Strange. Moss should be the hood ornament on this comeback machine, the beloved local boy making national noise. And make no mistake: To kids in Huntington, Moss is huge. But among the establishment, those of the orphan generation, few bother applying a protective gloss to Moss. No one professes concern about his turning pro. "People are very wary, wondering if he'll stay on the straight and narrow," Morehouse says.
Moss can feel it. He has taken private polls, asked unsuspecting cab drivers what they thought of this Randy Moss, and as often as not they have trashed him. This too has happened often, Moss says: Someone has walked up to him and said, "I just don't like you."
Moss is not bigger than Marshall. On the contrary. The essence of the place overwhelms his talent, his trouble, his past and future; it makes even the Heisman Trophy seem minor. There was a disaster here, and on the hill overlooking the town, the stone flame burns. It is April, but the newspaper from last Dec. 22 is still there, stuffed under the plastic ring of green-and-white ivy at the base of the memorial. THE PERFECT ENDING, it reads. MARSHALL WINS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, FINISHES 15-0 IN FINAL I-AA SEASON. The pages are beginning to crumble under the assault of snow and time and everything that comes out of the sky.
Randy Moss has learned this much: The past does not stop. Year after year, it comes back to haunt, demand explanations, complicate things. It can shackle a man as much as it can a place, never allowing either to completely move on. Moss never figured that as part of his price.
His daughter is three years old. He once hoped that Sydney, being so young, would not be aware of his transgressions. But she is. She recognizes his name when she hears it on TV. She asks him to explain. "When she heard, 'Randy Moss is back in jail tonight,' she knew," Moss says. It is something for which he is truly sorry. There is nothing he can do about it.
"Whenever we go past the courthouse where I was, she says, 'That's where my daddy was in jail,' " Moss says. "She knows I was in shackles and cuffs—and her mom was crying—and she couldn't touch me or hug me. She knows."