Twice, the Vikings dumped Randy Moss, once by trading him when they considered the headaches he caused to be more meaningful than the passes he caught, and once by releasing him when they found him to be insubordinate and over the hill.
Minnesota fans are known for jeering departed athletes when they return. That is not what happened on Saturday afternoon at Ridgedale Mall in Minnetonka.
Moss entered and hundreds of fans, many of whom had been waiting for hours, cheered and chanted his name. Moss waved and high-fived a group of employees from Fan HQ, the memorabilia store hosting the event.
Then Moss, in perhaps his first organized autograph-signing session in Minnesota outside the auspices of the Vikings, smiled, shook hands, posed for photos and signed 250 autographs in an hour.
“I don’t recall him ever doing a public appearance in Minnesota, other than maybe at training camp,” said Shaun Hagglund, the owner of Fan HQ. “This is the pinnacle for an autograph fan, or a store.”
Moss signed autographs for $84, and larger items for $116. (He wore No. 84 with the Vikings.)
Hagglund and former Gophers star Tyrone Carter said neither the store nor Moss made a dollar off the event. Carter said Moss was doing a favor for him and his TC Elite youth football camp. Hagglund said he expected to raise more than $20,000, which would be enough to send about 84 kids on scholarship to Carter’s camp.
Moss and Carter met when both played for the Vikings in 2000, and the two have stayed in touch, with Moss annually volunteering to be an instructor at Carter’s camps.
“Randy was so happy to come out here and sign,” Carter said. “That’s what it’s all about, giving back to the kids.”
Moss might have been the most talented receiver ever to play football. He often treated people he didn’t like — team officials, coaches, traffic officers, reporters, caterers — rudely.
The former was all that mattered to the people at Ridgedale.
Tammy and Nico Ditraglia drove 17 hours from New York for the event. Nico is 13, meaning he wasn’t alive when Moss began his NFL career in 1998.
Tammy, his mother, said Moss became Nico’s idol when he was young. “A month ago before he knew Randy was going to be here, he made a bucket list, and the only thing on the bucket list was ‘Meet Randy Moss,’ ” Tammy said. “The timing of this happening … I can’t describe it. It was devastating to Nico when Randy stopped playing.”
Jake Postal and Alissa Stainbrooke drove from Duluth for the event. “I had a Moss jersey when I was little,” Stainbrooke said. “This one is from when he came back to the Vikings [in 2010]. He was just my hero growing up. He brings me right back to when I was young and rooting for the Vikings and they almost went to the Super Bowl.”
Brian Richards wore a faded purple Moss jersey that looked like it might not survive another washing. He carried a “Three Deep” poster featuring Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed.
“I got this jersey his rookie year, in ’98, and it was hard to find,” said Richards, 45. “I happened to be in a department store in St. Cloud the day they put these on the racks. It was during the season, I think the Vikings were 7-1 or something, and these were flying off the racks.
“I still like Randy Moss. He’s one of the all-time Viking legends. How can you not like him, even though he’s had his ups and downs?”
What we know about Moss is this: He can be whatever he wants to be at any moment.
He could do charity work on a Tuesday and insult a team caterer on a Friday. He could curse the media as a player and become a member of the media in retirement. He could avoid autograph signings as a player, yet befriend a young fan hundreds of miles away.
As a rookie, Moss took note of 2-year-old Kassi Spier when she yelled his name at training camp. Two years later, when Spier was diagnosed with leukemia, Moss offered his support. He was still inviting her to lunch at training camp and holding her hand in 2003.
This past week, Moss drove to Pelican Rapids, Minn., to fulfill a promise he made long ago: to hand Spier her high school diploma.
“I remember her,” Tyrone Carter said. “She always came to training camp. Randy just loved those kids. That’s what people don’t understand about him.
“That’s him. There ain’t nothing he can’t do.”
With Moss, the question always was, and always will be: What is he willing to do?
This week, when it came to people he cares about, he was willing to do a lot.