What Makes Randy Run

For the country boy from West Virginia, saying the right thing doesn't count for much. Keeping it real does.

But though there had been less than a consensus on the subject of Moss's character before his arrest, critics now began tripping over each other in a stampede to condemn the mercurial receiver. ESPN's Len Pasquarelli called Moss "a social cripple" and "a cancer" that should be excised. Former NFL coach Jim Mora dubbed him "a jerk and a loser." Ex-Viking quarterback-turned-pundit Sean Salisbury termed Moss an embarrassment and called for his immediate suspension. Cris Collinsworth, host of HBO's Inside the NFL, thundered, "Get him out of there!"

The local media played it a bit more sympathetically. But columnists for both daily papers--the Strib's Pat Reusse and the Pi Press's Bob Sansevere--took the opportunity to play shrink. Both came up with an identical diagnosis: Moss suffers from an adolescent personality problem known as oppositional defiance disorder. In the avalanche of stories that followed, every transgression Moss had ever committed (from squirting a referee with a water bottle to berating a corporate bigwig on the team bus) was rehashed.

Two days after the arrest, a subdued Moss sat down for the cameras at Vikings headquarters in Eden Prairie. He was dressed in workout clothes--a sleeveless sweatshirt with a formfitting undershirt--and a gold Vikings baseball cap. His hair, longer than usual, puffed out at the edges of the cap, giving him a sort of clownish look. He appeared bleary-eyed and distraught. The cap, an artifact from Moss's rookie season, bore the logo "Three Deep"--the old handle for the record-breaking receiving trio of Moss and former teammates Cris Carter and Jake Reed. If you looked closely, you could see that Moss had taken a Sharpie to the cap. He'd crossed out Reed and Carter's names and scrawled the words One Deep next to the original Three Deep logo. Was it a playful little gag? Maybe. But on this day it looked more like a hurt, naked statement: I am alone.

He delivered a rambling, disjointed soliloquy. Allowing that he was nervous, he apologized to his family, friends, teammates, and sponsors. He referred to the pot issue in a way that only confounded matters: "I think the NFL knows what Randy Moss has done with marijuana. And I think the NFL knows what Randy Moss does with marijuana." Then, in a subsequent interview with ESPN's Andrea Kremer, he said that his image had been "shattered" and he broke down and wept.

Moss's remarks would be parsed mightily over the course of the next several news cycles. The marijuana question prompted boundless speculation that Moss was headed for suspension under the NFL's drug abuse policy, speculation that has yet to come to fruition. One local television station, KSTP (Channel 5), interviewed two public relations experts to dissect Moss's performance. Not surprisingly, the flacks gave Moss low marks for not explicitly apologizing to traffic agent Zaccardi, for dressing poorly, and for failing to have a prepared statement.

But that's Randy Moss. Growing up in the West Virginia hills, Moss and his friends valued one ethic above all others: keeping it real. In that hardscrabble milieu, you prove yourself on the playing field or on the street corner. You earn respect through action, not words. And whatever you do, you don't put on airs, because your buddies will spot it, and they'll call you on it. If you want to understand who Moss is, you would do well to overlook the sports page clichés (spoiled, jerk, out of control) and listen to him talk. As he spoke about his woes on September 26, you could hear a certain quality in the vaguely rustic figures of speech he chose ("I don't know if trouble's out to find me, or whatnot, but I'm certainly not out to find trouble") and in his gently lilting twang ("vee-HICK-el").

Whatever else Randy Moss might be, he is pure country.

 

The easiest way to get to rand, west virginia,is to fly to Charleston, the state capital. From there, you drive four miles down I-64 and exit near the village of Malden, boyhood home of Booker T. Washington. Follow this road until you see a sign that reads, "Rand Unincorporated: Home of NFL Players Eric & Randy Moss, Bobbie Howard." If you blink, you're in the next town already. Despite its proximity to Charleston, Rand is not a suburb; it's just a small town. For that matter, Charleston itself seems more like a small town than a state capital. One afternoon I got lost driving on the back roads of Charleston. After wending my way through miles of impossibly rugged and remote terrain, on narrow little roads that seemed to have an indifferent grip on the hillsides, I became convinced I was halfway to Kentucky. Then I looked in the rearview mirror and saw that I had just passed the Charleston city limits.

The town of Rand, bounded on one side by the muddy waters of the Kanawha River and on the other by a railroad track, is laid out in a grid approximately five blocks wide and 10 blocks long. It is home to some 2,000 mostly working class people. But while West Virginia is overwhelmingly white, Rand is racially mixed--about 40 percent black, 60 percent white. The housing stock consists of trailers of varied vintage, the occasional apartment building, and scads of modest little one-story wooden houses. There are just a few businesses in Rand, most of them plopped down haphazardly on residential streets. If you're lucky enough to have a job, you might work at the enormous Dupont chemical refinery down the road in Belle; you might work in the coal mines, though technological advances have made those jobs scarcer; you might commute into Charleston. But a lot of people here don't have jobs. In Rand there is no school and--to the dismay of many residents--no cop.

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