Souhan: Moss-Carter tiff pits constructive vs. destructive

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2012 - 9:56 AM

Both deserve a place in the Hall of Fame, and if they enter together, it will be quite a show. But they are as different as they are entangled.

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Randy Moss, left, and Cris Carter formed a dynamic duo with the Vikings, but both had pointed words for the other on Tuesday.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune file

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Their recent spat highlighted their obstinate natures but should not obscure a delicious possibility for two of the greatest and most fascinating athletes ever to pay taxes in Minnesota:

Cris Carter and Randy Moss should enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame together, even if they go in shouting insults at each other from the dais.

What would be more fitting, for two men whose careers were so similar and so entwined? Carter and Moss will always be linked by their proclivity for spectacular catches and self-centered behavior. Both came to Minnesota when few other teams wanted them and turned football into ballet, while proving maddening to opposing defensive backs and their own teammates.

Attitudes aside, both belong in the Hall. Both clear every statistical bar while passing the eyeball test. You could not watch either in his prime without concluding, via retina or calculator, that you were in the presence of greatness.

Carter has wrongly been denied entrance into the Hall. Moss will be eligible for induction in 2016. While Carter shouldn't have to wait that long for enshrinement, he might have to. And if he's going to wait, he might as well wait for his former understudy and current foil.

I was covering the Vikings when each arrived. In 1990, the Philadelphia Eagles, fed up with Carter's erratic behavior, waived him. The Vikings put in a claim. Carter arrived as angry and defiant as a young Moss, then began turning his life around, transforming himself from a man who almost destroyed his own career to one who could not tolerate laziness in others.

Late in his career, I asked Carter how he had sustained excellence at an advanced age. He described torturous workouts and listed members of his support staff, from nutritionist to chef to chiropractor to massage therapist. The former outcast had become the CEO of his career.

Moss, like Carter, arrived angry and driven. Carter had been cut by a team; Moss had been dismissed by 20, falling to the Vikings, who owned the 21st pick in the 1998 draft.

I traveled to West Virginia in search of Moss' roots and found a tiny, dilapidated house. I saw poverty and desperation, and when I asked Moss about West Virginia, he became perhaps the first rookie ever to insult his home state.

Moss would become the most talented receiver of all time, and while Carter is often crediting with mentoring Moss, it could be that Moss would have thrived without him, so driven was he to prove that West Virginia and Florida State and Notre Dame and those 20 NFL teams should have gambled on him.

Both enraged members of the Vikings organization. Carter once complained that Warren Moon didn't throw him the ball enough, once screamed at cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock on the sideline after Hitchcock allowed a game-losing touchdown. Moss trash-talked everyone he encountered, from reporters to Vikings defensive backs. He quit on plays, quit in games and finally walked off the field with time on the clock in Washington, prompting center Matt Birk to confront him in the locker room.

That day foreshadowed the current state of the Carter-Moss relationship. This week, Moss said he would come out of retirement. Carter, in his role as an ESPN analyst, said Moss might have trouble returning to the NFL because of his reputation as a quitter. Moss fired back on Twitter, needling Carter about his Hall of Fame snub.

This is where the two once-troubled, eventually transformed Vikings receivers look different as coal and diamonds.

When Carter insulted Moss, he did so accurately and under the auspices of his job, which requires just this kind of knowing insight. When Moss insulted Carter, he was reminding us of the nature of the man who screamed at caterers, who quit on routes, who played only when he wanted to play.

Both deserve a place in the Hall of Fame, and if they enter together, it will be quite a show. But they are as different as they are entangled.

Carter is a self-made man. Moss is a self-destructive one.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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