clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

So you think you know Randy Moss

According to coaches, opponents, and former teammates, the first-ballot Hall of Famer deserves only one label: The NFL’s best receiver.

Randy Moss stood behind a podium at the Minnesota Vikings’ Winter Park practice facility on June 14, 2017, after being elected to the team’s Ring of Honor, and did something he was reluctant to do during his career: He helped shape the narrative around him.

After making a statement, Moss opened up questions to reporters, including Sid Hartman, a longtime Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist who had published the quote that hounded Moss — branding him a “diva” and a “distraction” — since it was put into the universe in 2001:

“I play when I want to play. 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.”

Hartman, of course, asked Moss to revisit that moment.

“As you mature, you grow, and I think I should have spoke about what I really meant,” Moss replied. “To some it might have been arrogance. To me, I was just focused. Tunnel vision, man.”

Moss, 40, was in a different place at this point in his life. He was a member of the media — an ESPN contributor — with college-aged children, and it had been more than four years since he wrapped up a career as one of the best wide receivers in NFL history. Perhaps time and distance gave him perspective. But a clarification 16 years later is notable.

Over the course of his football life, even all the way back to high school, Moss was reluctant to speak to media, often leaving his actions open to someone else’s interpretation. Given the smallest opportunity, media and fans would seize on those moments to put him in a box: arrogant, selfish, trouble.

And Moss gave them plenty of opportunities. As a prep senior and Notre Dame commit in 1995, Moss was arrested for his involvement in a fight at DuPont High School (West Virginia). Moss said he stomped on the neck of a white student who wrote “All niggers must die” on a desk where a black student sat. The white student was hospitalized with injuries to his spleen, liver, and kidney, and suffered a concussion. Moss pleaded guilty on Aug. 1, 1995, to misdemeanor battery. Notre Dame chose to deny his admission, so he went to Florida State, then Marshall after violating his probation by smoking marijuana.

As a professional, Moss bumped a traffic control officer with his car, pretended to moon fans in Green Bay, left a game with two seconds left on the clock in Washington, admitted to using marijuana once “every blue moon” during his NFL career, and faced domestic abuse allegations that were later recanted.

But Moss’ admission that he should have tried to clarify “I play when I want to play” confirmed something that his former Minnesota teammate Matt Birk long suspected: “[Moss] just kind of felt like a lot of people already made up their mind about him.”

“Everything is not said, and the truth is not always told,” Moss said to press during his Super Bowl with the 49ers. “I grew up just respecting myself, I do respect other people, but when it comes to the pen and pad that you guys are writing on right now, man, it’s just — I mean you got a job to do, and you got papers to sell.”

From his perspective, the only message worth delivering was about the game. “I always wanted to play the game of football,” Moss replied to Hartman from the podium. “Something I grew up loving to do as a kid. Some people like to play with their cars, some girls like to play with their doll babies. Ever since I was 6 years old, I loved the game of football, man.”

And his football story is well known. He had the most receiving touchdowns in a rookie season (17) and the most receiving touchdowns in any season (23). He was a six-time Pro Bowler, a four-time first team All-Pro, and is fourth all-time in career receiving yards with 15,292. A 2018 first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee. But if that’s all we can say about Moss for certain, that leaves a lot of unanswered questions about one of NFL history’s most enigmatic players. Who, really, was Randy Moss?

Moss did not respond to requests to talk to SB Nation for this story, but many of his former teammates, coaches, and opponents did. According to those who knew him almost as well as anyone can, the truth about Moss is that he was so much more than his headlines.

”I’ve seen him at his best, and I’ve seen him at his worst — that’s kind of how we all are, isn’t it?” Birk says. “We don’t want to be judged by the worst five minutes of our life, and we probably don’t deserve to be judged by the best five minutes either.”

Randy Moss alone on the sideline during his rookie season.
The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

TO LOOK AT the 1998 NFL Draft is to see how reputation directly influenced Randy Moss’ early career.

Even though Moss avoided trouble at Marshall, his high school arrest and positive marijuana test at Florida State spooked teams enough to potentially pass on him. But the morning of the draft, with the Vikings holding the No. 21 overall pick, head coach Dennis Green approached his then-offensive coordinator Brian Billick and said, “I think we’re going to get Randy Moss.”

Billick thought Green was out of his mind. “I had done my homework on Moss. I’ll say it wasn’t as detailed because I figured there’s no way this guy’s going to fall to us, and we weren’t a team to necessarily trade up.”

