Written By: ERIC SMITH


There were plenty of memories of Randy Moss during his time in Purple. From the moment he stepped onto the Metrodome turf, the first-round pick was a force to be reckoned with. Moss caught 17 touchdowns in 1998, which still stands as a rookie record.

By the time he hung up his cleats, he was one of the best receivers in both league and Vikings franchise history. Moss ranks second all-time with 156 touchdown catches and is fourth in yards with 15,292.

Moss was inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor in September of 2017, and will soon go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Vikings.com talked to Moss’ former teammates, opposing coaches and those who watched him from afar to get their favorite Moss Memories of No. 84.

Cris Carter: Hot Tamales and a Coke

Cris Carter was already a bona fide star wide receiver and had 89 career touchdown catches before Moss arrived in the Twin Cities.

But when the two joined forces, they created perhaps the greatest wide receiver duo of all-time, a tandem that struck fear into every defensive coordinator around the NFL.

That’s evident by the 93 combined touchdown catches from 1998 to 2001.

A strong commitment to one another and shared healthy competitive nature was at the heart of their relationship.

“Randy helped keep me motivated,” Carter said. “For a long time, I was clearly the best receiver on the team, but when Randy came in … I really didn’t mind sharing the spotlight because I knew it was going to be a rare opportunity. I wanted to maximize the moment.

“We constantly kept pressure on one another,” Carter recalled. “We used to make little bets during the game … $100 for the first touchdown and $200 if his was over 50 yards.”

Moss hauled in 14 touchdowns over his first four seasons that went for 50 yards or more.

“It was good money to lose,” Carter said with a laugh.

Moss and Carter trained together in Florida right after the 1998 draft. It didn’t take long for the future Hall of Famer to be impressed.

Carter said he knew the first day he saw Moss in action that he would end up in the Vikings Ring of Honor. Both superstars now reside in the special place in franchise history – and in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Even when people called him ‘The Freak,’ they didn’t really know,” Carter said. “But working out with him, he was very competitive. And not good hands, but great hands.

“If I could make a wide receiver, he would have so many of the attributes that Randy had — his size, overall speed, overall quickness, his football IQ,” Carter added. “Randy was special and had an unbelievable chemistry and magic with the fans there. He truly had an impact on the franchise and our fan base like very few players have.”

The two best wide receivers in Vikings history created plenty of memories over the years.

But what sticks out in Carter’s mind is Moss’ first career game, a 31-7 win over the Buccaneers in Week 1 of the 1998 campaign.

Carter said Moss nearly missed the morning deadline to arrive at the stadium before the game.

The rest is history.

“We’re playing Tampa Bay. They have Tony Dungy, the Tampa 2 (defense), one of the best defenses in the NFL,” Carter said. “He said he was a little nervous and said he couldn’t eat. … He said he was playing video games (the morning of the game).

“I asked him what he was going to eat before the game, he broke out a box of Hot Tamales and a Coke,” Carter said.

Fueled by a sugar buzz, Moss promptly announced his presence within the division with four catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

“I was like, ‘Damn man, maybe if you eat some food and get some nutrients inside of you, you’ll be alright.’ That was the first game,” Carter chuckled. “Seeing him eat Hot Tamales and drink a Coke for a pregame meal, then go out there against one of the best defenses, it was confirmation that he was the guy.”

Jake Reed: 'You Got Mossed'

In the years before Moss joined the Vikings, Carter and Jake Reed made up one of the NFL’s best receiving tandems.

Carter and Reed each topped 1,000 receiving yards from 1994 to 1997, each thriving when a defense focused on the other player.

When Moss arrived in 1998, the three-headed monster of Carter, Moss and Reed became known as Three Deep.

“He kind of changed the culture of the locker room and the culture of the plays we called. He could do some things that me and Cris just couldn’t do,” Reed said. “We had four straight 1,000-yard seasons, but he could run the way we couldn’t run. He posed a threat to the opposite team that me and Cris couldn’t pose.

“It was fun for us because once we got on the field, teams had to pick their poison,” Reed added. “Who are you going to cover … Cris Carter, Jake Reed or Randy Moss?”

Reed totaled 450 receptions for 6,999 yards and 36 touchdowns in his 12-year career, 10 of which were spent in Purple.

A third-round pick in 1991, he and Carter were a force to be reckoned with in the mid-1990s.

Reed still had a starting spot when Moss arrived, but that changed when he underwent back surgery in November of 1998.

Moss stepped in as the starter on Thanksgiving Day, catching three passes for 163 yards and three scores, and Reed knew the starting gig was no longer his.

Reed said he cherishes memories of his time with Moss, whether it was grueling workouts or playing cards on Monday nights at one of the receivers’ houses.

And Reed said he’s proud to have had a front-row seat to the premier of one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history.

“It’s no wonder that people today still say, ‘You got Mossed.’ It means something if you get Mossed,” Reed said. “You didn’t have that … when people give you a little tag behind your name, you know that you really did some things in the NFL.

“No one says you got Jerry Riced, they say, ‘You got Mossed.’ No one says you got Cris Cartered, they say, ‘You got Mossed,’ ” Reed added. “He was doing things to defensive backs that they couldn’t understand.”

Robert Smith: 'This Isn't Going to be Fair'

There was chatter about Moss in the Vikings locker room even before he decided to leave Marshall University and turn pro.

The 100-yard games, multi-touchdown performances and highlight-reel catches were all part of the buzz Moss created while in college that swept across the country.

Former Vikings running back Robert Smith and his teammates took notice.

