In my long career of reporting, maybe the most famous quote I ever got was from Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss.

All Moss was doing was being honest when I told him that his Vikings teammate, Cris Carter, said there isn't a single NFL player who goes 100% on every play.

"I play when I want to play," Moss told me in 2001. "Do I play up to my top performance, my ability every time? Maybe not. I just keep doing what I do and that is playing football. When I make my mind up, I am going out there to tear somebody's head off. When I go out there and play football, man, it's not anybody telling me to play or how I should play. I play when I want to play, case closed."

What Moss was really talking about was the Vikings had been struggling as a team — they were 4-5 when he told me that, coming off reaching the NFC Championship Game the season before — and that if the entire team wasn't on the same page with their effort, one player can't make a difference.

"If the team comes out wanting to play and they are feeling good, then it is going to be a hell of a day for everybody. But just by one individual coming out showing he is ready to play doesn't mean my team is ready to play. We have been just out of sync."

Yes, the team had struggled, but the media constantly blamed Moss. And when he said how he honestly felt, they blamed him even more.

Now Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is learning that speaking honestly can often be taken out of context.

Cousins was the biggest NFL story around the country Wednesday with media focusing on his statement, "If I die, I die," which he told Kyle Brandt on The Ringer podcast.

Cousins' full quote was him talking about how he isn't worried about the coronavirus, but he is still being responsible to protect people around him who are.

"I want to respect other people's concerns, but for me, personally, if you're talking no one else can get the virus, what is your concern you could get it? I'd say, I'm going to go about my daily life," Cousins said. "If I get it, I'm going to ride it out. I'm going to let nature do its course, uh, 'survival of the fittest' kind of approach and just say if it knocks me out, it knocks me out. I'm going to be OK. Even if I die, I die. I kind of have peace about that.

"That's really where I fall on it, so my opinion on wearing a mask is really about being respectful to other people. It really has nothing to do with my personal thoughts."

But the part of the quote everyone talked about, with Cousins saying, "If I die, I die," was really more about his faith than anything else, and his main point was he was going to be responsible because it's the right thing to do.

But it was taken out of context, much like how "I play when I want to play" was really about Moss saying an entire team needs to give great effort together to win.

Star players have always been under a microscope, and that's especially true when they're giving an honest response.

Strikeout bullpen

The Twins bullpen has been excellent this season, posting the sixth-best ERA in baseball at 3.67 while also throwing the 10th-most innings in the game with 152.

Last season the club was 10th in the majors in bullpen ERA at 4.17.

One of the biggest changes has been an increase in strikeouts. The bullpen has averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings, the best mark in the AL.

The club made big investments in technology when they hired President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine. One pitcher who really benefited is Tyler Duffey, who has become one of the best relievers in baseball.

Duffey was a fifth-round draft pick in 2012 and made his big-league debut in 2015. But from 2015-2018 he posted a 5.46 ERA over 287 innings and went 18-18 while club officials tried to decide whether he was a starter or a reliever.

But since converting to full-time relief last season, Duffey has been outstanding. He's 6-2 with a 2.38 ERA and 99 strikeouts over 72 innings.

"Don't forget Duffey … spent probably the first fourth of the season in Triple-A trying to [correct] his [throwing] plane and get comfortable doing it," pitching coach Wes Johnson said.

This club has a great mix of young pitchers in the bullpen, but also made the smart moves to bring back Sergio Romo on a one-year, $4.75 million deal with a club option for 2021 and sign Tyler Clippard on a one-year, $2.75 million contract.

Romo has three saves with a 3.55 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 12⅔ innings. Clippard is 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 15⅓ innings.

Johnson said those veterans have made a big difference in a shortened 60-game season.

"Bringing in guys like Clippard and Romo, I mean they're not only performing extremely well but you're seeing them impact the next wave of guys, the Cody Stashaks and the Matt Wislers and even some of our younger guys that we have out of the pen now that are normally starters like Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer and Sean Poppen," Johnson said. "Those guys, you can't put a price for what they're doing off the field. Really happy we have those two guys."


• It was surprising to see Pro Football Focus rate the Vikings as the No. 16 defense in the NFL heading into 2020 — far behind the Bears (No. 6) and Packers (No. 7). "Having the best safety duo in the NFL in Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith as well as one of the best off-ball linebackers in Eric Kendricks won't make this Minnesota defense much worse than average," they wrote. "But if they want to be anything more than that, they need the young players manning the cornerback spots to step up."

• Adam Brett Walker, the Twins' third-round draft pick in 2012, leads the American Association with 21 home runs. Walker, playing for Milwaukee, hit 22 home runs in 98 games for the Milwaukee Milkmen last season. He's played in 51 games this season through Wednesday. He hit 124 home runs in five seasons in the Twins' minor league system. He hit 31 for Chattanooga in 2015 and 27 for Rochester in 2016. The American Association is the only minor league playing in the U.S. this season.

• Former Twin Tom Quinlan and his brother Robb, a former Gopher who spent eight seasons in the major leagues, are part of the ownership group of the St. Croix River Hounds that will begin play in the Northwoods League next season in Hudson, Wis.

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Sunday. •