But Moss fell, and the hype in Minnesota ramped up immediately. Moss’ former Vikings teammate Cris Carter used to run an offseason workout camp in Ft. Lauderdale, where Moss trained after being selected.

“I remember Cris calling me and saying, ‘Brian, you have no idea how good this kid is,’” Billick says. “I go, ‘Yeah, Cris, I know. I looked at his film, we’re going to use this, we can do that, it’s going to be great.’ He goes, ‘No, Brian, listen to me. You have no idea how good this kid is.’”

It’s rare that a player’s rookie season is arguably the most discussed thing about their career, but that only speaks to just how good Moss’ was. He exploded as a star on the game’s biggest regular-season stage, a Monday Night Football game at Lambeau Field in Week 5.

Then-Packers practice squad quarterback Matt Hasselbeck recalls head coach Mike Holmgren giving a pregame pep talk. “He said to the DBs — he named them by name — and he was like, ‘Hey, I want you to show this rookie Randy Moss what the NFL is all about.’

“That night in Lambeau on Monday night, Randy Moss showed the world what he was all about.”

Billick remembers the Packers doing all they could to stop Moss. “In that game, you know he gets a touchdown going deep on somebody. So they double him, and he goes past them. Finally there’s three of them — that last touchdown he goes against three guys and comes down with the ball.”

Former Packers head coach Mike Sherman, who was coaching tight ends for the team at the time, says it was “just one of those deals that, they throw it to him, and it didn’t matter how many people you put on him. He was going to go up and get the ball, and make the play. It didn’t matter what you did.”

It was Moss’ unofficial coming out party: five catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns. “I remember the Green Bay DBs looking to their sideline, like, What do you want us to do?” Billick says. Moss never had a hope of being just a regular football player.

Lambeau Field was the site of another of Moss’ most notorious moments. In 2004, he scored a touchdown to give the Vikings a 30-14 lead, then trotted over to the goal post and pretended to show his ass to the Packers faithful. Joe Buck was apoplectic on the FOX broadcast, saying, “That is a disgusting act by Randy Moss, and it’s unfortunate that we had that on our air live.”

Just about anybody you ask would say that Buck’s call was an overreaction. “That’s probably in poor taste,” Birk says of the celebration. “But that’s just kind of Vikings-Green Bay. That’s at Lambeau Field.” Moss’ celebration was mimicking Packers fans’ tradition of mooning the visiting team’s bus in the parking lot. Birk adds with a laugh, “I don’t think it was the most horrific thing that’s ever been done on a football field by any stretch.”

Sherman calls it “quite a day.” He laughs, “Obviously to everybody in Lambeau, it was not appropriate to do that at that time. But I think after the fact, most people laugh about it today.

“That’s probably something we’ll never see again, thank God.”

The fake mooning, or Moss himself?

“Probably both.”

And the fake mooning was only the first of two legacy-defining moments to come from that game. The $10,000 fine that Moss received produced yet another memorable quote.

Outside of the Vikings’ practice facility, reporters stormed Moss.

Reporter: “Write the check yet, Randy?”

Moss: “When you’re rich you don’t write checks.”

Reporter: “If you don’t write checks, how do you pay these guys?”

Moss: “Straight cash, homey.”


Along with his irreverence toward interviews, using marijuana has also been commonly cited as one of Moss’ “character issues.” In 2005, after he signed with the Raiders but before he played a down for them, Moss admitted to smoking marijuana since entering the NFL.

”I have used, you know, marijuana ... since I’ve been in the league,” Moss said in an interview on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. “But as far as abusing it and, you know, letting it take control over me, I don’t do that, no.

”But, you know, I don’t want any kids, you know, watching this taking a lesson from me as far as, ‘Well, Randy Moss used it so I’m going to use it.’ I don’t want that to get across. Like I say ... I have used [marijuana] in the past. And every blue moon or every once in a while I might.”

We know that marijuana didn’t stop Moss from having a first-ballot Hall of Fame career. But Moss’ comments on Real Sports did rankle fans and media at the time, and they did lead Raiders head coach Norv Turner to say he would talk to Moss. Whatever the two talked about didn’t do much for either of them.

In Moss’ two seasons in Oakland he had two of the worst years of his career. The Raiders were a mess internally. Turner was fired after the 2005 season, and Al Davis was thinking of replacing him with Art Shell.