“It’s funny because when we were in the locker room in 1997, you’d see the highlights because SportsCenter would always be on,” Smith said. “You’d see those long Randy highlights. So when he dropped to us on draft day, the first thought I had was, ‘This isn’t going to be fair.’

“With what we already had in place,” Smith said. “You just knew it was going to be a powerhouse offense.”

Smith had finished seventh in the league in 1997 with 1,266 rushing yards while adding six touchdowns. It was the first of four straight 1,000-yard seasons, culminating in a career-best 1,521 yards and seven scores in 2000.

With opponents respecting the run first, the Vikings devised a way to fool them.

Smith would get handed the ball and take a step or two forward before pitching the ball back to the quarterback to launch a deep pass to Moss for a touchdown.

The ol’ flea flicker often worked to perfection.

“We always felt pretty good about that play,” Smith said with a laugh. “Even if people were covering Randy, Randall (Cunningham) or whoever was playing quarterback could just kind of throw the ball up, and he’d make a play on it anyway.

“It was kind of natural because teams were stopping the run so much,” Smith added. “It was difficult and kind of like picking your poison, and it was something that just worked out for us.”

Before he got to the NFL and went to two Pro Bowls, Smith was a standout sprinter who once raced against legendary Olympian Carl Lewis.

But even Smith, a superb athlete himself, was blown away by what he saw from his new teammate in Mankato in the summer of 1998.

“I’ve been around a lot of great athletes, but when you see somebody that just stands out so far above everyone else that you’ve ever seen, it really strikes you,” Smith said. “He was so different and so smooth and just snatched the ball out of the air. It was really incredible.

“When I saw him at the very first practice in training camp, I remember speaking to one of my friends back in Cleveland over lunch break,” Smith recalled. “They asked me how Randy looked and I said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this. If he stays healthy, this guy is going to be a Hall of Famer.’ There was no question about it.”

Randall Cunningham: 'The Randy Rule'

Let’s just call it The Randy Rule.

Former Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham does.

In 1998, Cunningham and Moss teamed up to form one of the greatest deep-threat combos in NFL history.

Their magical season was highlighted by Cunningham, who had a career-best passer rating of 106.0, often chucking the rock deep for No. 84 to chase down the sideline and catch.

“If an NFL quarterback takes a five-step drop and throws it as far as he can, there’s not many people who are going to run under the ball,” Cunningham explained. “We had a rule with Randy. The rule with everybody else is (that you throw it) 40 or 45 yards down the field and then five yards from the sideline — that’s where the ball was supposed to be.

“With Randy, it was 50 or 55 yards down the field. If you took a five-step (drop) and put it out there about 50 yards, he would be able to go get it,” Cunningham added. “It wasn’t the farthest I could throw, but I would definitely put it out there where he could go and get it. If I put it out there, the chances were that he was going to come up with the ball.”

When Cunningham looked Moss’ way in 1998, the results were staggering. Moss caught 57 passes for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns from the 35-year-old quarterback that season.

“There’s been a lot of players with great speed in the league, but the difference with Randy is that he was 6-foot-4 and had long arms,” Cunningham said. “Him putting his arms up in the air was going to give you another three or four yards. You could put it out there because he was so tall.”

The duo connected on five touchdown passes of 50-plus yards. And of the 13 passes that went for at least 40 yards, nine ended with Moss gliding into the end zone.

Not bad for a quarterback who began the season as the backup after running a marble-and-granite business the previous year.

But Cunningham said Moss helped him make a seamless transition to being the starter.

“Having a player like him, he became a friend as well,” Cunningham said. “Randy was really down to earth, and that’s what I loved about him.

“He was a kid at the time, but he had always tasted success. It had followed him wherever he went,” Cunningham said. “We got to share that, which was a blessing.”

Moss retired in 2012 at the age of 35. But if the wide receiver wanted to play today, Cunningham said there’s no question he could still take the top off the defense.

“I think if Randy wanted to come back and play today, he could still play,” Cunningham said with a laugh. “He’d fit right in and would probably run about a 4.5 (-second 40-yard dash) today. His hands and moves haven’t gone anywhere. Randy could still play at 40 years old.”

Jeff Christy: 'On Ever Play'

There’s simply no way for an NFL team to score on every offensive play.

But Moss thought the 1998 Vikings were capable of doing so.

There’s a funny clip that Moss referenced during his June 2017 visit to Winter Park when his Vikings Ring of Honor induction was announced. In one of the games in 1998, Moss recalled that former Vikings center Jeff Christy was overheard telling teammates that Moss thought Minnesota could score on every play.

Christy recounted the memory earlier this year and said that the Vikings had an attacking mindset 20 seasons ago.

“We felt that we never were going to lose,” Christy said. “We did obviously lose one game [against Tampa Bay] but when I remember back to that game, I don’t think we lost, we just kind of ran out of time.

“We felt comfortable that we could score,” Christy added. “But it didn’t work out that way, and we did not win the Super Bowl.”

Minnesota’s offense racked up 556 total points during the 15-1 campaign, scoring 55 more points than any team in the NFL.

The Vikings had seven Pro Bowlers on offense in 1998, including Christy, who made the Pro Bowl again in 1999.

Christy said the Vikings offensive line took satisfaction in blocking for a 4,000-yard passer (Randall Cunningham), a pair of 1,000-yard wide receivers (Cris Carter and Moss) and a 1,000-yard running back (Robert Smith).

“Absolutely, there was a lot of pride in it. We know everything starts up front,” Christy said.

