There are many words that could have been used to describe Randy Moss during his 14-year NFL career. They include petulant, recalcitrant, defiant, cocky, brilliant and complex.
Moss was all of these things and more but no matter how you felt about him, or his personality, he also was one of the greatest wide receivers to play the game.
That greatness is why Moss will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio. The 48-person committee that selects the class each year picked Moss last February in his first year of eligibility.
There was a thought this group might make Moss wait because 1) Wide receivers often have had to be patient when it comes to getting into the Hall, as evidenced by the fact it took Cris Carter six tries; and 2) The committee is made up of mostly media members and Moss’ surliness with that group could have been held against him.
Neither of these things ended up being an issue and they shouldn’t have been. It was only fitting that Moss was quickly elected to the Hall considering he had to wait until the 21st pick of the 1998 draft before the Vikings selected him. Nineteen teams passed on Moss because of character concerns, including the Cincinnati Bengals doing it twice.
All of them came to regret it.
I have followed professional sports in Minnesota since 1978 and nobody has had the immediate impact that Moss did. Moss’ rookie season is best remembered nationally for his performance on a Monday night in Green Bay, when he caught five passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, and for his three touchdown catches (his only three receptions of the day) for 163 yards on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas.
But anyone who watched the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Moss on a weekly basis understood that he spent all of 1998 helping to redefine the down-the-field passing game and using his athletic ability to make plays that left everyone, including opponents, marveling. That would continue as Moss combined blazing speed with athletic grace that made so many of his catches look easy.
Moss ranks 15th all-time in receptions (982), fourth in receiving yards (15,292) and second in touchdowns (156) and yet those numbers don’t do justice to what we saw from him in his prime.
To this day when a wide receiver makes a highlight-worthy play to beat a defensive back, the latter is referred to as getting “Mossed.” The impact that Moss had on this league became obvious to me in 2010 when he returned to the Vikings in a trade with New England that ended up backfiring. His stay in Minnesota lasted a little less than a month before he was released.
Moss, who caught 13 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the time, was treated like royalty by many of his teammates when he arrived from New England. That Vikings team had Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson on it, but Moss’ arrival resulted in a level of awe that made it clear where he stood among NFL legends. Percy Harvin, not a bad receiver himself, became an awestruck kid when he saw Moss.
That’s the type of respect you get when you hold the NFL single-season touchdown reception record (23 in 2007 with New England) and the NFL single-season touchdown reception record for a rookie (17 in 1998). It’s the type of respect you get when your ability causes future NFL players to demand to pretend they are you in backyard pick-up games, and when the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters elect you in your first year of eligibility even though you didn’t win a Super Bowl.
Vikings receiver Adam Thielen was an 8-year-old kid growing up in Detroit Lakes, Minn., when Moss arrived in Minnesota. “I try to emulate him as much as I can,” Thielen said of Moss. “Honestly, when you are watching the film and stuff you are like, ‘Wow, I want to do that.'”
Thielen has become an outstanding NFL wide receiver, but he knows few can do what Moss did in his prime. That’s why Moss is only the sixth wide receiver in the modern era who will go into the Hall in his first year of eligibility.
Anyone who saw him from his first day wearing purple isn’t surprised.