|The No. 84 Vikings jersey of Randy Moss is back in style, and many Minnesotans didn’t have to pay to purchase a new one. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)|
Moss gathers himself
MINNEAPOLIS — A young boy, no more than 5, standing outside Gate 34 at Target Field for Game 1 of the Twins’ American League Division Series against the Yankees, looked up to his father and asked, “How come these people are wearing the same shirt you have on? How come I don’t have that?’’
Dad was wearing a purple No. 84 Randy Moss jersey, which in a matter of a few hours last week, after the controversial receiver was dealt from the Patriots to the Vikings, had become all the rage again. A lot of people never threw the jerseys away.
There obviously was no official count, but among the 42,000-plus who walked into Target Field, the number of fans wearing a Moss jersey at a baseball game was staggering. In one group of 10 people near a ticket window, six were wearing Moss’s old No. 84.
The dad turned to his son and said, “I’ll get you one soon.’’
One could sense a giddy sports overload in this area last week, with the Twins in the playoffs (although they were eliminated Saturday night) and the Vikings acquiring Moss in a deal few saw coming.
For Vikings fans, who had been so concerned about the passing game and quarterback Brett Favre’s slow start because of an inflamed elbow, this was the wildest scenario that could have happened — Moss returning to the Vikings for tonight’s “Monday Night Football’’ game against the host Jets.
Returning to the team he spent seven years with, Moss already could feel it.
“Man, the people that I meet outside the state of Minnesota, all they know is me being in the purple 84. I still have love,’’ said Moss at the Vikings’ practice facility in Eden Prairie. “I still own my purple truck with the 84 inside. So I still have a lot of love for the Minnesota Vikings. Luckily, I did get traded here. For what reasons, I still do not know to this day. But I am back. So I don’t want people to think that this thing is going to go sour.’’
Of course not. Why would anyone think that? Uh, because it has several times before?
“Just being out there today, I was kind of excited having Brett Favre throw me the ball,’’ Moss said. “He’s legendary, what else can I say? Being able to come from a place such as New England, having a great Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady, a Hall of Fame coach in Bill Belichick, and then being able to come to a Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett, what else can you ask for?
“So I just want to take it in stride and hopefully this thing works out. I think a lot of people are looking for that big thing at the end of the road, but I’m here to say we’re going to take it one game at a time and see what happens.’’
Moss spoke glowingly of Brady despite a report yesterday by CBS’s Charley Casserly that Brady and Moss had an altercation shortly before Moss was dealt.
Casserly, the former general manager of the Redskins, told Greg Gumbel, “The week before Moss was traded, Tom Brady and Randy Moss went toe-to-toe and had to be separated. One of Brady’s problems with Moss was his behavior as a Patriot. One of the things overheard was Brady telling Moss, ‘You’ve got to cut your beard.’ And Moss counters, ‘You’ve got to get your hair cut. You look like a girl.’ ’’
There has been no shortage of awe in the faces and voices of Moss’s new teammates, or offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, or Favre, though head coach Brad Childress has remained more stoic. Some of the players had their own Moss jerseys growing up, trying to emulate his football skills.
The teammates from his first tenure from 1998-2004 are gone. The new ones know what he can do on the field but may have no idea what Moss can become when he’s not happy with his contract or when the ball stops coming his way.
Minnesota’s talented running back, Adrian Peterson, who idolized Moss as a kid, believes Moss will open things up for the running game, an interesting take considering that didn’t necessarily happen in New England and that the Vikings already had a highly-ranked rushing offense.
“That was my initial thought when I heard the news,’’ Peterson said. “It’s going to make the offense more dynamic, definitely give us that deep threat and open up the run game. It definitely loosens things up.
“When you got a player like Randy Moss, it loosens it up even more. When I heard the news I was excited and overwhelmed. I’m just looking forward to taking that first snap with him.’’
The offensive players and Bevell believe Moss’s presence creates a “pick your poison’’ situation for opposing defenses. Load up in the box and they could burn you with big plays. Play back, and Peterson, with his 5.6-yards-per-carry average, could cut you up.
As receiver Sidney Rice pulled up to the facility Friday in his red Maserati and got out of the vehicle, on crutches after hip surgery, it was obvious where Moss’s presence will have the biggest impact. Rice had been the downfield target, and in his absence, Favre has been limited in that area. The quarterback mentioned how Moss’s presence may create opportunities in the middle of the field, citing the success of the Patriots’ Wes Welker when Moss was lined up with him.
“You have to respect the pass now with him as a receiver,’’ left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. “It will give us a better opportunity to run the ball. I think people were losing respect for the pass game, but now they have to readjust things.’’
That’s precisely what Bevell spent last week doing in an effort to revamp the passing game, which was 25th in the league. Both Moss and Favre would be dumbfounded if Moss went games without catching a pass, or with minimal impact, like he did at times in New England. Favre, who has coveted Moss since he tried to get the Packers to acquire him after the 2005 season, seems intent on getting the ball to Moss, even if he has to force it.
As Favre pointed out, “Who cares if he draws double coverage?’’ Forcing it could be a problem tonight, with arguably the best corner in the NFL, Darrelle Revis, likely to draw Moss, as he did against the Patriots in Week 2. But this is Favre, and he thinks he can throw his fastball into the smallest areas and he believes he can throw it up and Moss and his 6-foot-4-inch frame will go get it. Now, more than ever, you might see Favre the gunslinger return, if his elbow can withstand the pain.
The Vikings are getting Moss at a good time, because he has always performed when he gets to a new team. The Jets also have been talking trash, and Revis accused Moss of “putting on the brakes’’ during the second half of the Week 2 game. The Vikings will try to get Moss in position to make plays, even though he really doesn’t totally know the playbook yet.
Moss did only one media session upon his arrival, but he spoke to Vikings play-by-play man Paul Allen in a program that aired Saturday morning. He talked about his rivalry with Revis, who was burned for a 34-yard one-handed touchdown grab by Moss in Week 2, a play on which Revis aggravated his sore hamstring.
“Between me and him is a mutual thing and I think it’s just more of us competing,’’ Moss said. “I think he gets caught up a little bit with how he talks. I’ve never said anything about him, good or bad. I still give him his respect. But he hasn’t given me mine yet. Sooner or later I’ll get it.’’
The words he once uttered — “I play when I want to play’’ — always will haunt him and will be thrown back at him, like in Oakland, where the Raiders felt he quit on them, deciding he wasn’t going to practice hard or perform in games unless the ball was thrown his way.
For all of that, fans still love Moss.
They remember the great player who made the highlight catches, the receiver who is second all-time in touchdown catches. Sometimes they forget about the inappropriate actions, such as the time he pretended to moon the crowd against Green Bay in January of 2005, just the tip of the iceberg on a list of transgressions.
As for one of the hot-button issues to Moss, his contract, the Vikings won’t visit the subject until after the season.
Until then, they probably will get the best of him — until it’s time to get the worst of him.