In This Issue:
Randy Moss, pro football's newest superstar, chats about life in the nfl, this year's Herd and his favorite memories of Marshall Universitry.
November 8, 1999. It is an unseasonably warm Monday afternoon in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as Randy Moss pours a bucket of ice into the bathtub of his downtown Hilton hotel suite. Randy, who is staying there with his teammates, is going through one of his pre-game rituals that involves soaking in a tub of ice and water. "Man, it gets me revved up for the game," he explains. The game he's talking about is tonight's Monday Night Football matchup between his Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys on ABC. He appears extremely relaxed and confident, ready for the challenge of facing Deion Sanders and America's Team on national television. He jokes around with former Marshall teammate Brian Reed, who Randy has invited up for the game, while getting dressed and preparing to leave for the Metrodome.
Downstairs in the lobby, Vikings fans are milling about, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the players. Red McCombs, the team's billionaire owner, is conducting an interview with the media when a fan yells, "Hey Red," and holds up a sign that reads: "Throw Randy The Damn Ball!" "All right, already," McCombs fires back, well aware that his team has been struggling all year to get the ball to its most talented player. As Moss suits up, tapes up and runs through a series of stretches in the locker room, the crowd outside the dome grows increasingly larger. Thousands of Vikings fans adorned in purple jerseys begin marching to the enormous venue, nearly half of them sporting Moss' number 84 the best-selling jersey in the NFL. Old men, young girls and little children, all wearing "Moss" on their backs, walk underneath a huge yellow billboard nearby that boasts: "84..And they said Moss couldn't grow indoors." Judging by the number of his fans, the money the Rand, W.Va. native must make on the sale of his jersey in the state of Minnesota alone must be staggering.
A lot has changed in Randy Moss' life since leaving Marshall University to play in the NFL. There's the money, the fame, the endorsements. Everywhere he turns someone wants a piece of him. Whether it's a harmless fan wanting an autograph (and everyone wants Randy's autograph) or a groupie looking for the big score, he is often hounded. He handles it relatively well, sometimes getting annoyed by it all, but most of the time oblivious to the madness.
Randy Moss is all about pro football. That's all he's ever dreamed about since his youth where he was a huge Notre Dame fan and an admirer of Chicago Bear running back Walter Peyton. On this night, he dons Peyton's number 34 on his uniform towel in tribute to the NFL's all-time leading rusher who passed away just seven days earlier.
Randy's dream came true after two incredible seasons at MU where he broke nearly every school, conference and NCAA receiving record. Hell, he broke most of the Mid-American Conference receiving records after only one season. After leading the Herd to a perfect 15-0 season and the NCAA I-AA National Championship as a freshman in 1996, he helped the school jump to Division I-A competition in 1997 where his talents gained national notoriety.
There were articles about the Thundering Herd All-American in Playboy, ESPN The Magazine, The Sporting News, The New York Times. Sports Illustrated dubbed him "the most gifted player in college football" and went on to claim that Moss had "the kind of breathtaking athletic gifts seen once in a generation." And there were the plays: his incredible leaping catch over Nate Terry at WVU; the five touchdown performance at Ball State; and, of course, the middle screen pass and run at Army perhaps the most replayed piece of tape on ESPN in all of sports in 1997.
On that celebrated play, Randy caught a short pass over the middle and threw an elusive juke that left two defenders in the dirt. He then casually hurdled high into the air over a third defender and sprinted down the sidelines before stiff arming a fourth defender en route to an 85 yard touchdown. The beauty of it all was how easy he made it look. That one play transformed Moss into a superstar throughout the nation. "Best play of the year," ESPN's Kirk Herbstreet told HQ in 1997 at the Heisman ceremony in New York City. Fellow sportscaster Chris Fowler nodded in agreement.
During his two years at MU, Moss was labeled "The Freak" by his teammates because of his uncanny combination of size (he stands 6'5") and speed (he runs a 4.25 40). Players that big just aren't supposed to be that fast. Add to that his running back moves, soft hands and 39" vertical leap and you have constructed the ultimate receiver. But more than that, he is an incredibly versatile athlete. In high school, he lettered in four sports. Former Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz called him the best high school player he had ever seen. He was twice named West Virginia's "Mr. Basketball," once over former teammate and current NBA sensation Jason Williams. Pro scouts watched him play baseball. He blew away the competition in track. There really wasn't a sport he couldn't conquer.
By the time Moss had finished his sophomore year at Marshall, he had shattered a stack of records and had earned a trip to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York as one of the four finalists for the Heisman Trophy Award.
In an exclusive interview with HQ following the Monday Night game, Moss looked back at his stellar career at MU with fondness. When asked to describe his favorite moment at Marshall, he pauses for a moment. He doesn't pick the Army game or the NCAA records or even his Heisman run. Instead, he goes back to his freshman year.
