It's one thing when a goody-goody like Rams quarterback Kurt Warner takes a shot at you in his autobiography, but when one of your fellow NFL bad boys chimes in, you've reached another level entirely. "Some things should be kept to themselves, and a comment like that will isolate you from your teammates," says San Francisco 49ers wideout Terrell Owens, who like Moss often obscures his supreme talent with vexing behavior. Then, borrowing from the folk proverb, Owens adds, "It's better to be thought of as a fool than to speak and remove all doubt."
Then there is Kyle Turley, the New Orleans Saints' All-Pro tackle, who last November all but cemented his team's loss to the New York Jets by ripping the helmet off safety Damien Robinson's head and hurling it across the field. "As a player, I like Randy Moss—he's got incredible talent, and I think he's nasty," Turley says. "But if he was on my team and he pulled the s—- he pulls, I'd walk up to him on the sideline and punch him right in the f——— face."
Green's late-season departure was spurred not only by the team's worst record (5-11) in 17 years but also by the coach's inability to keep his star in check. There was even talk within the organization of exposing Moss to the Houston Texans in the expansion draft. Instead, out went Carter, the future Hall of Famer whose relationship with Moss had eroded. In came Tice, who as offensive line coach had forged a healthy connection with Moss from the receiver's rookie season.
Selected with the 21st pick of the 1998 draft after off-field transgressions had scared away teams that might have taken him in the top 10, Moss reported to training camp that year feeling stressed and insecure. "I ran out for my first practice," he recalls, "and Tice called me over to give him five. He told me, 'Just keep doing things right, and you're going to be a player.' I appreciated that."
The perception was that Tice, after one game as interim coach, was given a three-year deal last January because he convinced McCombs he could control Moss. "No," says Moss. " Mike Tice got the job because he and Randy Moss can get along. Nobody controls me but my mama and God."
One thing Tice can control is how often Moss gets the ball, which seems to be the biggest factor in how the wideout determines whether he wants to play on a given day. Consequently the Vikings have been rebuilt around Moss. During interviews to fill the offensive coordinator's job, Tice asked candidates to demonstrate how they would design a game plan to utilize Moss. The man Tice hired, Scott Linehan, devised a two-tight-end scheme in which Moss will play all three receiver positions (flanker, split end and slot) and be put in motion frequently.
Though he had a career-best 82 catches last season, Moss had his least impressive campaign in terms of yards (1,233) and touchdowns (10). He failed to make the Pro Bowl for the first time, but that may have been part of the backlash against his seven words. Now Tice is so excited about Moss's possibilities that he speaks openly of an assault on three NFL single-season receiving records: Herman Moore's 123 catches and Jerry Rice's 1,848 yards and 22 touchdowns.
To Tice, the most important number is the percentage of Minnesota passes thrown in Moss's direction. Last year, Tice says, the Vikings were 4-1 in games in which that figure was at least 40% and 1-10 when it wasn't. Moss swears he's not as obsessed with getting the ball as the rest of us think. "I just want to win," he insists. "But if it's early in the game and the team's not doing well, I get frustrated when I don't get the ball, because I think I can spark the team and get the crowd into it."
There are other misconceptions that Moss says he would like to clear up—well, at least attempt to clear up. "I don't think people get the meaning of 'I play when I want to play,' " he says. "You think a guy like Randy Moss is going to blow off a game, as much as I love football? Really, I'm just being smart. I'm not going to go full speed every time when I don't need to. I'm trying to set DBs up and to save myself for the 'six.' "
Does this mean he regrets having made the statement? "Hell, no," he says, "because I still play when I want to play. I do what I want, homey."