“We know we don’t get the glory, but that just goes with the territory.

“We’re the only position on the field that has to have five people who have to move as one. It’s a unique position because you have to know what the guy beside you is doing,” Christy added. “I think we take a lot of pride in durability and knowing what each other is doing. We’re like the big brother on the field protecting our little brother.”

And, Christy said, it was a lot of fun to watch Moss terrorize opposing offenses.

“All he had to do was catch the ball, and he was able to run around people, jump over people,” Christy said. “He was really a phenomenal athlete.”

One who thought the 1998 Vikings couldn’t be stopped.

“Realistically, that was my mindset. I thought we could score every single play,” Moss told Vikings.com in June. “For me to see our center jokingly saying, ‘Man, this young kid thinks we can score on every play.’ … No, Jeff Christy, I thought back in 1998 that we really could score on every play. I wasn’t jiving you.

Jim Kleinsasser: Loyalty and Friendship

Take an informal poll amongst Vikings fans, and Moss will likely be included as one of the most popular players in franchise history.

And it’s a good bet Jim Kleinsasser will also be on the list.

The pair had opposite playing styles. Moss was an athletic freak who could blow by anyone on the field, and Kleinsasser’s rugged style led to a successful career as a fullback and tight end.

Yet the players with starkly contrasting attributes were also good friends beginning from the time Kleinsasser was a second-round pick in 1999 out of the University of North Dakota.

“When I came in, I was kind of the ‘Aw shucks, gee whiz, look at all of this’ guy coming from North Dakota,” Kleinsasser said. “I was amazed at everything and that I was even there at the time.

“Randy had such a fun-going personality … but the big thing that really captured you was seeing him on the field,” Kleinsasser added. “He’s probably the most gifted athlete I’ve ever seen. There are a few guys who are just complete super freaks.”

The pair were teammates in Minnesota for all or parts of seven seasons.

Kleinsasser said he has vivid and fond memories of Moss as a teammate and friend, whether it was cracking jokes in the locker room or playing offseason pickup basketball around the Twin Cities.

“His talent and what he brought to the Vikings, maybe it’s got a little muddied with his departure the first time and his departure the second time,” Kleinsasser said. “But I’ve always looked at him as a good person … I think some of the things that have been out there have been a little misunderstood.

“Maybe some of that lies on him, and I think we can all take stock in ourselves sometimes,” Kleinsasser added. “Randy was a loyal guy. People see what’s out there in the public and the media, but as a teammate I’ve got nothing but great things to say about him.”

Moss and Kleinsasser reconnected in June when Moss was in town for a surprise announcement that Moss was going into the Vikings Ring of Honor.

Even then, Kleinsasser could still picture Moss flying down the field and outleaping a pair of defenders for a touchdown.

“I think Randy is one of those once-in-a-generation type players,” Kleinsasser said. “He was just electrifying.”

Scott Studwell: 'The Catch That Others Passed On'

From the moment he was a ninth-round draft pick in 1977, Scott Studwell has been an integral part of the Vikings organization.

He is best known as a fierce, record-setting linebacker who spent 14 seasons in Purple racking up a franchise-record 1,981 total tackles.

Studwell was a scout for the Vikings in 1998 when they held the 21st pick in the NFL Draft. He was part of the Minnesota contingent that traveled to Detroit to see Marshall University play Mississippi in the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 26, 1997.

It was the only time Studwell saw Moss play in college. It was all he needed to see.

“He could return kickoffs, he could return punts,” Studwell said. “He just had rare ability for a receiver that was that big and that tall and that long and that fast and that athletic.

“He could run after the catch and make people miss,” Studwell said. “He was just one of those rare talents that don’t come along very often. Luckily, we had him here.”

Studwell was in the draft room when 19 teams (Cincinnati had two picks in the top 20) passed on Moss.

He declined to reveal where Moss was ranked on Minnesota’s entire draft board, but the Vikings Ring of Honor member said the 2017 inductee to the Vikings Ring of Honor was undoubtedly the top player at his position.

Studwell described the vibe at Winter Park as Moss trickled down the draft board.

“Talent-wise, he was easily a top-10 pick. We had a lot of conversations about him … we just assumed once he started to drop that (potential character issues) were the reason why he dropped more so than the ability,” Studwell said. “Give (former Vikings Head Coach) Denny Green a lot of credit. As soon as we came on the clock, he said, ‘This is our guy, and we’re taking him.’ He was very resolved in the fact that he thought he could handle Randy, and he did.

“As players fall, there is not as much risk at No. 21 [as there is in] taking a guy with the third or fourth pick in the draft,” Studwell added. “But (Moss’ fall in the draft) was not a reflection of his abilities. We got lucky. He fell to us, and we got a great player.”

Moss turned into one of the best wide receivers in franchise history, not to mention the entire league.

Even now, Studwell said there is no doubt Moss would be a top-five pick year after year.

“If you put him in any draft at any time, he would probably still be the top (wide receiver),” Studwell said. “Take some of the background stuff out of it and just look at the skill set, he’d be a top pick.

“Especially in today’s game with the way we throw the ball … he’d be a top player in our league,” Studwell added.

Fred Zamberletti: Think Fast

Fred Zamberletti saw thousands of touchdowns while in Minnesota.

From Fran Tarkenton’s first, a 14-yard pass to Bob Schnelker on the team’s inaugural day, to Bill Brown, Chuck Foreman, Ahmad Rashad, Carter or Moss, the original Viking celebrated touchdowns from the sidelines for decades.

