter was pretty young (at the time), maybe 6 or 7. All of a sudden, I heard Joe Buck go, "That is disgusting." Then she perked up and we both were in tears laughing. I was 100 percent on [Moss'] side on that one.
For some strange reason, it was always a cartoon with him. It would be a jump ball, and two defenders would run into each other, collide and Randy Moss comes down with the ball. He was the ultimate mismatch.
At times, Randy was very opinionated, and you loved that about him. But at the same time, he's going to say what he feels, right or wrong or indifferent. It could get tough at times, but at the end of the day, he was all about winning and wanted what was best for the team.
Understanding that you couldn't do what he does. In football, they tell us just watch the vets and do what they do. You find yourself being frustrated, because Randy could do things on the field that only he could get away with. He could run 80 percent and still run by the other team's fastest defender. He could be fully erect at the line of scrimmage -- not in a low wide-receiver stance, which is what we're all taught -- and still go from zero to 100.
He could be unpredictable. He didn't like that obligation to talk to the media kind of thing. I think he kind of resented that, but I don't think he hated the media. He distrusted the media, to some degree. The media got on his nerves, wanting this access to him that was mandated by the league, but I don't think he went out of his way to be a jerk toward the media.
He had a Brett Favre-like thing about him: very country, make fun of yourself, rawness about him that is very appealing. But he didn't make it easy.
All great players have this edge about them, and that tends to rub people the wrong way. Sometimes that makes them great, but sometimes it makes them people you don't want to be around. It was that way with Randy.
I had a more pliable, coachable Randy Moss than others that came after me. I also had the advantage of Cris Carter and Jake Reed, who were outstanding mentors for Randy. They worked with Randy and he responded to them. The Randy Moss I got to deal with was a dream.
It could be a hard catch for a lot of us, but to Randy, it was easy. I remember when he played with New England against the Jets, he had Darrelle Revis sticking him. Randy ran a post route, and Tom Brady just slung that ball, and it looked like it was going out of bounds. Revis was a step behind, and the ball looked like it was going out the back of the end zone. By the goal post, you just saw Randy catch this thing with one hand. It was like a fly trap. It just stuck to his hand and was done with so much ease.
His eyes were just tremendous, and his late hands are the best I've ever seen. DBs are taught to shoot through our hands, so as soon as they see your eyes [look for the ball], they shoot when your hands follow. But Randy would just wait and wait. His hands were so strong, and he could track the ball so well, that instead of running for 2 yards with his hands up giving the DB a chance to break up the ball, he'd just throw his hands up late. Larry Fitzgerald does that pretty well, but nobody was as good as Randy at that, nor will ever be. It's a technique I don't really think you can teach. The DB can't win when you do that, because he doesn't know when the ball's coming.
I think he changed the way teams had to respond to his skill set and his natural ability. Like, famously, the Packers went out and drafted three defensive backs after [Randy] came on the scene.
Randy Moss is the most physically gifted receiver in the history of the game. We have never had nor will we ever see another wide receiver with the speed, leaping ability, hands and burst of Randy Moss.
Randy Moss might have been the fastest player in the league at that time, fastest receiver, certainly. I remember playing two-deep, so you have two corners on him with safety help. He would run up on that safety, and there's no safety in the world that is fast enough or can jump high enough to break up a ball on him. And there's no corner tall enough to battle on a 50/50 ball. So the 50/50 balls were like 80/20 balls against Randy.
Our philosophy was, you had to have a guy underneath him and over the top, and that still might not be enough. Randy's ability to stretch the field took you out of the ability to play an eight-man front. At any moment, if he got behind you or even close to you, he was gone. In every play, you had to account for him. Every single play, not just third down or second-and-long. You had to create a special set of coverages when you played the Minnesota Vikings.
I know everybody says he was a one-trick pony because he was going to go deep. We all knew he was going to go deep and run a lot of nine routes, but it was one of the best tricks I've ever seen in my life. When you know what they're going to do and there's nothing you can do about it because he's just physically better than everybody he's going to play, you just have to tip your hat to him.
I consider myself having some wow moments in my career. As a receiver, I always felt like, "Oh, I could do that." But when Randy did something, it was like, "Damn. I don't know if I could've done that." We played the same position, so I know what's difficult and what's not, and he makes literally everything look easy.
