Randy Moss was such a force he got us to pay attention to a small college in West Virginia. He was dominant from the second he stepped onto an NFL field. While there is no good argument against Jerry Rice as the best receiver of all-time, when you are talking about who is second on that list, Moss is right there in the running. Let’s take a look back at the career of Moss, from those troubled early college days up through him becoming a TV personality and everything in between.
Despite playing his high school ball in West Virginia, Moss was a nationally-known prospect. All the big schools wanted him, and Moss decided to go to Notre Dame, which was his dream. Lou Holtz called Moss the best high school player he had ever seen. However, while still in high school Moss was involved in a fight with a fellow student, purportedly over racist language being used. Moss pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. He was also expelled from high school and had his offer from Notre Dame rescinded.
With the Irish off the table, Moss decided to go to Florida State, which wasn’t scared off by his legal issues. Moss was required to redshirt during his freshman year, but he would never suit up for the Seminoles. A positive marijuana test got Moss 60 more days in jail, but also got him booted from Florida State as well.
Wanting to play right away, Moss decided to return to his home state to play for the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall was still a Division I-AA (now FCS) school, which meant Moss would be able to play immediately in the 1996 season without having to sit out another year.
Moss immediately showed why schools like Notre Dame and Florida State wanted him. As a redshirt freshman, Moss set I-AA records left and right. He finished with a freshman record of 1,709 yards on 78 catches, a record that still stands. Randy also had 28 touchdown receptions, which tied Jerry Rice’s record. Marshall went undefeated and won the I-AA title. Naturally, Moss had four touchdowns in the championship game.
The 1996 season would be Marshall’s final year at the I-AA level. In 1997, they moved up to Division I-A (now the FBS) and joined the MAC. The move did not deter Moss or the Thundering Herd. Marshall won the MAC title in its first year in the division, and Moss was an All-American thanks to 96 catches for 1,820 yards and 26 touchdowns in 13 games. Despite playing for a small school new to I-A football, Moss was a Heisman finalist alongside Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf, and winner Charles Woodson.
After only two seasons of college ball, Moss declared for the NFL Draft. He was clearly the most-talented receiver available, but there were concerns about his past. Not many NFL prospects have jail time and two program dismissals to their name, after all. These questions caused Moss’ stock to drop until the Minnesota Vikings took a chance and selected Randy with the 21st pick. They would be happy about that.
Playing alongside Cris Carter, and with Randall Cunningham under center, the Minnesota Vikings went 15-1 in 1998 and set a record for the most points scored in a season. Moss was a big reason for that. He had 69 catches for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns, with that last number being a rookie record. Unsurprisingly, Moss was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year and made a Pro Bowl.
The next couple of seasons were more of the same from Moss, even when the team moved from Randall Cunningham to Daunte Culpepper under center. Moss went over 1,400 yards in 1999 and 2000 with double-digit touchdowns both times. He was a Pro Bowler both of those years and was the Pro Bowl MVP in 1999 thanks to nine catches for a record 212 yards.
In 2002, Dennis Green was replaced by Mike Tice as head coach. Tice decided the number-one thing he needed to do was get Moss the ball. It became known as the “Randy Ratio,” and it involved Tice trying to get at least 40 percent of Minnesota’s passes going in Moss’ direction. Meanwhile, defenses responded with what became known as the “Randy Rules,” which involved jamming Moss at the line of scrimmage and doubling him with a safety on basically every route. While Moss finished with 106 catches, he only had seven touchdowns, and the “Randy Ratio” was abandoned halfway through the 2002 season, when the Vikings went 6-10.
The 2003 season in Minnesota went quite well for Moss (career-high 111 receptions) but in 2004 he set then-personal lows and failed to hit 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Also, he pretended to moon the Packers’ fans and Joe Buck freaked out. After that down 2004 campaign, Moss was traded to the Oakland Raiders for linebacker Napoleon Harris and the seventh-overall pick in 2005, which they spent on…receiver Troy Williamson.
Moss’ first season in silver-and-black went reasonably well, as he had 60 catches for 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns. However, in his second season, he had a mere 42 catches for 553 yards and only three touchdowns. Moss was unhappy during that second year. We know this because he kept saying he was unhappy and that he wanted to move on from the team.
Fed up with Moss, and watching his numbers drop, the Raiders were willing to trade the already-legendary receiver away. Oakland agreed to deal Moss to New England for a mere fourth-round pick. Hey, he was coming off a year with only 553 yards. Maybe he was washed up, right?
Not so much. Moving to New England and playing with Tom Brady gave Moss the motivation he was looking for. You remember the 2007 season. The Patriots set a record for the most points ever in a season, breaking the record set by Moss’s 1998 team the Vikings. New England also went 16-0 during the record season and came within one victory of an undefeated season. The Pats fell short, but Moss had 23 touchdown receptions that year, an NFL record that still stands.
Moss would spend two more seasons with the Patriots, both of which went well. In fact, he had 69 catches for 1,008 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2008 even though an injury to Brady left Matt Cassel as the quarterback. In 2009 Brady came back, and Moss’s numbers were even better.
Staying content was never Moss’ thing. Despite the success in New England, Moss said that he felt unwanted heading into the 2010 season. After four games and nine catches, the Patriots traded Randy back to the Vikings for a third-round pick. The reunion didn’t go as either side hoped. After a few weeks back in Minnesota, Moss was criticizing his teammates and telling the Vikings’ owner that head coach Brad Childress should be fired. For his malcontented behavior, Moss was waived after four games.
Randy had been on two teams already, but there was still plenty of time left in the 2010 season. Moss was claimed off waivers by the Tennessee Titans, the only team to submit a claim for him. He played eight games for the Titans, but only had six catches for 80 yards. Tennessee passed on signing Moss after finishing the season.
Lacking any interest heading into the 2011 season, Moss decided to retire. However, the itch to play would be too strong. Randy announced he played to return for the 2012 season, and he managed to get the 49ers to agree to sign him to a one-year contract.
Moss was not a key figure on the 2012 49ers squad. He was only in the starting lineup for two games and mostly served as a depth receiver. In the end, Randy had 28 catches for 434 yards and three touchdowns. When the 2012 campaign ended, Moss retired, and this time it stuck.
Moss had interests outside of football. In high school, he was a stellar basketball player and track athlete. However, he also had an interest in auto racing. In 2008, Moss launched Randy Moss Motorsports and bought a 50 percent share of the Morgan-Dollar Motorsports team on NASCAR’s truck racing circuit. However, the team would be shut down in 2012.
Moss was never shy about talking when he played, so the move to being a talking head made sense. He got his first taste of it soon after leaving the Niners, joining Fox Sports 1’s “Fox Football Daily” show. However, it’s in 2016 when he would begin his ascent after joining ESPN. Moss is now a member of the “Sunday NFL Countdown” team, ESPN’s premier NFL show.
In 2018, the inevitable happened when Moss was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The next year, Moss would get another career-capping acknowledgment. In 2019, Randy was named as a member of the NFL’s All-Time Team for its 100th anniversary.
Few players mixed speed and size quite like Moss. He had maybe the best rookie season of any receiver, and also perhaps the top season ever when he had 23 receiving touchdowns for the 2007 New England Patriots. Moss made six Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams, and he’s in the top 10 in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. In fact, as of right now he is second to only Rice in touchdowns. Sure, he was outspoken, and he wore out his welcome time and time again. In the end, the talent usually won out. Moss is in the running for being the second-best receiver of all-time (even though he said that he’s better than Rice).