”I said, ‘I just don’t think that would be a good idea,’” says former Raiders scout Jon Kingdon. “I went off for about 10 minutes and listed all the things that I thought were going to be a problem. And Al says to me, ‘Well, you bring up a lot of good points, but I may have to hire him anyway.’”

Under Shell, the Raiders had their worst season since the NFL-AFL merger with a 2-14 record. It was the worst year of Moss’ career — just 43 receptions, 553 yards, and three touchdowns. In November of that season, Moss reasoned his struggles by saying it was “maybe because I’m unhappy and I’m not too much excited about what’s going on.” He added, “All I can say is if you put me in a good situation and make me happy, man, you get good results.”

After firing Shell and hiring Lane Kiffin, the Raiders were set on trading Moss, which Davis did with Kingdon and four other scouts in a room with Bill Belichick on the phone. Mark Jackson, who came to Oakland with Kiffin from college, was in charge of orchestrating the trade for the Raiders.

Kingdon recalls the moment: “Mark had said, ‘Well, we can get a sixth [round pick] for Randy Moss.’ Al says, ‘What, are you kidding me? We got a sixth for this guy? What the hell are you doing?’ So he called Belichick. He said, ‘Bill, what are you doing? You’re only giving us a sixth for this guy?’ And Bill said, ‘Well that’s what he asked for.’ And Al says, ‘That’s ridiculous.’”

The Raiders eventually bartered the Patriots into giving up a fourth-round pick. After the trade, former Raiders offensive coordinator Tom Walsh said that Moss’ time had passed.

”Randy Moss is a player whose skills are diminishing, and he’s in denial of those eroding skills,” Walsh said. “Randy was a great receiver, but he lacked the work ethic and the desire to cultivate any skills that would compensate for what he was losing physically later in his career.”

Walsh suggested that Oakland played no part in Moss’ poor season.

Moss responded the best way he knew how: through football. Less than a year later, in 2007, Moss would set the NFL single-season receiving touchdown record for the 16-0 Patriots.

And Moss predicted he would break the record, too. Former Patriots teammate Kevin Faulk confirms: “He said he was going to break it [before the season]. I think the feel that he got in training camp, shoot I think the feel everybody got in training camp that year, was like, yeah, it can be done.”

Walsh’s criticism of Moss’s work ethic echoed what many had said about him after he uttered the “I play when I want to play” statement. And even though Moss says that quote was misinterpreted, people around Moss would even tell you that there’s some truth to it, but that it didn’t apply only to Moss. NFL players often take plays off.

Hasselbeck tells a story about attending Harvard’s football camp with Jerheme Urban, a former NFL wide receiver and current head coach of Trinity University in Texas. Hasselbeck describes Urban as “a guy who did everything right.”

When the two were in Seattle, Urban used to wear No. 84 in practice to pretend to be Randy Moss. Urban was tall, and fast. “This guy was like a golden retriever, you’d throw the ball, he gets it, comes back, it’s like, ‘Go again.’ He would never get tired.

“I remember maybe our third year together in Seattle, Jerheme Urban comes up to me and he’s like, ‘You know how people dog Randy Moss for taking plays off? I get it. I totally get it. Every route he runs is a go ball. It’s a deep post, it’s a go, it’s a deep corner,’ He’s like, ‘I can’t do this.’

“For me, when Jerheme Urban — the kid who did everything right — would say, ‘I totally get it, I’m going to have to take some plays off, too,’ that was an eye opener for me.”

As somebody who coached against Moss, Sherman says, “I think he had a little bit of a philosophy that he abided by, and that was if he wasn’t a factor in the play, whether a decoy or otherwise, it was time for him to rest a little bit before when he was more of a factor in the concept.” It certainly worked against Green Bay for years.

In New England, Faulk says that Moss knew that when he was double and triple covered, “his job was already done. The defenders that he took with him, he already did his job.”

The questions that led to “I play when I want to play” matter, too. Reporters were trying to get to the bottom of what motivated him to play. But because he didn’t attempt to clear up his response, people used it to argue that Moss didn’t work hard. But two things can be true: That Moss took plays off, and that the way the quote is widely interpreted is incorrect.

Hindsight and context would probably help people paint a more fair picture of Moss. But then again, those people would have to want to try to understand him.

