Randy Moss is cheating the Vikings with his lack of full-time commitment
"Purple Pride's here!" Randy Moss yelled on Sunday morning, his voice ringing through the Vikings locker room. "How ya doin', Purple Pride?"
Purple Pride is Moss's moniker for the man who signs his inordinately large checks, team owner Red McCombs. "Randy, I hope you don't think about holding another press conference without inviting me," said McCombs, who couldn't have been happy about Moss's recent declarations that he doesn't always play hard.
This was McCombs's chance to speak for Vikings fans, some of whom booed Moss loudly the first few times his name was mentioned over the public address system on Sunday. This was McCombs's chance to pull Moss aside and ask, Why are you embarrassing the organization that last summer made you the highest-paid receiver in NFL history? McCombs, however, said nothing, which is only slightly less than coach Dennis Green had said to Moss three days earlier about his outrageous statements.
The saga began in late November, when Moss told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "I play when I want to play. Do I play up to my top performance, my ability, every time? Maybe not.... Case closed." Talking by conference call to a group of Tennessee writers last week, he reiterated those sentiments, saying, "There is nobody on the face of this earth to make me go out there and play football. When I want to play at my highest level, I'll do that."
In a 42-24 win over the Titans on Sunday, Moss was true to his word. He played 54 of Minnesota's 56 snaps. By SI's count he ran hard on 33 of them. On the other 21, mostly running plays, Moss either jogged or walked off the line at the snap. It's true that a receiver, especially when split wide, isn't involved in many rushing plays, but he should be involved in some.
Twice on Sunday, with running back Michael Bennett steaming around his end, Moss nimbly moved out of the way rather than block a cornerback who ended up getting in on the tackle. For Moss, playing hard on 61% of the snaps still produced the kinds of numbers (seven catches, 158 yards, one touchdown) that make him the most feared receiver in me league. On Sunday he became the first receiver to begin his NFL career with four 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and for the year he's in the top 12 in catches (68) and yards (1,036).
Green did mildly rebuke Moss for his remarks. "He knows he shouldn't have said it, and I told him what I thought," Green told SI. What he should have said is, "You're suspended. I will not have a player make a mockery of the game." By not standing up to Moss, the Vikings proved they're willing to look the other way as long as he puts up big numbers.
Problem is, until four weeks ago the numbers weren't so big. In his first eight games Moss averaged 67.3 receiving yards, a respectable number but not the kind expected of a player who in his first three seasons averaged 86.7 yards a game. Then in a Monday-night game against the Giants, he caught 10 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns, only to revert to his lackadaisical ways in a 13-6 loss to the Bears the next week (four catches, 25 yards). Trying to stave off Moss's indifference, Minnesota has been attempting to get him the ball early and often. "If he doesn't get the ball early, it seems as if he just goes through the motions," offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis said the night before the Vikings' Dec. 2 loss in Pittsburgh.
McCombs, the man who in July handed Moss an $18 million signing bonus as part of an eight-year, $75 million contract extension, called Moss's initial comments "regrettable, but knowing Randy, I don't think they represent him as a person." When asked if he had second thoughts about having given Moss the record contract (he had a year left on his initial deal), McCombs said, "No regrets. That contract gets too much attention. We'd been talking about a six-year deal, and when we pushed the signing bonus up to $18 million, we got two more years. So there was a quid pro quo. Am I glad Randy's a Viking? The answer is an unequivocal yes."