Zamberletti, 86, who has been with the team in some capacity since the franchise was founded in 1961, said he usually had a ritual of congratulating players who scored by giving them a tap on the back.

But during the 1998 season, the player who scored the most touchdowns for the Vikings that year wondered why he never got any love from Zamberletti, the longtime trainer for the Vikings.

“He said to me one time, ‘How come when I score touchdowns you don’t pat me on the back?’ I had to think about that quickly,” Zamberletti said with a smile as he recalled the interaction with Moss. “I said, ‘Because I know you’re going to do it again.’ He said, ‘You’re right.’

“That settled that,” Zamberletti said.

The 1998 season was Moss’ first with Minnesota and Zamberletti’s last as the team’s Head Athletic Trainer, a role he had held for almost 40 years. He was the Coordinator of Medical Services from 1999 to 2001 and has been a Consultant/Team Historian ever since.

The trainer from Iowa and the wide receiver from West Virginia bonded over the years, playing pickup basketball in the offseason and chatting about their childhoods in coal mining country.

Zamberletti is one of 23 members of the Vikings Ring of Honor, an exclusive club that now includes Moss.

When Moss was surprised with the induction announcement in June of 2017, he spoke about the people who helped him secure a place in Vikings lore.

And he made sure to place a phone call to someone special to him.

“He called me up,” Zamberletti said. “I told him, ‘It’s an honor to have you in the Ring of Honor.’ ”

Moss responded: “No, it’s an honor for me to be with you in the Ring of Honor.”

Dennis Ryan: Moss 'In The House'

Dennis Ryan always knew when Moss walked into the locker room on game day.

The Vikings longtime equipment manager didn’t even need to see No. 84 to know he was there.

“You always knew when he came into the locker room,” said Ryan, who has been with the Vikings full-time since 1977. “His big thing on Sunday morning was that he’d walk in that locker room and yell, ‘Moss in the house!’

“It was kind of his signature, I remember, on a weekly basis,” Ryan added. “And you knew he was going to be ready to play any given Sunday. He made some incredible plays.”

Ryan and his crew deal with every player on the Vikings roster, from the starting quarterback to the final player on the practice squad, making sure that all are fully equipped and have everything they need for practices and games.

Most players are respectful and cordial. Some can be arrogant, Ryan noted, but he never had a problem when it came to Moss.

“Initially you were unsure if he had all of the baggage that everybody had talked about. You wondered what this guy was going to be like to deal with,” Ryan said. “But quite honestly, from the day he came in and got fitted, he was as easy a guy as anyone else we’ve ever had.

“That’s more than we can say about a lot of guys, especially of lesser ability,” Ryan added.

And despite Moss’ eye-popping numbers and loud personality, Ryan saw firsthand how the star wide receiver displayed his passion for the game.

Moss won the 1998 Offensive Rookie of the Year award after snagging 69 passes for 1,313 yards and a rookie-record 17 touchdowns.

He hardly cared about the hardware that followed.

“I’ll never forget when his Rookie of the Year trophy came (to Winter Park), he threw it in the garbage,” Ryan said. “We retrieved it and put it in storage and passed it on (to him). Randy’s need for (individual) awards was non-existent.”

Mark Craig: 'A First-Ballot Guy'

Moss was oftentimes the fastest player on the football field, one who could out jump anyone and also make a one-handed catch with his fingertips.

In the locker room, however, he had a complex relationship with reporters and the media who documented his career in Purple.

Veteran football scribe Mark Craig began covering the Vikings for the Star-Tribune in 2003. Moss had already been in the NFL for five seasons by then, but Craig said the wide receiver was as unique of a player he’s ever covered.

“He was very interesting as a person, and his football IQ was second-to-none as far as players I’ve covered,” Craig said. “He gets a knock for not always trying, but I think Randy’s intelligence on the field … he was such a smart player.

“He wasn’t the most media-friendly guy in the world,” Craig added. “But there were some instances where he was good with us. And when Randy talked, you had to be there to listen because he was not afraid to say anything. He would be honest and smart, very football smart.”

Moss had a handful of moments over his NFL that rubbed reporters the wrong way.

But there was no denying his talent level.

The lowest Moss ranks in one of the three major statistical categories among wide receivers is in catches, where he is 15th in league history with 982.

Moss is second all-time in receiving touchdowns with 156 and is fourth with 15,292 career receiving yards.

Add it all up, and Moss certainly had the résumé of a player who would one day be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Moss was eligible for enshrinement beginning in 2018. A panel of 48 members met and discussed whether Moss would join 25 other wide receivers in achieving football’s greatest individual honor.

Craig is a Hall of Fame voter and said wide receivers have historically had to wait a bit and have not been elected to the Hall of Fame on the first try.

It was the case for Terrell Owens (1,078 receptions, 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns) in 2017, but it wasn't the case for Moss.

“There are going to be some people that want to know what his effort level was at certain times,” Craig said in the summer of 2017. “I think that’s going to come up, and that’s kind of the bed that Randy made.

“But I also think that his skill and greatness overcomes that,” Craig added. “I think he’s a first-ballot guy.”

Dennis Green: 'We Were Right About That'

Nobody wanted Moss in Minnesota more than Dennis Green.

The former Vikings Head Coach told numerous people on April 18, 1998 — the first day of the 1998 NFL Draft — that Moss would be there for Minnesota at pick No. 21.

Green looked like a genius when the Vikings nabbed Moss, while other teams passed on him because of off-the-field concerns.

