During my rookie year as a defensive end for the Oakland Raiders, one of my teammates was Randy Moss. In my interactions with him, he displayed a carefree personality, yet always worked hard on the field and respected everyone around him.
When Moss made his debut in the NFL, I was 17 years old. I have vivid memories watching him play on TV for Marshall. The man was unlike anything I had ever seen—a long, lean frame, gracefully moving down the field like a deer.
When history speaks of Randy Moss, it will speak of legendary body control, athleticism and speed made to seem effortless. He was the embodiment of a custom-made entity, engineered exclusively to play wide receiver in the NFL.
I could spend time on this article telling you about his back story and history. But I'd much rather skip to the part where I've attained first-hand experience with this modern-day football legend: a personal hero, a genuine character.
Is Randy Moss a Good Teammate?
Throughout his career, Randy has built a reputation as an incendiary figure. When Moss was eventually run out of Minnesota for one too many stunts and a dangerously free spirit, he landed in Oakland via trade, which just so happened to be my debut season.
There have been many opinions about the influence a guy like Moss can or does have in a locker room. Many outsiders have asked whether he was bad for team chemistry.
In my experience with him and observing the reactions of those around him, Moss was a positive force, completely lacking any sense of entitlement. He brought a big smile and a strong work ethic on a day-in, day-out basis.
The troubles with Moss tend to show up when the losing kicks in. Naturally, the NFL has a lot at stake in wins and loses. Randy seems to have a hard time finding a productive outlet to vent his frustrations when a team begins to struggle.
This feeling compounds when you throw in the team's failure to utilize his talents in a way which could help the team swing the negative momentum. To keep things in perspective, Moss' frustrations were never aimed at his teammates or coaches—he is not a guy who points fingers at others.
But, what can and has happened is an eventual loss of excitement for the new organization. This affects the way Randy plays, which then bleeds into his attitude towards the media and ultimately adds to the overall frustrations and an inability to improve either his situation, or his teammates'.
I can remember how amazing I thought it was to be on the same team as Randy Moss and get to see him up close and personal. After all, I had grown up watching him play, and he was always one of my favorite guys to watch on Sundays.
Randy came into the Raiders organization gleaming with optimism and hope, seemingly eager to get a fresh start. He appeared to relish the idea of playing for the "bad boys" of the NFL, a team renowned for its disregard for off-field character issues and rumored to hold the highest ratio of players per team who were in "the program" (the NFL's equivalent to being on probation).
Anywhere you looked, you could find Moss chatting it up with staff members, coaches, players and anyone he encountered. He was excited to get to know his new team and organization. He always had a laid-back, carefree attitude about him, which, regardless of his genuine friendliness, could have been interpreted as a smug cockiness.
However, Moss was just being Moss, laying his personality out for all to see, with vigor and reckless abandon. In my opinion, he was very easy to like, which seemed to be the consensus of those who got to know him.
One of the fun things Moss added to the team was a weekly tradition on every away game. During the plane flights, Moss would take it upon himself to walk around the entire plane with a giant plastic bag and a permanent marker collecting twenty dollar bills with the name of original owner written on it.
He would put all the money together in the bag after collecting from everyone willing to play (which tended to be most of the plane) and give the bag to a flight attendant (who had no stake in the raffle) and have her reach in and pull out a single bill. The name on the bill would determine the winner of the entire bag of money, which often totaled around a few thousand dollars.
It was a pretty nice payoff for that lucky winner and, perhaps more importantly, a fun activity inadvertently taking the edge off of the serious business that lied ahead.
Moss is a wonderfully upbeat and positive teammate who never brings a big ego into the locker room and tends to be a relatively low-maintenance superstar.
A weakness of his, in regard to publicity and team relations, is that he's not the leader that will lift a struggling team out of the doldrums. The best way to sum it up is: His tendencies seem likely to make a bad situation worse and a good situation better.
A Few Encounters with Moss
On the first day of training camp, Randy pulled into the Napa Valley hotel parking lot in a bright purple Chevrolet Avalanche complete with 24-inch sparkling chrome rims. He was surrounded by media and fans clamoring to get a glimpse and maybe an autograph.
A few weeks in, we finally began work preparing for our first preseason game against my favorite team growing up, the San Francisco 49ers. This meant I was put on scout-team defense for a particular drill, going up against the first-team offense.
On one play in particular, Moss ran a slant route directly into my drop zone. Kerry Collins saw him and threw him a high pass, causing him to leap in the air to make the catch.
