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Moss gobbles up Cowboys
Moves, emotions have Moss causin' a commotion
By Bob Carter
Special to ESPN.com
"Having been an athlete (in high school) and a big star of the state (West Virginia), I think that put an extra eye on me. A lot had to do with me being black and not staying in the state to go to college. I did get myself in trouble, but in all honesty I was given the raw end of the deal. To this day, I still hold a grudge," says Randy Moss on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.
They thought the Marshall wide receiver with a history of trouble could become a big-play performer, maybe even the next Jerry Rice. While other teams passed on Moss because of his reputation, the Vikings didn't blink. They made Moss the No. 21 overall selection in the draft, and in short time they won praise for their choice.
The Vikings didn't beat teams to uncovered data. They saw a terrific athlete and a bumpy background: a 30-day sentence for savagely kicking a high school classmate, a boot from Florida State for marijuana use, an arrest for roughing up his girlfriend.
The Vikings merely displayed tougher skin, stronger cheeks to turn and a greater ability to forgive and forget.
"I knew he was walking a thin line," said Dennis Green, Minnesota's coach for Moss' first four seasons. "His passion to play football would keep him out of trouble."
Actually, Moss' enthusiasm for the game showed peaks and valleys, and he didn't stay out of trouble for long, turning into the high-maintenance personality many teams had feared. While he steered clear of the legal system, he piled up football fines -- for taunting, strutting, verbal abuse and other misconduct -- almost as fast as touchdowns. He also re-affirmed an old sports axiom: Nothing counts like talent.
The receiver flashed a rare combination of assets: size (6-foot-4, 204 pounds), superb body control, sprinter's speed, NBA-type leaping ability, soft hands and a love of the national television spotlight. In nine Monday night games with the Vikings, he made 49 catches for 941 yards (105 yards per game) and 11 touchdowns.
"To me, he's better than Rice," Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. "Moss has more speed, more size and just as much shake. He can be the best ever."
He also can take plays off, which he admitted in 2001. "When I want to play," Moss said, "I'll play."
Little wonder that Vikings fans, upon hearing the comments, booed him the next weekend and he finished the season in a three-game funk: seven catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns.
"It's not my fault that people don't know me," he said, defending himself. "I'm going to speak my mind, no matter what the consequences are."
Finally having seen enough of Moss' antics in seven seasons, the Vikings traded him to the Oakland Raiders in March 2005. His Minnesota tenure ended with 574 catches for 9,142 yards and 90 touchdowns.
Moss was born on Feb. 13, 1977 in Rand, W. Va., a tiny town just outside of Charleston. He spent little time with his father, Randy Pratt, and was raised by his mother, Maxine Moss, a nurse's aide.
At DuPont High School in nearby Belle, Moss' athletic feats bordered on legend. With 4.25 speed in the 40 and a 39-inch vertical leap, he excelled in football, baseball, track and basketball, being named the state's player of the year in basketball twice and in football once.
Moss then went to Florida State, planning to play for Bobby Bowden after he was redshirted for the 1995 season, but tested positive for smoking pot the next spring and was dismissed from school.
"He was as good as Deion Sanders," Bowden said. "Deion's my measuring stick for athletic ability, and this kid was just a bigger Deion."
Marshall was the next stop in 1996, and Moss, nicknamed "The Freak" by teammates, became an instant sensation. With 28 touchdown receptions, tying an NCAA record first set by Rice at Mississippi Valley State 12 years earlier, he led the Thundering Herd to the Division I-AA national title and was voted a I-AA All-American.
That year, he got into an argument and shoving match with Libby Offutt, his girlfriend and now mother of his two children. The two were charged with domestic battery, with the charges later dropped.
Marshall moved up to Division I-A in 1997, and Moss delivered equally stunning numbers, his 25 touchdown receptions breaking the I-A record set by Houston's Manny Hazard in 1989. A unanimous All-American selection, he won the Fred Biletnikoff award as the top receiver in the country.
In two seasons, he had 168 receptions for 3,356 yards and 53 touchdowns. "A man among boys," said Cincinnati Bengals coach Bruce Coslet.
"The way I look at it," Moss said, "God's got a magic wand, and he taps just a few on the head."
At Marshall, he was a business major who didn't take academics seriously. "College is boring," he said. "It was all about not having fun and going to class once in a while."
Catching 69 passes for 1,313 yards (19-yard average) and a league-high 17 touchdowns, he helped the 15-1 Vikings become the NFL's highest-scoring team ever (556 points, 34.8 average). Included was a national TV game at Dallas on Thanksgiving in which Moss made three catches, all touchdowns of over 50 yards.
A stunning 30-27 home overtime loss to Atlanta in the NFC championship game short-circuited what appeared to be a Super Bowl season.
The comparisons to Rice proved inevitable, however. "Randy just explodes to the ball and blows by people," said teammate Chris Carter. "Just like Jerry."
The explosion continued in his second year (80 catches, 1,413 yards, 11 TDs), and Moss went on to his second Pro Bowl, where he was selected the Most Outstanding Player after catching nine passes for 212 yards and a touchdown.
Controversy also returned that season, kicking off a series of misconducts. Frustrated late in a playoff loss at St. Louis, Moss squirted an official with a water bottle and the NFL fined him $40,000, which was later reduced to $25,000. That incident followed a $10,000 fine in November for verbally abusing an official.
In 2000, the NFL fined Moss $25,000 for making contact with an official, and he got fined a total of $30,000 the next season for three taunting incidents and an exhibition season dress-code violation. In November 2001, the Vikings fined Moss $15,000 for verbally abusing corporate sponsors on an airplane, just months after he became the NFL's highest-paid receiver ($75 million for eight years). And in January 2005, the NFL fined him $10,000 for pretending to pull down his pants and moon the Green Bay crowd after scoring a touchdown in a playoff game. "Ain't nothing but 10 grand," Moss said. "What's 10 grand to me?"
Moss was voted to several All-Pro teams in 2000 when he led the league in touchdown catches (15) and had 1,437 receiving yards. A 41-0 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game ignited his emotions again, and Moss criticized the team and questioned whether Minnesota would ever reach the Super Bowl.
The Vikings floundered in 2001, going 5-11, and while Moss' catches went up (82), his yardage (1,233) and touchdowns (10) fell. A year later, under new coach Mike Tice, Moss had his fifth 1,000-yard season. His 1,347 yards in receptions were second in the league and his 106 catches were third. He caught seven TD passes and made his fourth Pro Bowl as the Vikings went 6-10.
In 2003, Moss was selected for his fifth Pro Bowl when he led the NFL with 17 touchdown catches and finished second with 111 receptions and 1,632 yards. However, the Vikings (9-7) failed to make the playoffs when, in the season finale, Arizona beat them with a touchdown on the last play.
In 2004, a strained right hamstring forced Moss to miss three games and play sparingly in several others. His streak of catching a pass in every game he played ended at 101 and he finished with career lows in receptions (49) and yards (767), but still caught 13 touchdown passes.
While questions regarding his work ethic linger, there remains no doubt about his ability. As teammate Dwayne Rudd said in 2000, "When he wants to play, nobody can stop him."
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