“Well, I think I’d say Randy is who we thought he was. The guy could really run and make plays,” Green told Vikings.com in 2015. “We were convinced, a lot of people weren’t, but we were convinced his off-the-field incidents when he was younger were part of being young, but his love of the game would keep him from committing the same type of mistakes later, because if you make those mistakes, you can’t play, and Randy really wanted to play, and we were right about that.

“He loved to play the game and play the game with a lot of enthusiasm, and it’s why he went on to be so successful, because his behavior was a thing of the past and he was all about the future,” Green added.

Green was Minnesota’s head man from 1992 to 2001, finishing with a record of 97-62. Green led the Vikings to eight playoff seasons, including four NFC Central championships.

But it was Green’s advocating to draft Moss that turned out to be a franchise-altering move for the Vikings, and the rest of the NFL.

“Randy created a new game,” Green recalled. “At that time, you had very few big, extremely fast receivers, and Randy and the deep ball revitalized the game of football, with his ability to, you’d put it up there, and he’d go down and get it.”

Green passed away on July 22, 2016, at the age of 67.

When Moss was surprised with his Ring of Honor announcement almost a year later, he became emotional when talking about the second-winningest coach in Vikings history.

It was because Green was the one who took a chance on Moss.

“I really don’t know why I was treated the way I was treated on draft day. But Coach Green gave me an opportunity, man,” Moss said after a long pause to compose himself. “I told him, ‘Coach, you’re not going to regret this.’ So, you ask me what I would say to him?

“Man, I’d probably just fall in his arms and give him a hug. Man, it’s no words that I could tell him. The man passed away without me really, really giving him my love and thanks for what he was able to do for me and my family, man,” Moss added. “There was a lot of teams out there that passed on me for wrong reasons. Coach Green gave me that opportunity.

“Man, however you feel about me, you can feel. But if you feel a good way about me, Coach Green brought me here,” Moss continued. “Whatever talents I was able to showcase, he helped me do that. Just fall in his arms and give him a big hug, man. That’s my man. You see how emotional I am about him, I’m very thankful to be able to cross paths with Coach Green.”

Mike Zimmer: Never Again

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spent 13 seasons as a coach in Dallas, which meant his team was in the national spotlight 13 times on Thanksgiving Day.

The Cowboys went 7-6 on the holiday when Zimmer was on the staff, but there’s a loss that stands out among the rest. It’s one that lives in infamy, and thanks to a few clicks on YouTube, in perpetuity.

The year was 1998 and Moss, ticked off about not being drafted by Dallas, was out for payback.

On Moss’ third touchdown of the day, he streaked by the Dallas sideline as Zimmer, who was then the Cowboys defensive backs coach, could only watch with his arms crossed, making an unplanned cameo in Moss’ highlight flick.

“That was one of the worst days,” Zimmer recalled with a chuckle. “The size and length that he had was unbelievable.

“It made it really difficult because you had to double team him on every play, but now you’re opening things up in other areas,” Zimmer added. “If you didn’t pay attention to him, he’d beat you in a hurry. He was an unbelievable athlete.”

Moss had three catches for 163 yards and three scores that day, but that wasn’t the only time he perplexed Zimmer.

Moss lined up against a Zimmer defense six times in his career and produced staggering results — 29 total catches for 607 yards and nine touchdowns.

Zimmer tried to prepare his defense any way possible, including having scout team wide receivers line up two yards in front of the line of scrimmage in practice to simulate the effect of Moss’ speed and quickness.

Zimmer said Moss ranks in the top tier of greatest wide receivers of all-time, but ranks first on his list of wide outs who gave him the biggest headaches.

“At his position? Probably,” Zimmer said. “Quarterbacks and running backs are pretty good, but as a wide receiver, he was definitely really hard to defend.

“He had unbelievable hand-eye coordination and ball skills,” Zimmer added.

There’s also one other thing that Zimmer is sure about. He’s glad he no longer has to game plan for No. 84 in Purple.

“I’m glad he’s retired,” Zimmer said with a laugh. “I never want to play against him again.

“When he had the ball in his hands,” Zimmer added, “he could do anything he wanted.”

Brian Billick: 'Keep Throwing It To That Guy'

Brian Billick hardly watched film on Moss before the 1998 NFL Draft. He didn’t think there was a chance the Vikings could get him at No. 21.

But once the wide receiver landed in Minnesota, the former Vikings offensive coordinator knew he had something special.

Carter reiterated Moss’ talent to Billick.

“Cris Carter, he used to run a workout session down in Fort Lauderdale. Randy goes down there, and Cris calls and he says, ‘Brian, you have no idea how good this kid is,’ ” recalled Billick, now an analyst at NFL Network. “I said, ‘I know, Cris, his ability, and I watched the tape…’ And he says, ‘No, Brian. You don’t understand. You have no idea how good this kid is.’ When Cris Carter is blown away, it says something.”

Billick’s offense scored a then-record 556 points, averaging 34.8 points per game.

And in an offense that featured Moss, Carter and Reed at receiver, Smith at running back, Andrew Glover at tight end and future Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel at guard, Billick said he simply tried to stay out of the way of all the talent.

Billick said Moss’ performance on Monday Night Football against Green Bay in 1998 will forever be etched into his memory.

“Denny Green was so great to coach for because he didn’t intrude on your play-calling,” Billick said. “But after the first two passes to Randy (against Green Bay), he flipped over (to me on the headset) and said, ‘Brian, I’m not telling you how to do your job, but I’d keep throwing it to that guy.’ ”

Moss finished with five catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns.