Arizona Cardinals vs Oakland Raiders - October 22, 2006
Randy Moss celebrating an interception by defensive tackle Terdell Sands against the Cardinals in 2006.
Photo by Robert B. Stanton/NFLPhotoLibrary

ONE THING THAT no reasonable person can question is that Randy Moss loved — and still loves — the game of football. That love showed in his success.

Moss hurt his ankle playing basketball in the first minicamp he had as a Viking, so he didn’t practice. Birk recalls, “I’m just holding on for my professional life every single day, and I’m like, This guy’s not even practicing, he seems so calm and confident. Not cocky, but he was just sort of ... he kind of had this superstar aurora around him. I was like, ‘how’s he going to be able to play in the NFL? This is such a huge jump.’ And first game he goes out there and destroys Tampa’s defense.”

Birk specifically remembers a Moss catch from that first game against the Buccaneers in 1998 in which he tipped a ball to himself, away from a falling Floyd Young, and out of the reach of John Lynch. “I remember the guys came over — the O-line was so veteran, it was Todd Steussie, Korey Stringer, Jeff Christie — and they were just laughing. They couldn’t believe it either, how good this kid was from Day 1.”

Moss had moments like that throughout his career. The moments were never self-contained, either; they had a ripple effect on the people around him.

Moss became famous for throwing up his hand while running a route. It was a signal that he had you beat. Former Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall is cemented in history for having been on the wrong end of the most memorable Moss hand-raise, during a 2004 preseason game.

“I’m lined up against Moss,” Hall told NFL Network. “I got Moss right where I want him. He threw the hand up — I heard rumors about the hand — he threw the hand up. So I’m like you know, we about to jump ball, we about to jump for it.

“Man, I promise you, that dude … is the real deal. All y’all T.O. fans — Moss is the real deal. … I finally got a hand on him in the end zone about 70 yards later.” That was, of course, after Moss had already embarrassed him.

One of the most recognizable plays of Moss’ career came against one of the best cornerbacks of his generation: Darrelle Revis. The play may have popped into your head already. In 2010, the Patriots took on the Jets in East Rutherford, and with one hand, Moss reeled in the ball in the end zone, in stride, with ease.

Later that season, Revis said that Moss gave up in the second half of the game, that “you could tell he was putting his foot on the brake.

”I mean, everybody knows that’s Randy. Sometimes he plays 100 percent, sometimes he doesn’t.”

Former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork says that there was a good reason for Moss’ lack of effort: Moss had practiced with a hamstring injury all week, and was 75 percent healthy at best.

“When he scored that touchdown, I remember looking at some of my teammates on my bench,” Wilfork says. “We’re like, ‘Did he really just do that on a 75 percent hamstring?’ And he pulled away, and I’m like, ‘Holy shit, this dude is legit.’”

Moss was a perpetual threat to score. While Sherman got to see the Vikings version of Moss, Rex Ryan was less fortunate, getting the Patriots version with Tom Brady throwing the ball.

“I hated his ass,” Ryan says. “He was, I mean, one of the biggest pains in the ass to coach against.”

Ryan had the same strategy every time he and the Jets were pitted against Moss. “I wasn’t going to die a quick death,” he says. “That meant that I had a guy underneath him and on top of him. One hundred percent of the time.”

According to Ryan, Moss was one of the select few who — without a doubt — deserved that level of attention.

“[Calvin Johnson] was a big ol’ sucker like that, that you had to defend that way,” Ryan says. “But there’s not many that come to mind. You know, T.O., whatever, fuck, you don’t have shit. I mean he was OK, but he wasn’t — I never feared him the way I would fear Randy Moss. [Chad Johnson] was a good player from Cincinnati, but I never had the same kind of like, ‘Oh, shit. This guy’s really something.’ So I would say maybe one or two guys, tops, that you could put in comparison with Moss. And that’s tops.

“I remember when the Hall of Fame called me about him, and I’m like, ‘Dude, if he’s not a first-ballot Hall of Famer, I don’t know who the hell is.’”

Moss’ impact was much greater than his big plays, though. During the Patriots’ near-perfect 2007 season, the team was in pads during Week 10 or 11 and feeling weary.

“You could tell the mood of the team was kind of like, ‘Man, here we go again with this shit,’ Wilfork says. “Walking to practice, and everybody really not talking, and it was just — we was just numb and we was just dull. We was grinding so much, that we was like, ‘Damn, we need a break.’

