Love him or hate him, Randy Moss changed football by himself. When the Vikings drafted Randy Moss with the 21st pick in the 1998 draft our world was never the same. Like a terrifying rollercoaster, Moss' actions both on and off the field kept the world of football exciting until the end. Now with word of his retirement, Randy Moss can be canonized and vilified all in one. Or, we can chose to remember him the way we want.
According to sources, Randy Moss grew up basically without his father. As is often the case, this impacted early choice making about friends and how to handle yourself. But fatherless or not, Randy was an athlete. He lettered in four different sports in high school (basketball, football, baseball, and track). He was selected as the best athlete in the state in both football and basketball. He also won state his one year in track, in both the 100 and 200 meter events. In 2005, Parade magazine listed Moss as one of the 50 greatest high school athletes of all-time.
However, in March of his senior year randy joined another in a fight in a hallway against a white student. Randy's kicking of the student would lead to a felony charge, later reduced to two misdemeanors for battery, of which he plead guilty. The greatest athlete DuPont would ever see was expelled. Moss finished his high school diploma at an alternative school. Did he lose his control over a racial slur? Did he feel the need to defend a friend? Or was he 'punking' another student?
Obviously, this impacted his desire to attend his dream school, Notre Dame. He then decided (upon advice) to attend Florida State, where he was then ruled ineligible, costing him the year. Compiling his troubles, Randy ended up testing positive for marijuana and was dismissed from FSU. Randy then chose Marshall University, as being a 1-AA school there was no year of redshirt for transfers. He shined at Marshall, which ironically became a 1-A school in Randy's second year. With Chad Pennington throwing TDs to Moss, Marshall became a national interest.
When the 1998 draft arrived Randy Moss was more than a known commodity. His legal troubles, chemical issues, and amazing talents were on everyone's white boards. He was projected to go early in the first round. But he did not. Minnesota swooped him up after teams like the Cowboys had snuffed him, afraid of his personal issues.
His career with the Vikings has been well documented. Any Vikings' fan can tell you Randy was the greatest game changer the Purple had ever seen. In 1998 he scored 17 times in his rookie year. His first game on national television he scorched the Packers for three TDs (one was called back). The Vikings, 9-7 the two previous years, went 15-1 and set an NFL record for points (34.8 per game). Randall Cunningham, thrown in for an injured Brad Johnson, threw 41 TDs including the playoffs. Only a tragic self-destruction vs. the Falcons kept the team from winning the state's first Super Bowl.
Other things changed as well. The Vikings had averaged between 50,000 and 58,000 per year from the 1980s and on since moving to the Metrodome. In 1998, the Vikings averaged almost 64,000 and continued to sell-out ever since. Randy put fans in the stands.
Randy was a Pro-Bowler no matter who threw the ball. Cunningham was replaced by Jeff George, and he by Daunte Culpepper. It did not matter. Teams drafted different, and schemed defensively different. Moss forced the other divisional teams to worry about defending against his 4.4 speed and leaping ability (dubbed Randy Rules by Chris Walsh).
Minnesota coaches were affected as well. Mike Tice developed the Randy Ratio during his short tenure. You remember? Get the ball to Moss at least 40%. The experiment was ended the same year it started, but in that season the Vikings were 4-1 when they complied with the ratio, 1-10 when they did not.
And then there were the mounting incidents. The walking off the field before an onside-kick would be recovered in a three point game. A few years earlier the traffic incident, with a joint in the ashtray, and felony charges for attacking an office with his Lexus (later reduced to pot possession only). His final season in 2004 would end with the Vikings only 8-8, but in the playoffs. After upsetting the Packers in Lambeau, Moss was in trouble for a fake mooning of the Green Bay faithful. He was instantly vilified. Luckily, Tony Dungy came to his rescue by excusing his behavior as a response to a traditional drunken "attack" waged on Vikings yearly as they left the stadium. But it was simply more social damage.
Minnesota moved him on. He floundered in Oakland for two years, and flourished in New England for three. In 2007 he set an NFL record with 23 receiving touchdowns. But despite his success, the Patriots could not bring in a Super Bowl victory, despite an undefeated regular season.
