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Randy Moss: Headed to the Hall By Eric Smith

‘The Freak’ is headed to the Hall of Fame.

It came as no surprise Saturday night when it was announced that Randy Moss was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not after the prolific career the former Vikings wide receiver produced.

He ranks second all-time with 156 receiving touchdowns, third with 15,292 receiving yards and is 15th in league history with 982 receptions.

“Now that I’m a Hall of Famer, I can breathe easy and be thankful,” Moss said Saturday night at NFL Honors. “I started this game at 6 years old and never imagined I’d be here putting on a Hall of Fame jacket.”

Moss spent seven-plus seasons in Purple with the team that picked him in the first round in the 1998 NFL Draft.

He became the third, first-ballot, wide receiver in Hall of Fame history along with Jerry Rice and Steve Largent.

“I watched Steve Largent … I don’t think I can say enough good words about Jerry Rice and what he meant to the game,” Moss said. “To be the third, first-ballot, that’s special.

“For me to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, I don’t think it’s really set in,” Moss added.

Moss will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, in August along with linebacker Brian Urlacher, wide receiver Terrell Owens, safety Brian Dawkins and linebacker Ray Lewis. Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile were elected by the Senior Committee, and Bobby Beathard was chosen for enshrinement by the Contributor Committee.

But perhaps none of them made an impact on the league such as Moss, who tore up the NFL during his rookie season and instilled fear into opposing coaches, all while doing things his way.

Randy Moss’ career had many stops along the way, but he will always be remembered for being a Viking. Here are a few snippets of Moss’ journey to Canton:

The 1998 Season

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 ya’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.

The Vikings, however, took a chance of Moss with the 21st overall pick in the spring of 1998.

Moss joined an already talented team that had gone 9-7 in 1997 and won a playoff game.

When the ultra-athletic Moss began training with fellow wide receiver (and now fellow Hall of Famer) Cris Carter in offseason workouts in Florida, Carter knew the Vikings were going to have something special.

“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.”

Former Vikings running back Robert Smith said he was simply dazzled on the first day of training camp.

“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.”

Moss then put together one of the most productive rookie seasons in NFL history, catching 69 passes for 1,313 yards and a rookie-record 17 touchdowns. The Vikings went 15-1 and advanced to the NFC title game.

When asked to recall his favorite moment from Moss’ rookie season, Carter didn’t point to any catch or touchdown.

Instead, it was a moment in the locker room before Minnesota’s season-opening game in 1998.

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.”

Nobody could stop Moss, including the Vikings current Head Coach.

A Nightmare for Opponents

The Vikings were 11-1 in the 1998 season when they headed to Dallas to play the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.

Mike Zimmer was the Cowboys defensive backs coach, but could only watch as Moss put up one of the most dominant performances in NFL history.

Moss only had three catches on national television, but each of them went for a touchdown as he racked up 163 receiving yards.

On Moss’ third touchdown of the day, he streaked by the Dallas sideline as Zimmer, who could only watch with his arms crossed, made 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 touchdowns of 49, 51 and 56 yards that day, and it wasn’t the only time he perplexed Zimmer.

Even Dungy, the Hall of Famer, was kept up at night trying to figure out how to solve Moss.

Dungy was the Buccaneers Head Coach when Moss entered the league, back when Tampa Bay and Minnesota played in the old NFC Central division.

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 be 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.”

Zimmer and Dungy weren’t the only coaches Moss got the better of.

Moss inflicted damage across the entire league, as he caught at least one touchdown against every single team in the NFL except the Vikings.

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

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

Personal Memories of Moss

Randy Moss was more than the No. 84 in Purple that fans saw on Sundays.

To those who saw him behind the scenes, he was a loyal teammate, caring friend and a man willing to help others.

And Moss was selfless, as evident by what Vikings longtime equipment manager Dennis Ryan saw at the end of Moss’ dazzling rookie season.

“I’ll never forget when his Rookie of the Year trophy came [to Winter Park], he threw it in the garbage,” said Ryan, who has been full-time with the Vikings since 1977. “We retrieved it and put it in storage and passed it on [to him]. Randy’s need for [individual] awards was non-existent.”

Others such as Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen admired Moss from afar.

Thielen grew up an avid Vikings fan in Detroit Lakes, and would mimic Moss’ highlight-reel plays in his backyard.

How much did Thielen idolize his favorite player? One of his favorite Halloween costumes as a kid was Moss himself.

“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).”

A likely future Hall of Fame wide receiver also saw firsthand how Moss went out of his way to befriend him as a teenager.

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has known Moss for almost 20 years.

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.

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 Hall of Fame wants it.

Fitzgerald took time in August 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.”

Headed to Canton

Randy Moss always did it his way.

He stayed true to himself as he journeyed from his small West Virginia hometown to a prolific two-year stretch at Marshall University to his Purple reign in Minnesota, where he began an unforgettable career in 1998 by taking the NFL by storm.

Now, Moss has landed among legends.

He was inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor at halftime of the Vikings 2017 season opener on Monday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints, and will soon be the 14th member of the Hall of Fame with primarily Vikings ties.

“Hard work does pay off,” Moss told Vikings.com in June. “I don’t think enough tears can really show, and I don’t think enough bruises, emotional bruises, can show you how much that I sacrificed to put into this game to make sure I came out every Sunday and entertained the fans.

“No one knows what you sacrificed but you,” Moss added. “My hard work and all the sacrifices, all the late nights … hard work does pay off. And that’s why I’m a blessed man.”

Moss played it cool Saturday in Minneapolis, hanging out with his family while making a few appearances around town.

But when he was notified in the afternoon at a local hotel by David Baker, the President of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, reality finally set it.

Randy Moss is going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Tears of joy,” Moss said of his reaction to the news. “When you put your heart and soul into the game, to be rewarded with that gold jacket, it speaks volumes.”

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