The Hall of Fame Series: Randy Moss
Class of 2018
Minnesota 1998-04, 2010
New England 2007-10
San Francisco 2012
Today, we conclude the Hall of Fame Series by looking at perhaps the most popular Minnesota Viking of all time, Randy Moss. While his stint in purple was relatively short compared to the other players that we have looked at, his immediate impact was unparalleled.
Moss’ athleticism and talent were obvious long before the NFL. He dominated in high school and planned on playing for his dream school, Notre Dame. Due to unfortunate off-field events that were both in Moss’ control and out of his control, he somehow found his way to Division I-AA Marshall University.
As one can imagine, Moss was a man among boys. He dominated the competition, catching 28 touchdowns in 1996 and leading the way to a Division I-AA Championship. His encore was just as good in 1997 with Chad Pennington at quarterback. Moss caught 26 touchdowns, scoring at least once every week for the second consecutive year. He averaged 35.3 yards per touchdown-reception and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Charles Woodson, Peyton Manning, and Ryan Leaf.
Unfortunately, questions lingered about Moss’ off-field issues when he declared for the 1998 NFL Draft. Despite allegedly posting insane numbers of a 47-inch vertical and 4.25 speed at his pro day, teams passed on him when draft day rolled around. 19 teams passed on Moss before the Vikings selected him with the 21st overall pick. If that math doesn’t look right, I’ll clear things up soon.
In his first career game, he caught four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay. But it was his Week 5 game at Lambeau Field that proved he was one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL. On Monday Night Football, Moss caught five passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers, who were riding an 18-game win streak at home. Moss even had another touchdown wiped out due to a penalty. At 5-0, the Vikings were rolling.
Later in the season on Thanksgiving Day, the 10-1 Vikings traveled to take on the Dallas Cowboys. Moss had a bone to pick with Dallas. Prior to the draft, they told him that they would select him if he was available. Instead, they passed on him- twice. So of course, Moss delivered possibly the most iconic game of his career in their stadium. He caught three passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns, embarrassing defenders on each score.
Although the season ended in heartbreak, Moss had a historical rookie season. He caught 69 passes for a then-record 1,313 yards and a rookie-record 17 touchdowns. Along with Cris Carter, Moss led the way for the highest-scoring offense in NFL history at that point. He earned the first of his four first-team All-Pros and won Offensive Rookie of the Year. And because of him, an entire generation of life-long Vikings fans were born.
Moss continued to tear up defenses over the next six seasons. He earned All-Pro honors in 2000 and 2003 and eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons, the first receiver to ever achieve the feat. A hamstring injury in 2004 held him out of games for the first time in his career. Although he failed to reach 1,000 yards, he still caught 13 touchdowns in 13 games.
But the off-field antics continued to mount. After squirting an official with a water bottle and running into a traffic officer earlier in his career, Moss was twice the center of controversy in 2004. Against Washington in a 21-18 loss, he walked off the field into the locker room with two seconds left in the season finale. A week later, he pretended to moon Packer fans after scoring a touchdown to seal a Wild Card victory. Moss was fined $10,000 for the celebration. He paid the fine with straight cash.
Because he was becoming as much of a problem off the field as he was a solution on the field, the Vikings dealt Randy Moss to Oakland after the season. Minnesota received linebacker Napoleon Harris, a first-round pick (Troy Williamson. More on that here), and a seventh-round pick.
Moss spent two disappointing seasons with the Raiders, only catching 42 passes for 553 yards and three touchdowns in 2006. So on the second day of the draft in 2007, the Raiders sent Moss to New England in exchange for a fourth-round pick. It remains one of the biggest draft-day steals of all time.
With Tom Brady throwing the ball, Moss had a career resurgence. He caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and an NFL-record 23 touchdown receptions as he won his final All-Pro award. Tom Brady also set the then-NFL record with 50 touchdown passes and the Patriots broke the 1998 Vikings’ single-season scoring record with 589 total points en route to a near-perfect season.
After three seasons of dominance in New England, Moss’ career went off-course again when he questioned his future with the Patriots. They traded him back to Minnesota in the middle of the 2010 season. Moss was united with Brett Favre for the first time after Favre tried persuading Packers management to trade for Moss back in 2007.
Although the two hooked up for Favre’s 500th career touchdown pass, the Vikings’ season and Moss’ career appeared to be lost causes. Moss held an impromptu press conference following a loss at New England where he heaped praises on his former team. He had also told owner Zygi Wolf that Brad Childress wasn’t worthy of being an NFL head coach. After only four games, Moss was unceremoniously cut by Childress. Three weeks later, the Wilfs took Moss’ advice and fired Childress.
The final two stops of Moss’ career were fairly nondescript. Most readers here will learn that Moss finished the 2010 season playing for the Tennessee Titans, catching only six passes for 80 yards. After retiring and missing the 2011 season, he returned in 2012 to play for the 49ers. He had a role and filled it, catching 28 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns, including a spectacular score against the Cardinals on Monday Night Football. Those 49ers would lose Super Bowl XLVII to the Ravens by a score of 34-31. It was the final game of Moss’ career before he retired for good.
Randy Moss finished his career with 982 receptions (15th all-time), 15,292 receiving yards (fourth all-time), and 156 touchdown receptions (second all-time). His 587 receptions, 9,316 yards, and 92 touchdowns all rank second in Vikings history behind Cris Carter (although he outpaces Carter by 15.5 yards per game).
Fortunately, his off-field antics didn’t prevent Moss from receiving the accolades he deserved. He was named to the 2000s All-Decade Team as well as the NFL’s 100th Anniversary Team. Mending a fractured relationship, the Vikings inducted Moss into their Ring of Honor in 2017. Although many wide receivers struggle to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Terrell Owens, Randy Moss was inducted on his first attempt in 2018.
His legacy continues to live on not only for Vikings fans but NFL fans everywhere. On ESPN, he hosts a segment called “Moss’d” where football players across the country get highlighted for their highlight-reel catches. But when attending US Bank Stadium, you notice fans still don Moss’ “84” jersey. It shows that the generation that he helped spark is carrying on the tradition as another era of receiver dominance is underway in Minnesota.