2010 saw him back with Minnesota and then later off to Tennessee. His comments to media about team catered food the final straw. Minnesota surrendered a 3rd round draft pick for his services. Tennessee also gave up a draft pick in trade. Both coaches would end up losing their jobs. Randy had his worst season in his career by far.
So now he is retired. There will be talk of Hall of Fame status. There may even be a return should a team need him in a playoff run. But it is over. One of the all-time greatest athletes to play sports in America is too old. His amounted troubles being a sign of a kid without proper guidance turned a pro athlete whom lacked impulse control. Proof of that is his Gumbel interview in 2005 where he declared he had smoked pot, and may again "every blue moon".
Or maybe he was a street thug like the kind assessed at DuPont High who just happened to be an incredible athlete?
From strictly a football fan point of view, there were few better.
First, it should be made clear, it was the NFL, not the Eagles, who wussified football. The blizzard conditions on Sunday, about enough to delay a school start here in Minnesota, crippled the city of Philadelphia and forced the second postponement of a game for our Vikings. The "Tuesday Night" crew even pointed out that the Vikings have now had more games postponed than the Twins, by 2-1 margin.
So the game was moved. And when Tuesday rolled around it was a beautiful night, a clear field, and a chance for Michael Vick to showcase his MVP-like talent in front of a national audience. Only someone forgot to tell the Minnesota defense. Antoine Winfield played his best game in some time, and the front four with its' interchanging parts and added blitz help, made Vick's evening a sore one. We hit him so much he began to play like a ...wuss.
The game did not start out like it was a Minnesota night. The highly favored Eagles scored first, grabbing a 7-0 lead early in the contest. Michael Vick was taking many shots from our defense (which ironically looked like the Eagles defense), but delivering with runs and short passes well enough to move the football. Joe Webb began with short passes too, only he looked awkward at first, His short swing passes seemed to have a little extra air time, and the result was minimal gains. Adrian Peterson was held in check as well, and it looked like the beginnings of a long night. I must admit I turned away for the commercials to check on the Golden Gophers basketball game at the Kohl Center more than once.
It was not until Winfield stripped Vick of the ball and scored that Minnesota looked like it might win. Suddenly, the defensive attack on Vick begin to bear fruit. Despite numerous drops of interceptions by the rag-tag secondary earlier in the game, it was becoming clear that this defense owned Vick. By the end of the game a limping Vick looked nothing like one of the two potential MVPs in 2010. Give it to Tom Brady.
On the offensive side of the ball, there was Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. Harvin would end up with 100 yards, and many of them after the catch. Webb finding the human pinball meant the defense could not focus solely on the run. And when the Eagles worried about the pass, Peterson made them pay with punishing runs. AP finished with over 100 yards and a TD, and if not for his first lost fumble of the season late in the game, maybe his finest performance of the season considering the opponent.
And then there was Webb. He seemed to glide about the field much like Rod Carew. He never looked llike he was running full speed, but when he did run, few could catch him. His ten yard TD run included numerous misses from the part of Eagle defenders. And when Jim Kleinsasser leveled the last would-be tackler with a crushing block, Webb danced into the end zone for a touchdown that seemed to deflate the Eagles as much as the constant blitz on the other side of the ball.
It was not as if Philadelphia had nothing to play for - sure they wrapped up the NFC East, but Atlanta's loss to New Orleans on Monday had cleared a possible path for the one seed in the NFC. The Eagles were playing well, clearly the class of the East, and many people's choice for the NFC representative. A win meant a probable bye if either the Falcons or Bears lost the next week. And Chicago would be playing in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers back at the helm. It was possible.
Instead, Vick limped off the field, beaten, battered, and bested. The Eagles, a great thorn inside the paw of Vikings recent success, had been delivered a deathly blow to their Super Bowl hopes by Joe Webb and the now 6-9 Minnesota Vikings. Sure, we might have dropped from the 7th to 14th pick, but most Minnesota fans would say this was worth it. The confident, swaggering Eagles have fallen. How sad.
