CANTON, Ohio - The happiness Randy Moss feels in pulling that gold jacket over his shoulders, the one that signifies he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, isn’t about him. He’s “content.” The arrows shot at him through his career - in print or on television or over the radio - still hurt.
The joy he feels comes from seeing his friends and family happy, and comes from the smiles he put on faces through years of spectacular catches, scintillating touchdowns and legendary feats of athleticism.
Over the years, Moss has realized what his play has meant to people, even ones he’s never met.
“I had just seen a woman the other night at the store,” he said Friday as he held court at McKinley High School, next to the Hall of Fame. “She said, ‘You’re Randy Moss?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘Oh my God, I used to sit up with my grandfather on his lap watching you play.’ She started crying, because she said, ‘If my grandfather was here right now, he loved you.’ That’s the stuff that means something to me.”
Moss spoke to reporters for about one half-hour, along with fellow inductees including Brian Dawkins, Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis. He’ll be the sixth person out of the seven to speak at the induction ceremony beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday. He’ll join Dawkins, Urlacher, Lewis, Robert Brazile, Bobby Beathard and Jerry Kramer. Terrell Owens, also selected this year, chose not to attend the ceremony.
When Moss’ career concluded after the 2012 season - including stints with the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers - he finished, and still stands as, No. 2 in NFL history with 156 touchdown catches. He finished third in league history with 15,292 yards, though he now sits fourth after Larry Fitzgerald eclipsed him last season.
He said Friday he didn’t think about legacy during his NFL career. He was just focused on dominating on the gridiron. He went through his struggles in his career, some he admitted were self-inflicted wounds, but he also felt there were narratives presented that weren’t true. He had been called lazy, though coaches and teammates praise his film study, calling him a student of the game. He had been labeled as sour, though coaches and teammates called him a gem of a teammate and great in the locker room.
“I don’t really think you all have any idea, when you all write something, how that affects a player,” he said. “And when you continue to write it week after week, month after month, how that affects a player. And I think that’s what makes my message and my story so powerful, is being able to overcome adversity.
“When all the odds are stacked against you and everybody is really saying all the negative things, but they’re not the right things about you, that’s really what makes Randy Moss, Randy Moss,” he said. “And it’s kind of crazy that I’m getting ready to receive a gold jacket and I’m getting praised after I’m done. Why couldn’t I have received this praise when I played?”
Moss’ time in front of reporters Friday was at times blunt and unvarnished. When asked about his two seasons at Marshall University, he said the experience was “decent,” and mentioned some of the issues he dealt with in college.
“One of the biggest things I was battling was a lot of racism,” he said. “There was a lot I had to endure and a lot I had to take in and just take it. There’s really not a lot I can say, because that’s where the finger-pointing starts.”
He also said that, while there were plenty of fun parts of his pro career like the camaraderie in the locker room, he wasn’t having as much fun playing as fans were watching him play.
“The business side of the game takes a lot of the fun out of the game for the players,” he said.
Once he took the field, though, the outside pressures faded away. He could just do what he always wanted to do, play the sport that had been in his life since the age of 6.
“The only time I was able to feel free to go out there and enjoy myself was out there between the lines,” Moss said. “I love the game and love what comes with the game of football. It’s no different than a journalist writing, no different than an artist painting or drawing. I loved to play football.”
Few played football like Moss, considered by his peers to be one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the sports’ history. Urlacher praised Moss’ speed combined with his size and the range he had to catch the ball. Moss, he said, changed the game.
“We put two guys on him every play,” Urlacher said. “That’s how much he changed the game for us. If they ran for 200 (yards), that was OK. Randy wasn’t going to beat us. The things he did on the football field are not supposed to be done, and no one else has ever done it.”
There have been some great moments this week, Moss said. He sat at the Ray Nitschke Luncheon with legends such as Mean Joe Greene, Mel Blount and Aeneas Williams, looking around at those who blazed the trail to allow him to succeed. These experiences are ones he can take back to the young players he now mentors as examples of what can be.
And it’s one more chance to make folks smile, whether they only know him from his on-field exploits or they knew him as a youngster playing football in the streets of Rand. Those are the people he recognized when, on “Monday Night Football,” he’d introduce himself as “Randy Moss, Rand University.”
“I took a lot of flak for that. ... ‘Why didn’t you say Marshall?’” Moss said. “I had a lot of people depending on me. I got a lot of people relying on me to give them that happiness and that comfort.
“I didn’t understand that going through high school. I didn’t understand that going through college. But once I started meeting people, once people started dying off, once people started saying, ‘Man, if my grandfather was here’ That’s what putting on this gold jacket really means.”