Us 90s kids all feel that way.
Around 10-13 years old is when kids really start to take sports seriously. They’re the formative years which a person always looks back on with fondness and will refer to as “the good ole days” for the rest of their life. Something about being on the cusp of becoming a teenager opens up the brain and the mind becomes a sponge for everything related to their chosen interests.
Born in 1985, my sponge opened up at a perfect time in sports. The Jordan Dynasty was back in full effect after the baseball vacation (and before the Wizards experiment), something-called Kevin Garnett out of something-called Farragut Academy was starting to come into his own with the Wolves, and the Vikings drafted a controversial wide receiver from the smoky hills of Rand, West Virginia named Randy Moss 21st overall in the 1998 Draft.
Let’s back it up to 1997, I already knew who Randy Moss was. I was obsessed with him.
As a 12-year old who had just gotten a rebuilt 15” Zenith television in his room, ESPN and ESPN2 was blaring around the clock. Sportscenter was the soundtrack to my formative years and I was particularly drawn to this Freak of a redshirt sophomore that got more than his fair share of the college football highlights that season. Tiny Marshall University, which had just become a Division 1-A school that season and was playing in something-called the MAC, was being hammered into my sports sponge subconscious because of a 6’4”, blazing wide receiver who wore number 88, had swag for days (even before we knew was swag was), and was truly a man amongst boys. I still root for the Marshall Thundering Herd to this day because of that season. Even though Nathan Poole went to school there and was Moss’ teammate. Yes, that Nathan Poole.
I researched everything I could about my new favorite player. Keep in mind this was 1997, so that meant looking up articles on a 14.4 modem at home and at the school library on top of clipping articles out of Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, SPORT magazine (before they went under), and the Star Tribune when they posted Heisman Race updates. Moss finished 4th that year behind Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning. Charles Woodson won.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was obsessed with this man. Playing 7th grade football that year, I was saddened to find out I couldn’t change my number from 24 to 88 because A) the coach said running backs don’t wear 80s numbers and B) we didn’t have a number 88 jersey (minor details). But that didn’t stop me from bugging my parents until they bought me the knee high, black and white striped Nike socks that Moss rocked on occasion at Marshall. Since I wasn’t the tallest kid on the block, the socks came up to my mid-thigh and were basically pantyhose, but I didn’t care. I was emulating my first sports crush not named Dominique Moceanu.
At the Heisman ceremony that year, Randy Moss wore sunglasses during the entire ceremony leading Chris Folwer allude to the Timbuk 3 song, “future’s so bright, gotta wear shades.” What amazing forshadowing.
Moss was the first player that I followed in college that I wished – with every ounce of my being – would become a member of my favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings. But it seemed far fetched at the time. The Vikings were drafting late in the first round that year (21st) because of a solid 9-7 season under Denny Green, resulting in a wild card birth but falling short in the Divisional Round to the 49ers.
Wide receiver was also not a position of need. Cris Carter was still in his prime, Jake Reed was coming into his own, and then you had gadget man David Palmer, special teams ace Chris Walsh, and eventual defensive back Robert Tate to pick up the leftover receiver bits. That’s not a bad crew. Given that Moss would probably go high and the Vikings didn’t really need a wide receiver, my 13-year old expectations were pretty tempered. As long as he somehow didn’t end up with the Packers, it was fine.
I vaguely knew that he was supposed to go to Notre Dame originally, but didn’t because of legal trouble. And that he was supposed to play for Florida State… But didn’t because of legal trouble. I didn’t know the common draftnik phrase of “character issues” at the time, but my dad and grandpa seemed to think it might cost him and he actually might fall to the Vikings at 21. Or maybe they just said that to make me feel better and stop bugging them about “this cool wide receiver who’s totally awesome”.
The draft wasn’t the primetime television spectacle it is today, so it was a Saturday afternoon in April that I tuned in to see where my guy would land and who my team would pick. Hopefully they would be one in the same.
Eli’s older brother went number one to the Colts, after some serious consideration of Ryan Leaf (hindsight is 20/20, but yikes). Chargers took Leaf second (#TrainWreck) and Woodson went to the Raiders at four. Then a bunch of guys who’s names I didn’t know, or were vaguely aware of via TV and sports magazines, went to teams that weren’t mine. A lot of Tom, Dick, and Keith Brookings flew off the board, but no Randy Moss! How could this be?! Didn’t they see the Army game (which I had recorded on VHS and also had a backup copy) where Randy hurdled a guy while taking a screen pass 90-yards to the house? What the hell’s goin’ on out here?!
I almost passed out when the Titans took Kevin Dyson at 16. How on earth could anyone not named “Randy Moss” be the first wide receiver off the board? But Tennessee’s decision (Moss would’ve scored on the last play of Super Bowl XXXIV, by the way) made me realize something, “Moss could be ours. Holy heck. Moss. Could. Be. Ours.”
Two teams stood in the way, the Packers at 19 and the Lions at 20. If The Freak could slip through the NFC Central filter one time, he would be ours. If he didn’t, he’d be a pain in our ass for the foreseeable future. Could you imagine a young Randy Moss with Favre, Antonio Freeman, and Robert Brooks? Or with Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, and Johnnie Morton? The Vikings had a meh defense as is at time and if Moss landed with either team, that’s a guaranteed fitty-burger twice a year.
But our nemesi played ball, Green Bay took defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday out of North Carolina and Detroit took Rocky Top cornerback Terry Fair. Now there was still the issue of the Vikings not having an immediate need at wide receiver, but they took the plunge. Denny made the call, Billick got another weapon, and Carter and Reed got the third and final piece for Three Deep.
I was elated. My favorite team and my new favorite player were going to cross paths. Little did I know how much bittersweetness lie ahead.
Check back for the following two parts of the love hate story the next two Saturdays right here on Vikings Territory.