Like a good (I use that term loosely) Rocky movie, the Vikings face the Patriots as a decided underdog. Brett Favre is injured and questionable to start Sunday's game. The Vikings are suffering defensively from the absence of Cedric Griffin. There is no pass rush as teams have found a way to minimize the Vikings' front four. At 2-4, Minnesota trails both Chicago and Green Bay by a game and a half. And now the team is on the road, where they are 0-3, having lost to the Saints, Jets, and Packers.
New England is undefeated at home. They are scoring nearly thirty points a game. Tom Brady has thrown for eleven touchdowns with only four interceptions. Wes Welker is back, as healthy as ever. Deon Branch has replaced Randy Moss quite nicely, having thirteen catches for one hundred thirty-seven yards and a touchdown in two games. The Patriots defense has stopped the run better than Minnesota in its' first six games.
It looks tough for Minnesota to pull off an upset.....
Adrian Peterson is back in 2010. Presently AP is on pace for near 2,000 yards, averaging just short of 5 yards a carry. Peterson is on pace for nearly 50 catches. He has no fumbles to his name in six games. While the Minnesota offense has stalled through the air, they are averaging nearly 137 yards on the ground per game. He looks better than ever.
For Minnesota to pull off an Italian Stallion type effort it will have to rely on Adrian Peterson. That is not to say Minnesota should not throw. On the contrary, New England has surrendered over 280 yards per game through the air, and the Vikings will need to exploit that shortcoming. Hopefully, Randy Moss will be given opportunities to burn his so-recently-former teammates. Favre will almost certainly be at the helm, and he will need a performance closer to 2009 than 2010. But the Vikings' strength so far this year is Peterson. He has totaled 828 yards (running and receiving) in six games, or 138 yards per game.
Minnesota has lost many close games so far this year. An optimist would say that the Vikings were in each game, and could easily be undefeated as opposed to 2-4. A pessimist would say the offense is sputtering through the air, and that we deserve our present record.
One thing is for certain today. If Minnesota pulls off the Rocky-like upset, it will be because of Adrian. Peterson has 157 touches of the ball in the first six games, or more than 26 a game. He may need more today.
Minnesota is desperate, Favre a question mark, and the defense a little suspect. The Vikings need to reach inward and find what has been missing in so many games so far this season. They need a little extra. They need ,,, me?
I will make my first call of the year...
Minnesota 27 New England 24.
Early in the game the Packers moved the ball at will. Cornerback Chris Cook looked like he had on the wrong spikes, falling down, making poor cuts, and getting taken to the cleaners by James Jones. The defensive line had their now normal lack of any pass rush. E.J. Henderson disappeared. And yet Minnesota was in the game.
On offense, the Vikings ignored the fact that they had Randy Moss, choosing to throw underneath coverage to Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin. For a while it looked like the two offenses traded dinking and dunking to move the ball. Only Green Bay was doing it better. Adrian Peterson was his usual dominant self, and at game's end most Vikings' fans were unhappy that he 'only' had 23 carries on the game. AP was the best player on the field.
Late in the game mistakes cost Minnesota big. An interception returned for a TD by the Packers made it a 28-17 game. But even as the situation crumbled, I confess I was not worried. Minnesota showed it could move the ball. The talent on offense strong enough to at least give hope in an eleven point deficit in the second half. And I was right.
Back came Minnesota.
Never mind that earlier Minnesota chose not to ask for a replay on the Quarless TD. Replay did show that the ball was bobbled as he landed on the back of the end zone line. It appeared he did not fully land in bounds as his elongated backside covered both in and out of bounds. But with the quick extra-point try the coaching staff of Minnesota (Brad Childress) was left to an instant decision to challenge. And we did not. This was a 3rd down attempt that would have ended in a field goal try. Instead, it was a questionable score that meant the Vikings' final drive was from behind instead of tied.
Late in the game, as the Vikings drove for that winning TD, they made two crucial mistakes. The first was on Visanthe Shiancoe, who flipped a ball high in the air after a key first down put the Vikings inside the 15-yard line with a minute left. He was given a delay of game penalty and Minnesota was pushed back five yards. On the ensuing play, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt put his hands to the facemask of an onrushing Clay Matthews (that long-haired player you love to hate) and was awarded a fifteen yard personal foul. It was clearly a foul. I thought the referee's let holding calls go throughout the game, but they have this thing about hands to the face. The first and thirty result was too much to overcome. Percy Harvin had a foot out and the last play and the Packers coaching staff challenged for the umpteenth time in the game and won. Finally, there was a desperation throw toward Randy Moss, who looked to have three or four guys covering him.