Billick became Baltimore’s head coach in 1999 and won Super Bowl XXXV with the Ravens.

But he cherishes the one season with Moss and the chance to see his gifts up close.

“Randy Moss is the most talented receiver in the history of this game. Period. ” Billick said. “I can only speak to my reference point, but since I’ve been in this game as a player, coach and now analyst, he is the most gifted wide receiver in the history of the game.”

Tony Dungy: 'Wake-Up Call'

Even from the very first game of his NFL career, Moss wanted to take the ball deep and take the top off the defense.

The coach on the opposing sideline for Moss’ regular-season NFL debut was no dummy.

So when Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy and the Buccaneers rolled into the Metrodome for Week 1 of the 1998 season, they had a strategy in place.

Moss dispatched it rather easily, catching four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

“You saw the preseason tape, and he was catching balls on everyone,” Dungy said. “I remember we made a specific note that game that he catches the deep ball and has speed, and you can’t let him get behind you.

“He caught two long ones that day for touchdowns even though that was something we had preached all week,” Dungy recalled. “We had a good secondary and guys who were smart players and understood, but he was just deceptively fast, and I don’t think you really got that sense until you played against him. That first game was a wake-up call for our guys.”

Because the Vikings and Buccaneers were together in the old NFC Central, Moss faced Dungy’s defense eight times over the first four years of the wide receiver’s career.

Moss’ stat line against Dungy from 1998-2001: 32 catches for 617 yards and seven touchdowns.

Dungy and the Buccaneers defense became synonymous with the Tampa 2 scheme, a zone coverage that focused on giving safety help to cornerbacks to protect against deep threats such as Moss.

Dungy said the scheme was not designed specifically for Moss, but the wide receiver was certainly in mind when the Bucs implemented it.

“You had to very careful not to get in 1-on-1 situations because they looked for him on the deep ball,” Dungy said. “We kind of said, ‘We don’t even want to get in these 1-on-1 situations because even when he’s covered, it can be a big play.’

“You’d rather shade the safety that way or play some type of zone and not let the quarterback think he could take a shot,” Dungy said. “Randy was valuable even if the stats said he didn’t catch a lot of balls that game. He dictated what coverages Minnesota got.”

The Vikings, of course, went 15-1 in 1998, winning the division before falling short in the NFC Championship.

Besides the playoff defeat, Minnesota’s lone loss came down in Tampa Bay to Dungy and his defense. Moss had two catches for 52 yards and did not score.

Even now, almost 20 years later, Dungy said he still takes pride in that 27-24 victory.

“To slow them down enough, that was a big accomplishment,” Dungy said. “We played as well as we could play and won by three points.

“Not many teams were going to beat them that year,” Dungy added. “I really thought that was the Super Bowl year for them. That was one of the best offenses I’ve ever had to face.”

Bob Pruett: 'If Y'All Don't Take Him...'

Bob Pruett’s message was loud and clear.

The former head coach at Marshall University had a front-row seat for Moss’ college career, a two-season run that saw him terrorize opposing secondaries and become one of the nation’s most popular players.

So when Marshall held its Pro Day in the spring of 1998, numerous NFL teams rolled into Huntington, West Virginia, to probe Pruett about his star wide receiver.

Some coaches didn’t listen.

“There were two coaches sitting in my office on Pro Day,” Pruett said. “They said, ‘Tell me about him.’ And at the end of that conversation I looked at them and said, ‘If y'a’ll don’t take him and he’s still available, it’ll be the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in the draft, and it could eventually cost you your job.’

“Two seasons later, they both were gone,” added Pruett, who opted not to name the coaches.

Pruett had gotten to know Moss through the recruiting process a few years earlier, when the coach was the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida.

A former player at Marshall, Pruett returned to his alma mater to be the head coach for the 1996 season, staying until 2004.

Pruett compiled a 94-23 record during his tenure, and it just so happened that his first season was Moss’ first season, too.

“I got to know him, and I’m also from West Virginia,” Pruett said. “We got along well, and he fit right in.”

Moss put up staggering numbers with the Thundering Herd.

He totaled 174 receptions for 3,529 yards (an average of 20.3 yards per catch) with 54 receiving touchdowns. Moss had 15 career 100-yard games and once racked up 288 receiving yards on just eight receptions.

Pruett succinctly summed up Moss’ career by saying the wide receiver put Marshall University on the map.

“I love him to death,” Pruett said. “I’m so proud that I had the privilege of coaching an athlete like that. He was great for the state of West Virginia and great for Marshall University.

“He’s got phenomenal talent,” Pruett said. “If you’re composing a wide receiver or building one like a robot, the skills Randy had are exactly how you’d do it. He’s tall, could jump out of the gym, could run faster than the wind, great hands.

“And Randy would come to work. He wasn’t a problem. Any issue you had with Randy, it was because he didn’t feel like you were using him,” Pruett continued. “He felt like he could score, and he could. He scored 55 touchdowns in two years for us. It was very simple. If they had one (defensive back) on him, we’d check out of what we were doing and throw him the ball. Our guy was better than your guy.”

Larry Fitzgerald: 'A Cut Above The Rest'

Larry Fitzgerald was just a wide-eyed teenager when he was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings.

But the future 10-time Pro Bowl receiver certainly understood the magnitude of who he was around and the environment he was in, especially during Minnesota’s magical 1998 season.