“So we get in warm up lines, and everybody’s quiet and everything. Next thing you know, Randy gets up, and he start talking cash shit to everybody — in a fun way. It was just one of those things where it’s like, man, who lit the fire up under his ass?”

Wilfork says it was one of the best practices the team had all season. “That just showed the leadership quality that he had,” he says. “It didn’t take much, all he had to do was get people to laugh and smile, and get back to doing what we normally do. We had one of the best practices that we did, and it was all because of Randy.”

And yet for all the good Moss brought to New England, those closest to him felt that there was a small, but noticeable void in his time there. “I’m still pissed off we didn’t win one for him,” Wilfork says.

Randy Moss waiting for a kickoff against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Sporting News via Getty Images

RANDY MOSS GREW up in Rand, West Virginia, a town with a population a pinch more than 1,600. So when he arrived at the Heisman ceremony in New York in 1998, he wore sunglasses.

Moss wasn’t trying be cool. He was scared.

“I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what they were going to think about my glasses,” he said in Rand University. “But all I know was, that the glasses gave me a comfort to be able to sit up there beside Charles Woodson, Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf.”

One of the biggest moments of Moss’ life was meeting Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas at the ceremony. Having seen Thomas on so many Wendy’s commercials meant a lot to Moss, because being on TV wasn’t something that he, nor anybody else from Rand, was accustomed to.

By that point, Moss might have already been tired of the national spotlight, having been making headlines since he was 17 years old.

In fact, the attention that came with his superstardom seemed like the only really hard part about the game of football to Moss. Birk says, “I think Randy would just prefer if he came in the league and nobody knew anything about him. He could just go out there and do his thing, and probably prefer not to be the superstar.”

Moss showed that through his actions, too. Birk recalls hanging out in the back of the Vikings’ equipment room with the rest of the offensive line. “Randy would be back there with us playing dominos, and we made more fun of him than anybody else, and he loved it.

“Randy, he just, he considered himself one of the guys. And that’s what he wanted to be.”

And football was really the only setting that Moss was comfortable in. Faulk says that outside of the game, Moss really didn’t hang out with anybody. If he made an exception and went to a social gathering, it was going to be for a teammate. “He’d possibly go to it,” Faulk says. “But it was like, ‘How many people are going to be there? Is it going to be that big?’ Because he didn’t like going to a lot of public outings. He just wasn’t accustomed to — he was shy.”

But Moss did like the impact he could have on others. “One year he bought like 100 bikes or something for a bunch of underprivileged kids,” Birk says. “Didn’t tell the media. One Saturday after Saturday walkthrough, he had all the kids out there, he gave them all bikes, and he made sure nobody in the media knew about it. He just wanted to do that.

“When we’re out in public and you see kids come up to him, he was totally engaging, and gracious, and he liked the fact that he could make people feel like they were 10 feet tall.”

But, Birk adds, “time after time after time, people coming up to him, and kind of bothering him, you could see that wear him out.”

Moss just wanted to be himself, and being himself was playing football. “Football spoke for us, that’s what we thought,” Faulk says. “That was our way of speaking, and in his mind, that was his way of speaking.”

Moss’ play on the field did say a lot — it spoke to how much work he put into the game, how naturally gifted he was, and how much he loved playing. But it was hard for some to hear his game while other things were being said about him. Hasselbeck, who arrived in Tennessee in 2011 — one year after Moss came and left — was surprised at what he heard about the wideout.

“I’d say, ‘What was Randy Moss like? How’d you guys like Randy?’” Hasselbeck says. “And every single coach, player, staff, athletic trainer, whoever, they all said the same thing: ‘You know what? We really liked him, and he’s a really smart football player.’ And it was like, Huh, those weren’t really the two things I thought you were going to say based on his reputation that I see from the internet or from SportsCenter.”

Former Patriots teammate Wilfork echoes that sentiment: “A lot of people wouldn’t understand that unless you played with him.”

After the Patriots went 18-1, Tom Brady tore his ACL in the first game of the 2008 season, making Matt Cassel the starter. Instead of giving up on the season, Moss tutored Cassel, and the Patriots thrived. “He would take the receiving corps and the tight ends and Matt, and they would do things extra after practice,” Wilfork says. “He would tell Matt, ‘OK, on this route, this is where I’m going to be. You know, Tom do it like this here, but we gotta figure out what you comfortable with.’

