While no one excuses Moss's conduct, the mitigating circumstances of his two arrests for fighting have made them easier for some people in Huntington to forgive. Who, the thinking goes, can judge from afar the racial attitudes of adolescents or the contentious breakup of a couple? Even Frank Offutt, Libby's father, considers her dustup with Moss overblown. "He didn't smack her or hit her with his fist," Offutt says. "He pushed her. He's 20 years old. When I was 20 years old, I made mistakes."
Offutt believes people have too simplistic an impression of Moss. "To me he's kind of an enigma," Offutt says. "I've seen sides of him that are really great. When his high school won the state championship, everybody else was running around with each other, and he went and got a small child out of the stands. That really impressed me. I've seen him effervescent, open, big smile—he's like Michael Jordan. Then another side comes out that's less than friendly."
Offutt says that when his daughter first told him, during high school, that she was going to begin seeing black guys, he was opposed. "I did not believe blacks and whites should date," he says. "The first one to come was Randy." But he liked Moss. "I still like him," Offutt says. "But I have concerns about him, about how quickly he's learning. I think some of it is, 'I'm a superstar, I can do whatever I want.' I pray every day that he doesn't blow it."
Moss swears he has learned more than enough, and when he says he'll stay away from Sydney for the next few months to avoid trouble with Libby and then sighs and says, "I've experienced things that a 90-year-old man hasn't experienced," he seems aged, tired. He is that increasingly common and disturbing phenomenon: a young man lacking youth, a college football star stripped of ideals. He pays little lip service to education, totes no hokey ideals about winning one for his school. He is sure that big-time sports is a using game.
Yes, that was embarrassing, seeing himself on TV in the summer of '96, clad in a jailbird orange jumpsuit, needing a haircut and a shave, his wrists and ankles chained together for his arraignment on the marijuana charge. But Moss took it, marked it down as his price to pay for being a star. And he took his week of solitary confinement, 23½ hours a day spent staring at stone, waking to the screams of other prisoners, standing numbly while guards ransacked his cell in search of drugs or weapons. Even the prison field trip by a school group didn't bother him, kids whispering his name as they passed by. He marked it down: his price.
"One more screwup, and I've got nothing else to look for in life," Moss says. "So if staying at home, watching TV and playing at my Playstation are going to keep me out of trouble, even if I'm bored, I can do it for a couple months. It's all about that money, man. That money is clanging. If you get the opportunity, you got to go get it."
The crash blasted the heart out of the Marshall football program. Everything—uniforms, players, coaches, the athletic director—was gone. There were calls for the program simply to shut down. At times it seemed that it had. For the next 13 years the team limped through autumn winning no more than four games a season. The only thing that resonated deeply was that plane, dropped like a stone in a pond, sending concentric ripples that flowed over families and friends year after year.
"It's weird," says Keith Morehouse, whose father, Gene, Marshall's play-by-play announcer, died in the crash. "When I had the opportunity to become the TV voice of the Herd, after Dad was the radio voice for years, it struck a chord in my family and me. Maybe there was a calling deep inside saying, 'Finish the job.' "
Beginning in the early '80s a succession of high-profile coaches—Sonny Randle, Stan Parrish, George Chaump, Jim Donnan—jump-started the Marshall program, and the school's appearance in the Division I-AA title game in 1987 (the Thundering Herd lost to Northeast Louisiana 43-2) made the new 30,000-seat stadium a necessity. The facility opened in 1991. By then Morehouse had married Debbie Hagley, who lost her father and mother in the crash. At the new field Marshall has lost only four games. After the Herd won its first national championship in 1992, beating Youngstown State 31-28 in the title game, Morehouse walked into his house, and he and his wife hugged tightly. "You don't talk about it, you don't dwell on it," Morehouse says, "but those people who had connections to the crash—they're the ones this is all about. They're the ones who have gotten the most out of the school's success."
Marshall's 15-0 rampage through Division I-AA last year served as a crowning touch and made this year's upgrade to I-A inarguable. "It's time for us to move," says Pruett, and the sweet fact that the Herd moves back into the MAC, which booted it 28 years ago, is lost on no one.