When I saw the ball released, I quickly planted my feet into the ground and took off for Moss in an attempt to knock the ball out of his hands and prevent the catch. Moss had snagged the overthrown ball at its highest point, and I was headed right for him.
I soon realized the urgency to slow myself down to avoid running into him. My only solution was to lower my field of gravity and hit the brakes.
Unfortunately, I was unable to stop completely, making contact with Moss in his lower back. The contact was minimal, but he was still airborne, causing him to contort in midair and land awkwardly, buckling his knees and arching his back before falling on top of me.
The entire practice field went silent for a few counts. Then, after Moss got to his feet seemingly unhurt, came the unmistakable shouting and yelling of the coaches and some veteran players. They were telling me to get off the field.
Randy, on the other hand, seemed unfazed and indifferent towards my "reckless abandon." He said nothing to me about the hit; instead, he simply got up and walked back to the huddle ready for more.
I, on the other hand, was a bit shell-shocked by the reactions of the coaches and some players, as I was kicked out of the drill for the moment, left to think about what I had done like a scorned child. This was my first encounter with Randy Moss as a colleague and teammate.
Oh, I should mention that he held onto the ball to compete the catch.
I remember several instances during the minimal downtime before the start of practice where young guys like Stanford Routt and Fabian Washington (two speed burners in their own right), among others, would challenge Moss to a race in what appeared to be a constant attempt to dethrone him as one of the fastest guys to ever play the game.
Apparently, Moss seemed accustomed to these challenges and had developed a strategy designed to detract such solicitations. He'd respond by saying he would only race if they were willing to put a game check on the line. I doubt he was serious about this wager, but it served its purpose of warding off the constant challenges because I never saw anyone actually race him.
During a full-padded practice early in the season, Moss seemed to be feeling good about himself as the offense worked on its plays for the upcoming game against the scout-team defense, which, being a backup, I was naturally a part of. Moss was running several plays that drill-lined up in the slot position, which forced me, as the outside linebacker in a zone-coverage defense, to move out and jam him on the line.
Moss seemed to be looking for an added challenge, considering whom he saw lined up in front of him—an unknown backup rookie linebacker that he could probably outrun backwards. So, he decided to make a deal with me that if I could get my hands on him at the line, he would give me $10,000.
I laughed and brushed off any possibility of a payout, but stood tall to the challenge, reluctantly assuring him I would indeed get my hands on him. He laughed in disbelief as the cadence began. I was thrilled to be in the middle of a head-to-head competition with a hypothetical $10k on the line and, at the very least, bragging rights.
When the ball was snapped, Randy was quick as he stutter-stepped to each side, taking a huge sidestep as closed in to jam him. I knew he had something planned, so I held back any aggressive attack. I waited for him to declare a side and angle of advancement.
I then jumped in front of him, getting a nice two-hand shiver directly into his chest, knocking him off his route and throwing the timing off of the play. Moss jogged back to the line of scrimmage with a big smile, surprised that I was able to get any kind of jam on him. So I said, "Now you owe me 10k, homie!"
He smiled as he ran past me, mumbling some vague form of an excuse that cleared him of any obligation to pay up in his mind. When he lined back up in the slot on the next play, he was ready to prove that last time was a fluke.
Unfortunately for him, I was able to get my hands on him yet again, jamming him at the line. This time, Moss was done challenging my ability. After that encounter, I could see in his eyes that I had earned just a little bit of respect as a football player. It may have been minor in the grand scheme of things, but to a long-time Randy Moss fan, it meant a lot.
You would be hard-pressed to find a former or current teammate of Moss that would say anything negative about him in terms of character or being a good teammate. His talent is legendary and serves as a measuring stick by which all other receivers are compared. His hands are big, strong and as reliable as they come. He's a better receiver using only one hand than most are with two.
I wish Moss nothing but success and expect him to contribute effectively in San Fran without the notorious, yet overblown distractions that come with him. From what I've come to know, he should be an invaluable teacher to the younger guys by helping them accelerate the developmental process. Moss has an exceptional football IQ combined with years of experience.
The nuances of the game he's likely to pass on will benefit the 49ers far beyond any statistical contributions in this year of redemption. Perhaps this is his final shot to rectify the one lingering goal yet to be accomplished, the Super Bowl.
Once attained, I'm sure he'd be more than willing to retire and spend the rest of his years fishing for catfish and spending time with his family.
Oh, and by the way, he still owes me $10k.