It's a rainy day at Bethpage Black on Long Island, and Tiger Woods is about to make the turn in the second round of the U.S. Open when my cellphone rings. "Yo, it's Randy," Moss says in his familiar twang. "You know that interview we did?"
"I want to do it over."
I'm unsure whether to laugh or cry. During our half-hour conversation at camp I'd scribbled madly the whole time and gotten a wealth of information. A do-over might do me in. "Was there anything specific you said that you're worried about?" I ask.
"Nah, I don't even remember what the hell I said. Let's do it again over the phone."
At times like this Moss projects a naivet� that is startling yet endearing. Sure, the guy goes clubbing with Culpepper, his closest friend on the team since the sudden death last summer of tackle Korey Stringer. But Moss, who grew up in Rand, W.Va., sounds convincing when he says, "I'm a country boy who hasn't really been exposed to city living, and it throws me." Later, when asked if he was prepared for the intrasquad dynamics he encountered upon joining Minnesota, Moss replies, "Hell, no. It's frustrating how political this damn game is."
A separate article could be devoted to analyzing the wrangling within the Vikings' castle last season. For the purposes of this story, realize that few NFL players of this era have been as politically savvy as the 36-year-old Carter, who retired this spring after shopping around the league for a free-agent contract. After Moss emerged in 1998 with one of the NFL's most dominant rookie seasons ever, Carter actively cultivated an image as Moss's mentor and served as his de facto press liaison. "I don't think Randy liked that," says Oakland Raiders wideout Matthew Hatchette, who was Moss's road roommate with Minnesota in '98. It's true that Moss benefited tangibly from Carter's tutelage—they became off-season workout partners, for example—but, says Tice, "I don't know that Cris necessarily helped him with his media presence. You don't say under your breath, 'Don't mess with those people,' if you really want to help."
After the team's meltdown in the 2000 NFC title game, the bond between Moss and Carter frayed. Sideline tirades by the two became commonplace last year, and as the season dragged on Carter tried to instill the discipline he felt had lapsed under Green. (Green did not respond to SI's interview requests.) Several Vikings, however, say they're glad to see Carter gone. Some claim Carter sulked when the ball wasn't thrown his way, even after Minnesota had driven for a touchdown.
"I know most people think we're upset that Cris is gone and that Randy is a pain in the ass," says one Viking. "But the guys are quite happy Randy's the one who's here. I can't find one guy in this locker room to take up for Cris."
Other than acknowledging Carter's willingness to portray himself as a mentor—"If he wants to claim the fame," Moss says, "I'll let him claim it"—Moss makes a point of not discussing his former teammate by name. Yet it's not hard to extrapolate when Moss says, "We've had a lot of b.s. the last two seasons that messed this team up and kept us from competing for a championship, and we got rid of some of that b.s. over the off-season. I never experienced anything like last year, and I can't imagine anything worse."