"My favorite moment at Marshall was winning the '96 National Championship. The fans stormed the field and carried the goal posts down Third Avenue. Man, that was crazy. I don't care if we were I-AA, we could have played with anyone that year."
Moss, who continues to follow the Herd with great interest, is not only high on Marshall fans, but many of this year's players as well. He thinks several former teammates have a shot at the NFL, most notably his favorite quarterback, Chad Pennington.
"Chad can flat out play," he insists. "I've been saying that for two years now. He's smart as hell. He's going to make some NFL team very happy."
As for this year's team and its Top 15 ranking, Moss isn't surprised. "The Herd is for real," he asserts. "They're having a great year and I'm really happy for the guys. I've got to find a way to get back for a game. I've just go to."
Back at the Metrodome, it's 30 minutes prior to kickoff and the arena is beginning to take on a purple hue. Dallas Cowboys star Deion Sanders trots out onto the field for his warmups and is greeted by a series of boos. Rock n' roll music pumps through the public address system as Sanders takes a couple of slow laps around the field, wearing his trademark bandanna. "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC blares from above as Sanders slows from his strutting and breaks into a little dance, his hips swaying, his arms cocked. "Primetime," as he is known, is in the house.
The first half of action is dominated by the Cowboys who jump out to a 17-0 lead. As has been the case for much of the season, Moss isn't getting many looks as he is often drawing double and triple coverage. Even when Sanders, the best defensive back in the NFL, lines up with him early in the second quarter, another defender rotates over to offer help. He is receiving a frightening amount of respect. No one seems to have the guts to cover him one-on-one and because of that the Moss-Sanders matchup never truly materializes.
Moss is growing frustrated. On the sidelines he pleads with his quarterback, "Just throw the ball up, Dawg," he says with his distinct West Virginia drawl. "They cain't jump with me, golly." He makes no apologies for his native tongue or youthful exuberance.
Trailing by 17 points, the Vikings finally get on the board just before halftime when Quarterback Jeff George hits a leaping Moss at the back of the endzone for a 5 yard touchdown strike. "See, I told ya so," he quips. A loud cannon is fired as fireworks explode behind the goal posts. Moss is congratulated by his teammates but still appears frustrated. "I try to make suggestions to coaches in a cool way but nobody listens to me," says Moss. "It's because I'm young. They respect my athletic ability but not my knowledge of football. And that's frustrating because I understand this game."
Entering the NFL draft in 1997 as only the 21st pick, Moss didn't sign the huge contract like fellow rookies Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf who went number one and two in the draft, respectively. At the same time, it wasn't Manning or Leaf who garnered "Rookie of the Year" honors or a trip to the Pro Bowl last year either. Instead, it was Moss who lived up to his draft day prediction when he calmly announced he intended to "rip up the NFL." And that he did with lightning fast go routes, acrobatic one-handed catches and leaping grabs that struck fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators throughout the league. In fact, by the time Moss was done with his record-setting rookie season, NFL teams were rethinking their entire defensive schemes. Many teams, including the Green Bay Packers, who Moss embarrassed on a Monday Night game with three long TD strikes, were drafting players with one simple mission: "Stop Randy Moss."
With his exceptional play in 1998, Moss won over the media and fans nationwide. His #84 became the highest selling jersey in the NFL, surpassing the likes of Brett Favre, Steve Young and John Elway. With the fame have come the endorsements: clever commercial spots for ESPN, Snickers, Sega (where his image dons the cover of the popular video game) and, of course, the recent Nike ad with former high school pal Jason Williams. He currently co-stars in a Nike spot with none other than Michael Jordan. He even has his own cereal Moss' Magic Crunch. He's spending more time in the community, visiting local schools and working with the "Make a Wish Foundation," a charity that grants wishes to terminally ill children. A portion of the proceeds from his cereal go to St. Joseph's Home for Children in Minneapolis and an orphanage/clinic in Mexico that Randy visited years ago with members of Charleston's Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Moss has achieved all this commercial success despite refusing to sign with big city agents in New York or L.A. Instead, he remains loyal to longtime friends Tim DiPiero and Dante DiTrapano, two Charleston attorneys who manage his career.
As the second half gets underway in Minneapolis, the team starts finding ways to utilize Moss and the Vikings finally start moving the ball and retake the lead, 20-17. At the conclusion of the third quarter and with the momentum now in Minnesota's favor, Moss marches down the field pointing to the crowd. He begins waving his arms up and down, enticing the crowd of 64,111. At only 23 years old, his leadership is already emerging.