You saw the speed, the size and incredible ball skills. The swag. I think he was much more of a craftsman, especially toward the end, than people understand. Tom Brady is exacting, and they had a thing where they trusted each other so much. I know that those stories of Tom and Randy breaking things down intellectually, and the nuances they did, are all true. Randy definitely came to understand that receiving is a craft, and as talented as he was, at the end, he wasn't overwhelming people with talent. He was just a very, very savvy player.
Being confident, definitely, but his freakishly long stride. He could do something that no other receiver I ever faced did. You could be running stride for stride with him, but when the ball was in the air, he would separate himself. He had another gear to go out and get the ball.
He was like football's Allen Iverson. He was his own dude. He had the braids and the hair and was a little bit country. It was him against the world, and he even said that when he was drafted, saying that he was going to make every team that passed him up pay. And he did.
He didn't want to be in front of the media. He couldn't stand the media. But there was nothing prima donna or Hollywood-ish about him, except for he wanted the football, which is a trait that great receivers have.
He had this cool factor about him, a little bit of a rebel. The impact Iverson had on NBA players who came after him is obvious. Everybody got tattoos and guys got crazy hairstyles, and nobody even blinked an eye. It's the norm now, but when Iverson did that, it was, Damn, this is crazy. Same with Randy. Not saying he was the first brash football player, but he was one of the first wide receivers to come in and be unapologetically himself. Now you see that with a lot of players. Look at Odell [Beckham Jr.]. You can't look at a wide receiver today and say that Randy Moss didn't influence him in some way. You can't.
Randy was likely the most gifted athlete on any field, court or diamond he has ever stepped on. That is his reference frame. The athletic confidence put some people off.
He said the hell with it, and I'm going to do what I do, and you don't have to like it. People sometimes don't understand the intensity that these great competitors have to live their life at in order to be great. Not everybody can be Mr. Happy all the time.
He openly seemed to admit that he didn't always try as hard as he could, and the paying customer has to believe that the players care as much as they do or more. Other receivers took routes off on the backside when they weren't getting the ball, but he was doing it and admitting to it with that quote.
People feel obligated to really know about a player. They want to understand and almost feel like it's their right to know a player. You think about the most popular players in the league, and you damn near know everything about them. But with him, it was always kind of [a] mystery. He was just not interested in trying to get people to love him. He wanted the respect of the players in the league, and I don't think he was obsessed with fan obsession. He felt like he didn't owe anyone anything more than what he did on the football field.
Outspoken. Sometimes abrasive. He did have fun. I remember the game against Green Bay where he scored the touchdown and acted like he was pulling down his pants, because that's what the Packers fans do to buses coming in and out of the stadium.
I knew he had Hall of Fame-caliber talent from the moment I met him on the field [as his teammate]. But it was confirmed when he played for the Patriots and he had 23 touchdowns. For him to reinvent himself (10 years into his career) and still play at a high level, it was no question that he was a sure-fire Hall of Famer. No question.
Every time I turned on the film and had to figure out a way to defend him. This was one of the greatest ever, and I was with Jerry (Rice) and [Terrell Owens] every day. I felt like all three were going to the Hall even at the time. The game-planning against Randy was fun, but the implementation of the game plan on Sunday was never fun. Never. He always found a way to get you.
I think it was a gradual thing. After Cris Carter retired (in 2002), Randy was still the man, even with getting all the attention in coverage. He was still productive.
I would've probably expressed an opinion against it when he was with the Raiders, because as much as he did with the Vikings, he shut it down and didn't want to be there and didn't fulfill his potential, which is kind of a harsh standard. But then he went to the Patriots and caught 23 touchdowns in 2007, and he helped completely transform that offense forever. By about December 2007, I felt like he was a Hall of Famer.
That Thanksgiving game solidified everything, when he was going off against the Dallas Cowboys. You knew he was in a class of his own.
After his time in Minnesota, even though it was only after seven years. He was so clearly in a class by himself. Then you look at other wide receivers who had made it into the Hall [at that point], and you could say, "Yeah, I can see Randy in there." I think the first-ballot thing, too, really mattered to him, from the emotion shown when he was announced.
His first year at the Patriots. To see what he could do with an offense, coordinator and organization like the Patriots raised his impact on the game. He had others around him to lift his game, and we really saw the potential of a player like him on a team like that.
[I realized he was worthy] probably before I even played with him (in 2007). But really in that first season playing with him, I don't think there was any doubt he was going to the Hall of Fame.
Probably halfway through his career. Everywhere Randy went, he was a matchup nightmare for the secondary.
With Randy, it was only going to be a question of longevity in the league. His talent was undeniably Hall of Fame worthy.