So you may have heard something mentioned briefly in the news this week about a certain Randy Moss being traded back to the Minnesota Vikings via the New England Patriots. Well, while it may feel like the trade took place weeks ago because of the anticipation we're all feeling and that it still might seem too good to be true, rest assured that it did happen, and we'll see the old number 84 out there tonight at the Meadowlands when the Vikings take on the New York Jets.
Randy Moss gave us a ton of great performances and great memories as a member of the Vikings. In his first tour of duty in Minnesota, the Super Freak caught 574 passes for 9,142 yards and 90 touchdowns. All this despite only "playing when he wants to play". . .which, for the record, is one of the most misquoted things any athlete has ever said, but that's another argument for another time.
So what were the five best performances that Randy Moss gave us during his first time around as a Viking? Well, it was tough, but I think I've got it narrowed down.
1) 9 January 2005 at Green Bay (NFC Wild Card Playoffs)
No matter who you talk to about great Randy Moss performances, you won't get very far before this game comes up. We all know what was swirling around the Vikings leading up to this one. . .after getting off to a 5-1 start to begin the season, the Vikings managed to stumble their way into the post-season, needed a blocked field goal in a game between New Orleans and Carolina in order to make it to the post-season dance. Further, in the regular season finale against the Washington Redskins in D.C., Moss left the field of play when there was still two seconds left on the clock, a move that allegedly angered a lot of his teammates and may have been part of the impetus for his being traded in the first place. Most signficiantly, Moss still wasn't really functioning at 100%, having taken a cheap shot in a game in New Orleans. . .shocker, I know. . .back in Week Six and severely injuring a hamstring.
In the wild card round of the playoffs, the Vikings drew their division rivals from Green Bay. The Packers had beaten the Vikings on Christmas Eve just a couple of weeks earlier at the Metrodome to wrap up the NFC North division title. The Packers won both games over the Vikings in 2004 on last-second Ryan Longwell field goals, but the overwhelming feeling is that the Packers were a significantly better team. ESPN's Steve Young, when picking the Packers over the Vikings, said that it was "the easiest game he had picked all season."
Ignoring the pathetic whining of Joe Buck for a few minutes, it shows exactly what kind of physical specimen Randy Moss is. In the biggest game of his Vikings career, and playing on one healthy leg, Moss went out and put up an outstanding game in a contest that nobody outside of Minnesota thought that the Vikings could win. The numbers that Moss put up weren't exactly eye-popping, particularly not by his standards. . .he caught four passes for 70 yards and a pair of scores that afternoon. . .but for a guy with a reputation for not going all-out, it would be very hard for anyone to tell you that he wasn't going all-out in this one.
2) 26 November 1998 at Dallas (Thanksgiving Day)
Ordinarily, a game where a player catches three passes wouldn't rank among the all-time best performances that that player had ever put up. Of course, most players aren't Randy Moss, either. Yes, in Minnesota's Thanksgiving night trip to Dallas in 1998, the Cowboys held the rookie phenom to only three catches.
The first catch came on a flea flicker. . .Randall Cunningham handed the ball to Robert Smith, Smith pitched the ball back to Cunningham, and Cunningham threw a beautiful, arcing rainbow to a wide-open Moss for a 51-yard touchdown catch to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead.
The second one came later in the first quarter. . .same basic play, but without all the trickery. Cunningham simply dropped back, threw one as far as he could, and Moss ran under it for a 56-yard touchdown reception, giving the Vikings a 21-6 lead as the first quarter came to a close.
Moss was then held without a catch until the third quarter. . .when this happened.
Yes, another 56-yard touchdown for Moss, as he took the short pass from Cunningham and simply showed that he was faster than everybody else.
Moss' final numbers that evening? Three catches, 163 yards, three touchdowns. Ordinarily, this would be a coming out party of sorts for a young wide receiver. . .but Moss had already had one of those earlier in the season.
3) 5 October 1998 at Green Bay
The Packers were the two-time defending NFC Champions, and were in the midst of a streak that hadn't seen them lose at home in a couple of years. Both the Vikings and the Packers had gotten off to a 4-0 start in 1998, and this was viewed as a battle for supremacy in the NFC. With the Packers being at home, the assumption was that they would handle the Vikings at Lambeau Field as they had in previous years.
However, young Randy had something to say about that.
Moss would catch five passes in that game for a whopping 190 yards and two touchdowns, tacking on a 44-yarder to go with the 52-yarder seen above, as the Vikings defeated the Packers 37-24 to continue their undefeated roll in 1998. The 190 yards still stands as the second-highest single-game total of his career, behind only a 204-yard effort against the Chicago Bears in 1999.
4) 19 October 2003 vs Denver
The stats for Moss' game against the Broncos at the Metrodome don't necessarily stand out at first glance. Randy caught 10 passes for 151 yards in this one, and the stat sheet says that he didn't get into the end zone. And that's true. . .Moss didn't have any touchdown catches against the Broncos in Minnesota's 28-20 victory.
But that doesn't mean that he didn't help his team get into the end zone. And, in doing so, showed that his football awareness is every bit a match for his incredible physical skills.
On the last play of the first half, Daunte Culpepper rolled out to his right and threw one as far as he could for Randy Moss. Moss caught the ball at the Denver 15-yard line, surrounded by Broncos, and was being tackled. As he was being pulled to the ground, Randy flipped a lateral over his shoulder to a streaking Moe Williams, who took the ball the rest of the way into the end zone to give the Vikings a 14-7 lead going into the locker room at halftime.
Was it luck? Was it skill? Who cares. . .what it was was awesome.
5) 19 November 2001 vs New York Giants
The 2001 season was, by and large, a disaster for the Vikings. It started with the tragic death of Korey Stringer in training camp, saw the Vikings drop their season opener to the Carolina Panthers. . .a team that would lose their final 15 games of the season after beating the Vikings at the Metrodome. . .had Daunte Culpepper blow out his knee in a mid-season loss to Pittsburgh, and concluded with something named Spergon Wynn at quarterback as Dennis Green quit before the season finale against Baltimore.
And even in that relatively dark season, Randy Moss still managed to provide a little point of light. . .and, in the process, showed that he still owns Monday night when the lights are brightest.
Moss took the Giants to the woodshed that night, catching 10 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns as the Vikings defeated the Giants 28-16 at the Metrodome. With the game still in doubt in the fourth quarter, Moss pulled in a 57-yarder from Culpepper to ice the game and provide the final margin of victory for the Vikings.
Will we get the same kind of memorable performance from Moss tonight against New York's other team? We can certainly hope so.