“I was fortunate as a ball boy with the Vikings that I got to see a lot of great players,” Fitzgerald said. “You get to see Randall McDaniel going against John Randle in practice. You’re watching greatness when you see Cris Carter making ridiculous catches and you see Robert Smith and players of that quality every single day.

“You get a bit spoiled,” Fitzgerald noted, “but obviously Randy Moss was a cut above the rest with what he was capable of doing.”

Fitzgerald is entering his 15th season with the Arizona Cardinals and has established himself as an upper-echelon receiver in league history. The Minnesota native (Fitzgerald was a high school sports star at Academy of Holy Angels in Minneapolis) enters the 2018 season with 1,234 career catches for 15,545 yards with 110 touchdowns. (Fitzgerald passed Moss for third on the all-time receiving yards list during the 2017 season).

Fitzgerald got his start with the Vikings as a member of the security team at training camp in Mankato, checking credentials and manning parking lots. And while he eventually moved up to be a ball boy for Minnesota’s equipment staff, Fitzgerald said he rarely asked Moss for tips of the trade as a wide receiver.

“I didn’t really talk to him too much about technique stuff,” Fitzgerald recalled. “A lot of the things that Randy would do are things you can’t teach.

“He was so much more skilled athletically than anybody on the field that he was competing against,” Fitzgerald added.

Instead, Fitzgerald said his memories of Moss are personal, whether it was pickup basketball games in between two-a-day practices in Mankato or the fact that the Vikings star would come watch Fitzgerald’s high school football and basketball games.

Fitzgerald said there’s a side of Moss that people rarely see or hear about, which is likely the way the Vikings newest member of the Ring of Honor wants it.

Fitzgerald took the time after a 2017 Cardinals summer practice to chat about Moss, and the sentiment in his voice was evident.

“To be a kid and seeing your idol take a keen interest in you, it gave me so much confidence as a young person,” Fitzgerald said. “Even to this day, I get emotional thinking about it because it was so special to me.

“That’s what I remember most, more so than the amazing catches and the touchdowns and the receptions,” Fitzgerald added. “All those things are great, but it’s the human element that you remember, especially as a kid. He was so, so generous to me, and that’s why I respect him and love him so much.”

Fitzgerald described two memories that stood out to him the most, the first being that Moss gave him boxes and boxes of shoes since both wear size 14.

But Fitzgerald laughed when he talked about his senior prom, when he rolled up in a Blue BMW 7 Series.

It was the coolest ride around, mainly because the car belonged to Moss. The Vikings receiver’s loaner added to one of Fitzgerald’s favorite high school memories.

“It didn’t matter if it was a beat-up hooptie,” Fitzgerald said. “It was Randy Moss’ car, and that’s what made it so special.”

Adam Thielen: 'He Knew His Strengths'

Growing up in Detroit Lakes, Adam Thielen was a simple kid when it came to Halloween.

He either dressed up as a pirate, or as a football player. Thielen can’t ever remember filling his candy bag as anything else than those two outfits.

But there’s one October costume that stands out as a favorite for Thielen — dressing up as Moss.

“I dressed up as him for Halloween one year,” Thielen said. “I don’t know what year it was, but it was probably right around (1998).”

The Vikings wide receiver had the best season of his career in 2017, setting career highs with 91 catches for 1,276 yards while adding four scores.

He led the Vikings in receiving yards for the second straight year, a feat Moss accomplished six times during his tenure in Purple.

Thielen was 8 years old in 1998 when Moss arrived from Marshall University and took the professional football world by storm.

Thielen recalled watching Moss’ rookie season on television and wanting to emulate one of the game’s top playmakers.

“It was unbelievable,” Thielen said. “That team and the things that Randy was able to do, it was fun for me to watch.

“And it’s what got me into the sport,” Thielen added. “I liked football at that time but man, seeing the way he caught the ball and seeing the plays he made down the field, it made me really want to play receiver and make that same type of plays.”

Thielen now wears the same Purple that Moss did. He also personally understands the difference between a costume and a uniform.

And while No. 19 admitted he isn’t nearly the superstar that No. 84 was, Thielen said he can still learn lessons from one of the best wide receivers in NFL history.

“He did it at a whole other level than I’m able to do it,” Thielen said with a laugh. “But I think just the confidence he had every time going for a route … he knew what his strengths were and he took advantage of those things.

“I think that’s something I have to remember in my game — do what I’m good at and take advantage of that,” Thielen added.

Thielen has chatted with Moss throughout the years when No. 84 visits Minnesota.

Among their topics of discussion? Thielen once met Moss almost 20 years ago at training camp down in Mankato.

“I was able to meet him and get his autograph when I was really young,” Thielen said. “I’ve talked with him a little bit about that so it was pretty cool. He’s definitely a role model in the game of football for me.”

Chad Pennington: 'See It To Believe It'

During his two-year career at Marshall University, Moss scored 55 total touchdowns in 28 games, 54 of which came in the air.

And while it seemed like the superstar wide receiver caught at least one touchdown in every game, he didn’t.

Former Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington can tell you why.

“The only game he did not catch a touchdown pass was against Northern Iowa in the [semifinals] of the [Division 1-AA] playoffs in 1996,” Pennington said. “They triple teamed him, we rushed for 300-plus yards, we gave him a reverse, and he still scored.

“They had run a linebacker underneath him, put a corner on him and put a safety over the top,” Pennington added.

Pennington’s memory checks out perfectly even though he didn’t play in that game. The Thundering Herd, who went on to win the Division 1-AA championship, ran for 316 total yards. Moss had three catches for 46 yards and, just as Pennington noted, scored on a 32-yard reverse.