“He knew, as a player, that he needed to be a mentor, and he needed to step up his leadership, along with the coaches. So it was like Matt had a coach on the field, they would talk all the time. As the season went on, you could kinda see Matt started getting better, and better, and towards the end of the season, they were rockin’ and rollin’.”

The Patriots went 11-5 that season and were unlucky to miss the playoffs. They were the first team to miss the postseason with 11 wins since the expansion to a 12-team playoff in 1990. It was a good season, one that earned Cassel a franchise tag and then a six-year deal worth $63 million with the Chiefs in the 2009 offseason. Upon arriving in Kansas City, Cassel only played one season that remotely resembled his success in New England.

But Cassel wasn’t the only player who benefitted from Moss’ coaching. Moss used to go to Faulk’s house on Wednesdays to watch extra film of their opponent that week. “I learned a lot about coverages and a lot about disguises through him, and watching him work and him talking,” Faulk says. “It really helped me out a whole lot because it helped me figure out a whole lot of what Tom was thinking.”

And Moss’ coaching wasn’t limited to the offense either, according to Wilfork. “He would break down coverages, he would break down players defensively,” he says. “There was a lot of times that he would talk trash to me about playing a three technique. He always knew everything going on out on the football field.”

Randy Moss trying to run past Packers defenders after catching a pass from Daunte Culpepper in 2001.
AFP/Getty Images

HOW ONE VIEWS Randy Moss might depend on where or when in his career they encountered him.

“I think there were times obviously Randy didn’t always make the best decisions or say the right thing,” Birk says.

In 2010, for example, Moss lashed out during a Vikings’ post-practice meal. The team had catered food from Tinucci’s — a St. Paul staple and favorite of Birk’s — and Moss evidently didn’t like the food.

Moss reportedly yelled, “What the [expletive]? Who ordered this crap? I wouldn’t feed this to my dog.” A few days later, the Vikings waived him. Birk says, “Obviously everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. Would most of us agree that that’s the way to handle it? Eh, probably not.

“People from St. Paul took that personally and went to the aid of the Tinucci’s. Not that they needed it, but it’s just kind of funny. It all worked out for everybody, maybe except Randy.”

In regards to some of Moss’ off-the-field incidents, Birk explains, “I don’t think it makes him a bad guy. He was going to be who he was. I just think some of the times maybe he didn’t realize the ripple effect of that on his teammates. Because then the media would come to us and ask us questions about something Randy said, or something Randy did.” But despite the occasional hassle, Birk says that Moss was a good teammate.

Judging Moss’ impact on the field is only slightly easier than judging his character. Before his Super Bowl appearance with the 49ers, Moss proclaimed at media day, “Now that I’m older … I really do think I’m the greatest receiver to ever play this game.”

That debate is something that nobody will ever agree on. But those who experienced Moss firsthand make a strong case that he’s the best talent to ever play. Even Jerry Rice, who many consider to be the greatest wide receiver of all time, said he believed Moss was more talented than he was.

That’s as far as Billick is willing to go when talking about Moss’ legacy. “I don’t think we’ve had since, or will again see, a receiver with the sheer, total, physical talent of a Randy Moss.”

Billick adds, “When you look at the litany of quarterbacks that Randy had to go through, I think that is noteworthy as well.” It’s something that Wilfork wonders about, too. “I will always say, and I always say this, if Tom [Brady] would have had him from the get go, how much better would he have been?”

Moss may have never won a Super Bowl, but that he was singularly great is indisputable. If who Moss is has been misconstrued, it’s in part because he was so good that people cared enough to try to define him. I ask Wilfork how he thinks Moss would want to be remembered.

“I think Randy wants to be remembered for being one of the biggest competitors that you ever faced, and ever played with,” Wilfork says. “Everybody goes through things in life, we all brought up different ways, we go through different challenges in life. Knowing what he came from and his background, for him to be able to sit back and look at his career and his life — he’s gotta be damn proud.”

Moss was many things to many people. He was a headache at times, and on at least one occasion he was downright mean. But he was a mentor and football savant, too, to those who played with him, and he did things that nobody thought possible. Everybody has a Moss memory.

Whoever Randy Moss is, he gave us much more than we gave him.

NFL

The art of the forced fumble, explained by the NFL Draft class of 2020

NFL

The gore, guts and horror of an NFL fumble pile

NFL

I understand why Andrew Luck retired, because I’ve been in his shoes

View all stories in NFL