The Vikings lose a close one.
We can blame mistakes, penalties, and turnovers. Those are a part of the game. But losing via instant replay (or lack thereof) is a new disease. One that affects non-cognizant coaches. I have defended Childress in the past because I saw it more as a player/personnel issue. But not challenging a questionable TD in a division rivalry has me concerned. Losing via the instant replay leaves me cold.
P.S. I still think we will win this thing. Our rivals are not that good.
The Vikings in two short weeks have gone from "What's Happening?" back to "Great Expectations". Sure, Minnesota is only 2-3 and still trails Chicago by 1 1/2 games. In addition, Green Bay is presently ahead of the Vikings by a 1/2 game and will host Minnesota on Sunday Night. Why would there be reason to be optimistic given this scenario? Let's examine...
Minnesota is 2-3. Lying ahead are games at Green Bay and a game at New England the following week. Most predict Minnesota will be 3-4 at best after the two games. But after that the schedule softens some. The Vikings only home loss was to the Dolphins, who then proceeded to beat the Packers in their home as well. Both were close games. Minnesota will have better success after the first half of their schedule, which most agree was one of the toughest assignments in the NFL. The toughest opponent in the second half appears to be the Giants, and that game is at home. Four games will be against North foes, where Minnesota has shown domination in recent times. Add Buffalo and Arizona at home and there is reason to hope.
Meanwhile the Packers are decimated by injuries. Key losses have changed the face of a good team. Gone are Ryan Grant (a bit overrated anyway), JerMichael Finley, Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett, and a host of others including defensive linemen and backs. Brian Poppinga the outside linebacker is also hurt. Even star Clay Matthews has been slowed by a hamstring issue. Add to that a sign that Aaron Rodgers can be rattled with pressure and Green Bay looks vulnerable.Throw in the fact that their next five games include Minnesota twice, on the road to the New York Jets, Dallas, and a road trip to Atlanta, and suddenly the Packers are not so favorable. Late in the season they face the Giants and Patriots.
The Chicago Bears have come out strong to start the season. But looking ahead at the second half schedule, the Bears have only one opponent that would be considered "easy", and that is the Lions in Detroit. We should be reminded that this 4-2 Chicago team barely beat the Lions at home due to Calvin Johnson's need to flip touchdown catches rather than contain them. A cynic might expect the Bears to crumble in the second half. It is conceivable that they finish with at minimum a losing second half record. Jay Cutler continues to be erratic, and Chicago has lost two if its' last three. It might be worse.
Minnesota has made efforts to get better. By adding Randy Moss the team has addressed their biggest need. Brett Favre's passer rating is starting to heat up, as he looks to pass the Sam Bradford's of the league and return to a level of Rodgers or Drew Brees. We saw a glimpse of this in the New York Jets game, where the offense exploded in the second half. In the Cowboys game, we saw just enough to get a win. In both games it was evident that Percy Harvin will play a valuable role in the return of a successful passing game. With the way Adrian Peterson is running in 2010, we are confident that the running game is there. The offense is improving.
The defense is playing outstanding. The loss of Cedric Griffin the one sore spot in a remarkable effort to date. Lito Sheppard was torched repeatedly by Tony Romo and Roy Williams last week, but I expect the Vikings' brass to identify and treat this issue before Sunday's game. Chad Greenway is playing at an All-Pro level. If the defensive line can find their sack 'stride' Minnesota's defense will be considered possibly the best in the league.
A few weeks ago it appeared that the Vikings were destined to the basement of the division. Now, as we near the halfway point of the season, fortune has smiled upon the team and opened doorways to the top. To succeed in 2010 Minnesota will have to take advantage of this opportunity, defeat their Northern rivals head-to-head, and watch as they fall maybe as fast as we rise. Despite a lack of a solid start to the season, the stairway to the division lead appears to be available...
Can Minnesota seize this opportunity? We may find out Sunday Night.
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