Moss baffled and dazzled, then retired

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2011 - 6:35 AM

Whether you choose to remember him as a game-changing wide receiver or a jerk, there's plenty of examples of both.

MANKATO - Randy Moss was shouting in his unmistakable southern twang when the locker room doors opened and reporters were allowed in. Several young Vikings players huddled in a corner and laughed as Moss yelled about how he only eats at nice restaurants.

Without any context, I figured it was just Moss being Moss. That outburst during his brief return last season gained more clarity later on when word surfaced that Moss had just berated caterer Gus Tinucci moments earlier, saying he wouldn't give the food to his dog.

Why? No one really knows other than it was quintessential Randy Moss. For all the magic he displayed on the field, it is impossible to ignore -- or understand -- some of the things he did and said in his worst moments.

Moss' legacy became a topic of discussion Monday with news that he has decided to retire from the NFL, the announcement from his agent coming hours before the Vikings took the field for their first practice of training camp.

His career obituary is a complicated one because of the many layers and tentacles. He was a superstar who was both loved and loathed, often simultaneously.

Will you remember the Good Randy, the game-changing wide receiver whose unique skill and athleticism struck fear in the hearts of opposing cornerbacks, earned him a legion of Purple fans and made the Vikings a hot ticket? Or will you remember the Bad Randy, the guy who played when he wanted to play, paid fines with straight cash and walked off the field at Washington with two seconds left?

Will you remember the heartfelt way he treated kids, especially ones who were sick or disadvantaged? Or will you remember the way he treated caterers, corporate sponsors on a bus and a traffic control officer?

Will you remember the guy who had an incredibly high football IQ and often preached about the importance of his film study? Or will you remember how he jogged off the line at times and didn't make an attempt to catch a touchdown pass at New England last season after drawing a pass interference penalty?

Moss will forever be an enigma. As difficult as he was to cover on the field, his personality was equally tough to comprehend. He could be insightful and engaging ... or mean-spirited and churlish.

He openly and defiantly challenged authority, but he was loved (by and large) by teammates, especially the younger ones. Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Adrian Peterson looked and sounded star-struck the day Moss walked into their locker room last season.

Moss undeniably retires as one the greatest receivers in the history of the game. His statistics scream Hall of Fame: tied for second all-time in touchdown catches (153), fifth in receiving yards (14,858) and eighth in catches (954).

He was, as his nickname suggests, an athletic freak of nature. He was tall, fast, graceful, acrobatic. He was one of those athletes who not only was better than everyone else, but he made it look so darn effortless. Moss streaking down the sideline with one arm raised on a go route brought fans out of their seats and left opponents holding their breath.

"His size and speed and ball skills was unseen," veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "He came into the league and ripped it up. He definitely changed defenses. You had to put two defenders on him."

That is why there is little doubt Moss belongs in the Hall of Fame, perhaps even on the first ballot, regardless of whatever baggage and negative attention he brought upon himself and his teams. He changed the game. He forced defenses to play a safety deep to account for his home-run threat. He was so tall and fast and athletically gifted that cornerbacks required help.

"Any time you lined up against Randy Moss, even if you were not a Cover-2 team, you put it in that week for Randy Moss," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "That's just how big of a threat he was. In a lot of ways, he was the Michael Jordan of offenses in our league. He was a special player for a long, long time. Even today, people still would double him even though his production fell off a little bit. It was always somebody over the top. It was rare teams would single-cover him."

Moss was a hard guy to figure out. On and off the field.

Chip Scoggins ascoggins@startribune.com

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