He was born in the East, in a town not known for wealth. In high school he developed a reputation as a spectacular athlete who could not stay out of trouble.
He was lean yet remarkably strong. He excelled at basketball but recognized that his speed and agility would serve him best in football. He signed to play college football for an elite football program in Florida, and when he slipped toward the bottom of the first round in the NFL draft, the Vikings pounced, hoping his talent would overshadow his history of defiant behavior.
He played in an NFC Championship Game as a rookie, coming within one forehead-smacking play of making it to the Super Bowl. Later in his career, he would pout and rant on the sideline, and express his lack of respect for Brad Childress.
When the Vikings regressed, he would become frustrated, and his extraordinary play and emotional outbursts would leave the franchise with the most difficult kind of personnel decision:
Do you invest heavily in a star player who might not be emotionally or physically built to last?
Randy Moss' personality caused him to slip to the 21st slot in the 1998 draft. Percy Harvin's past caused him to slip to the 22nd slot in the 2009 draft. Both became SODs. Not steals of the draft. Steals of the decade.
Moss would become perhaps the best deep receiver in NFL history. Harvin would become a unique hybrid who excelled as a slot receiver, occasional running back and kick returner.
They were hardly identical. Moss would rely on speed and skill while avoiding contact. Harvin would display a football version of bravery, pinballing into defenders.
The Vikings would face the same quandary with both.
In 2005, believing they could no longer function as a self-respecting organization while Moss misbehaved, they traded him to the Raiders for a first-round draft pick, a seventh-rounder and linebacker Napoleon Harris. Had they used that first-round pick on DeMarcus Ware or Aaron Rodgers, the trade might have looked brilliant. Instead, they chose Troy Williamson and looked like fools.
Harvin's 2012 season ended this week when the team placed him on injured reserve. He suffered torn ligaments in his ankle while trying to play through a hamstring injury. He has one year remaining on his rookie contract.
This winter, the Vikings will have to decide whether to sign him to a contract extension, knowing he will want a massive raise; let him play out his contract, facing the risk he will leave as a free agent; or trade him.
Sign him to a lucrative extension, and the Vikings risk that his body won't hold up and that with a contract he will feel empowered to behave as he sees fit.
Do nothing and he'll be angry all year, jeopardizing the professional atmosphere coach Leslie Frazier has created following decades of organizational dysfunction.
Trade him, and he could haunt Rick Spielman's dreams for a decade.
With Harvin, the Vikings are only one or two wideouts away from featuring a dynamic set of skill-position players that includes Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph, in addition to an improved offensive line. Without Harvin, there would be nothing to obscure the reality that the Vikings' wide receivers are the worst in the NFL.
With Harvin, Christian Ponder, if he remains the starting quarterback, would have the best safety valve in the league. Without Harvin, Ponder would be forced to throw downfield more often, highlighting his inaccuracy on such attempts.
With Harvin, the Vikings can enter next year's draft thinking that one talented receiver and one impact player on defense could enable them to compete for a division title, assuming they improve their quarterback play. Without Harvin, the Vikings could begin to look like the Detroit Lions during Barry Sanders' career -- a great running back surrounded by ineptitude.
The Vikings have little choice. They need Harvin. They have to ante up and hope he plays like Moss without acting like Moss. They have to gamble on elite talent, because without elite talent they're nothing more than Jacksonville North.
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. • firstname.lastname@example.org