With the game still up for grabs deep into the fourth quarter, Minnesota moves to the Dallas 47 yard line and the Vikings get what they have been waiting for all night. Moss, lined up wide right, is in single coverage. Quarterback Jeff George quickly takes notice and calls Randy's number. Moss breaks off the line of scrimmage and fakes a post pattern (as if he were going to run to the middle of the field) and then cuts back toward the sidelines and sprints toward the end zone. The little deception fools the Dallas defender and gives Randy just enough separation to turn on his speed and head down field. George sees the gap and rifles a good spiral in Moss' direction. The entire Metrodome can see it coming as Moss, trying to disguise his intentions, keeps his hands by his side before firing them into the air at the last possible second to haul in a 47 yard touchdown strike. The cannon fires yet again, the fireworks explode and the crowd erupts. He is interrupted from his ritual of jumping into the waiting arms of Vikings fans when mentor Chris Carter hugs him and the two exchange a few phantom body shots as part of the celebration. Minnesota wins, 27-17.
In the purple-carpeted locker room after the game, a crowd of reporters huddle around Moss' locker. Nothing is said as he slowly removes his uniform and heads for the showers. The media members patiently await his return. Amidst all of the giant veteran lineman, most of whom have 10 years and nearly 70 pounds on Moss, the second year player appears out of place. He looks so young with his newly-acquired braces and lean frame that he could almost pass for a high school student. It's hard to believe he's the NFL's brightest star.
Moss drys off before methodically dressing himself in stylish black pants, a crisp red T-shirt and matching red ball cap all sports and leisure wear products he endorses under Nike's "Brand Jordan" label. The deal not only pays well, but earned Moss a chance to be courted by Jordan himself. His Airness flew the rookie out to Nike's headquarters in Portland last year and wined and dined him before taking him to a Lakers game and an evening of blackjack in Vegas.
For a guy who just had a big night against the Dallas Cowboys on national TV, Moss doesn't seem too happy. He finishes dressing in silence, rises slowly from his chair and barks, "You got five minutes." The questions come hard and fast. And although it is apparent that he still doesn't like or trust the media, he manages to charm them nonetheless with that genuine West Virginia drawl. When a reporter asks him about one of the loud cannons that misfired just seconds before teammate Chris Carter caught a touchdown pass, Moss remarks, "Is that what that waaas? Dang, that scared the hell outta meeee." Everyone laughs. When the five minutes are up, Moss announces, "That's it," and grabs his duffel bag.
"Just one more question, Randy," a reporter pleads. "Nope," he says cooly, and off he goes.
Weaving his way through traffic in downtown Minneapolis in his green Isuzu Trooper (some say it's "moss" green, but it's actually more of a mint green), Moss appears far more relaxed and animated. It is now well after midnight and he is a completely different person from that guarded kid in the locker room. When the interview turns to his alma mater and memories of his college career, his enthusiasm is evident.
"A lot of my boys back in Huntington have a shot at the NFL," he says assuredly. "Doug Chapman. Now 'ol Doug is for real. He's got a shot. Williams (James Williams) has the speed. I've talked to Nate (Poole) about his chances. There's Gerardie (Mercer), Beckett (Rogers Beckett), Grace (John Grace) and others. These guys could all make it but they have to prepare. They've got to work on their skills and be ready for the scouts and the interviews. If you're weak on catching, for example, you've got to work that ball machine."
Moss attributes much of his success at Marshall to former Head Coach Bob Pruett and his ability to relate to the youngster's life experiences. "Most coaches think they can relate to a young black man, but they can't. Bobby Pruett can. He's been to the streets. He's for real. If Coach Pruett stays at Marshall they could be a Top 25 team every year. Pruett's awesome, man."
Moss also explains that his college coach and current coach, Dennis Green, have a lot in common.
"Pruett and Green are exactly the same. They care. A lot of coaches just coach, but these two guys care about their players off the field." Looking back on his college days, Moss ponders for a moment and sums up his contributions to the program.
"I think I've helped bring a little recognition to the university and opened the door for recruiting. And if Marshall can keep getting good recruits, they'll keep moving up."
Randy Moss has mellowed in many ways in the last two years. The greatest football player to ever suit up at Marshall University is now able to look back at his college experiences with the kind of warmth fans always longed for but seldom received. He recently told a Charleston reporter, "I just want to thank the people from back in West Virginia that give me support. I can't say nothing but thanks."
As for his alma mater, perhaps he said it best in a recent interview with WSAZ's Keith Morehouse. "I just wish nothing but the best for Marshall University. I call that my home (Marshall University Stadium)." Then, looking into the camera, he said, "You guys down there in Huntington take care of my house 'cause it is mine."
Office Box 384 Huntington, WV 25708-0384
Telephone: 304.529.6158 Fax: 304.529.6142