Pennington is a former first-round draft pick who spent 11 seasons with the Jets and Dolphins, throwing for 17,823 yards and 102 touchdowns.

He only spent one season throwing to Moss at Marshall, as the quarterback redshirted in 1996 when Moss arrived on campus.

When the two teamed up in 1997, Marshall’s first season as a Division 1-A program, Moss had 96 receptions for 1,820 yards and 26 receiving touchdowns.

Marshall went 10-3 and won the Mid-American Conference before falling to Mississippi in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit.

“1997 was a year where we did not receive a lot of respect as a [former] 1-AA team, and Randy didn’t receive a lot of respect as a 1-AA player,” Pennington said. “Every 1-A team we played, from [the season opener against] West Virginia through the Mid-American Conference to Ole Miss in the bowl game, always began the game guarding him 1-on-1. Then we would always beat them, and they would have to change the game plan in the middle of the game.

“Even the last game, the 13th game of the year against Ole Miss in the Motor City Bowl, we felt like they had seen enough film on Randy that they would probably start the game double-teaming him. They did not, and the first play of the game we hit them with an 80-yard touchdown pass,” Pennington added. “Everybody had to learn the hard way with Randy because I don’t think the film truly did him justice as to what type of receiver and athlete he was. You had to experience it and see it to believe it.”

Moss was a Heisman finalist in 1997 along with cornerback Charles Woodson and quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. The wide receiver finished fourth.

Pennington, who would finish in the top five of the Heisman voting in 1999, said although Moss didn’t win, it didn’t diminish the extraordinary career at Marshall.

“Randy could have easily won it compared to the other three; I just think they didn’t know much about Randy,” Pennington said. “There wasn’t enough information out there to truly appreciate what he was bringing to the football field.”

Lindsay Whalen: 'We Had The Star Of The League'

Before Lindsay Whalen became a four-time WNBA champion and three-time All-American at the University of Minnesota, she was actually a star wide receiver.

Well, kind of.

When the Minnesota native and Minnesota Lynx guard recalled memories of backyard football games, the noted Vikings fan said there was one player she tried to emulate more than any other.

“I was always a big fan of wide receivers, but once we got Randy in 1998 he was pretty much my favorite player,” Whalen said. “I’ve always been a big wide receiver fan … that was the position I played in the backyard.

“Just the fact that Randall Cunningham could go back and throw it as far as he could, and Randy Moss would go get it,” Whalen added. “With the Vikings, we had the star of the league.”

Whalen’s basketball exploits are well known around these parts.

Whalen starred for the Golden Gophers from 2000-2004, leading Minnesota to a Final Four appearance in her final season. Whalen’s No. 13 jersey is retired, and she is second in scoring in school history with 2,285 career points.

But if there was an equal passion for basketball when Whalen was growing up in Hutchinson, Minnesota, it was being a Vikings fan.

Especially when Whalen was a teenager and the Vikings used the 21st pick of the 1998 NFL Draft to select a wide receiver out of Marshall University.

“It was an unbelievable year to be a Vikings fan,” Whalen said of the 1998 season in which the Vikings went 15-1. “I was a sophomore in high school, so there were Randy Moss jerseys everywhere. Everybody was watching every Sunday.”

Like Moss, Whalen would eventually go on to become a professional athlete in Minnesota, too.

The guard has played for the Lynx for nine of her 15 seasons and has racked up more than 2,300 career assists.

And as a professional athlete herself, Whalen said she more than appreciates the career of her childhood idol.

“We’re all getting older,” Whalen said with a chuckle. “I grew up watching him, and now this is the 14th year in my career … it’s fun to reflect on the really good times I’ve had being a Vikings fan.”

Carlos Gonzalez: A Focal Point

Much like the chain gang with the first-down markers, Carlos Gonzalez usually spends football games matriculating down the sideline as teams move the ball up and down the field.

Gonzalez is a staff photographer for the Star Tribune and has been employed by the newspaper since autumn of 1998.

That’s also the time Moss showed up in the Twin Cities, helping lead the charge for a Vikings offense that scored a then-record 556 points.

Gonzalez altered his shooting style in order to capture Minnesota’s high-powered offense.

“With him and the Vikings that season, that offense was just ridiculous. They had the most prolific offense in NFL history at that point, and they could throw the ball anywhere,” Gonzalez said. “Generally, covering football you kind of follow the plays as they go along.

“But with that team and Moss, they had the potential to break a long bomb all the time,” Gonzalez added. “It started changing the way you covered the game because you just got down the field because with the chance of a long bomb, you didn’t want to miss that. There was always that potential for that big play.”

Gonzalez said he quickly learned that when Minnesota and Moss were on the field, he needed to book it toward the end zone — a space Moss found 92 times in his career in Purple.

“After that (1998) season and then covering him throughout his career in Minnesota, it was always, ‘Hey, get down there,’ because he always had the potential to break one.’ I’d be down on the other end as much as possible.”

Gonzalez’s photography career has allowed him to shoot numerous high-profile sporting events, including the Final Four and three different Olympic Games.

But Gonzalez said he’s rarely seen an athlete like Randy Moss.

“He was an immense talent and something we had never seen before,” Gonzalez said. “(As a photographer,) you definitely want to shoot the game so you don’t miss anything going on, but if it was a big play, the odds were that it was going to come from someone like him.

“He was a playmaker, so you always wanted to keep an eye on Moss,” Gonzalez added.

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