Once upon a time, the Minnesota Vikings drafted a talented receiver named Randy Moss. The team hoped they’d live happily ever after while the rest of the league cried and wasted money trying to fix the secondaries that the dangerous wideout torched each week.
Well, most of that happened, and things went more or less as Vikings running back Robert Smith predicted in the spring of 1998.
Robert Smith knew the Vikings were destined for special things when the team drafted Randy Moss
This isn’t so much a bar night fun fact, but it’s still interesting that none of the three receivers usually considered the best in NFL history — Moss, Jerry Rice, and Terrell Owens — played at big-time, Power 5 schools.
Of those three, only Moss, who spent the mid-1990s at Marshall University, even played at an FBS/Division I-A program. The caveat there is he initially signed with Notre Dame and only transferred to Marshall after things went wrong at Florida State, but he never played a game for the Seminoles, so our point still remains.
In two seasons at Marshall, Moss hauled in 174 catches for 3,529 yards and 54 touchdowns. Despite playing at a mid-major school, he won the Fred Biletnikoff Award, an honor given to the nation’s best receiver, after a 26-touchdown season in 1997.
Pro Football Focus looked back at Moss’ rookie season in June 2020 and interviewed several ex-teammates, including Smith, a veteran running back who later made two Pro Bowls. The Ohio State product reflected on his initial thoughts upon learning the Vikings selected Moss 21st overall that year.
“I just remember seeing the highlights of Randy score just all over the place, all these long touchdowns, and everything. And unless it was Ohio State, I really didn’t pay much attention to college football, but Randy stood out. … And I remember literally thinking, this isn’t going to be fair.”Robert Smith
At the time, Smith realized the Vikings intended to partner Moss with future Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter and Jake Reed, an underrated wideout who had over 1,100 receiving yards every year from 1994-97.
“I couldn’t wait to see it,” Smith said.
Moss lived up to Smith and the Vikings’ early expectations
We’re not sure if Smith considered playing the lottery during the 1998 season. However, considering his early expectations for Moss, we had a feeling the veteran running back would have won some money in the process.
As a rookie, the 6-foot-4 wideout recorded 69 catches for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns in 16 games and 11 starts. He famously recorded three of those touchdowns in a 163-yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.
The Offensive Rookie of the Year that season, Moss added 10 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games. Despite going 15-1 in the regular season, the Vikings famously lost in that year’s NFC Championship Game.
From there, Moss was off and ready to become one of the greatest receivers in league history. Only one thing is missing on his Hall of Fame resume, however.
The Vikings’ failure to win a title in the Moss era looks uglier as time goes on
Minnesota sports fans have been through enough over the last few decades that, on the one hand, we don’t want to pick on them too badly. However, the Vikings’ failure to even reach a Super Bowl in Moss’ seven seasons looks worse as time goes on.
In the team’s best years, the Vikings had arguably the NFL’s top receiver and a Pro Bowl dual-threat quarterback in Daunte Culpepper. Yet, that duo wasn’t enough to propel one of the NFC’s most talented teams in a Super Bowl.
As harsh as it sounds, the Vikings wasted the primes of Moss and Adrian Peterson, who also never reached a Super Bowl in his decade with the team. At least fans got to see both carve through defenses in the Purple and Gold, but the lack of a championship should still hurt.