What Makes Randy Run

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

"People call Rand 'Dodge City,' because it can be rough," says Lorenzo King Whitestone. A Rand native now relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, Whitestone grew up just down the street from the battered white rambler on Church Drive where Maxine Moss raised her three children. As Whitestone tells it, Maxine and his own mother, the Rev. Barbara Whitestone, pooled their resources to raise the kids. "There wasn't a lot of money. Maxine worked as a health nurse, and my mom was a minister, and they were both single parents. We relied on their family and they relied on ours. I remember our mothers scratching the bottom of their pocketbooks to make sure they could buy enough food to feed all eight kids. We didn't always know where our food was gonna come from," Whitestone recalls.

The women did their best to keep their children out of trouble, chiefly by sending them to church as often as possible. "We all came from a Pentecostal background, and so we all went to church four to five days a week. Maxine and my mother, they were both very strict on us. We were disciplined by Mr. Do Right." Mr. Do Right was a piece of thick rubber, with copper and rope in the middle, that Whitestone's departed father had fashioned int o the shape of a paddle. "My mom and Maxine kept Mr. Do Right handy. So anytime we got in trouble, we had to meet him. He was supposed to make us act right, and most of the time he did."

Ten years older than Moss, Whitestone regarded Randy as a younger brother. He remembers him as a shy but playful child who loved Walter Payton and the Chicago Bears. In Rand, sports--even pickup games--were a deadly serious business, says Whitestone. "Football was heaven for us. You go to Church Drive and have a touch game, and it's competitive as the NFL. Everybody's gonna talk junk. You can be eight years old, or 40 years old, it doesn't make a difference."

Rick Kolodziej for the Minnesota Vikings

To get an idea of the value of sports in Rand, look no further than Sam and Vanessa Singleton's double-wide on Raven Drive. The back bedroom is the Randy Moss room. His first shoe--not the first one he wore, the first one he endorsed--dangles from a pushpin tack. "That's the pair he wore in New York for the scrimmage," says Sam Singleton, a soft-spoken retired coal miner. "And this right here is my pass, for when I go to Vikings games." Photos of Moss and assorted game day souvenirs adorn the walls of the room. A faded color photograph shows the Belle Bulldogs, the midget league football team Singleton coached. As the Bulldogs' coach, Singleton had seen his share of good athletes over the years. But he wasn't prepared for Moss. As it happened, young Randy was not the only kid on that particular team who displayed unusual prowess. Bobbie Howard and Singleton's son Man played beside Moss. Howard is now a reserve linebacker with the Chicago Bears. Man was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. It was, says Singleton, an amazing convergence of talent. "When them kids would walk on the field and sling the football 20 yards, and the other kids are only throwing it five yards, you knew these kids was awesome. They just had it."

With Maxine Moss sometimes working two jobs, the Singleton household became Randy's home away from home. Even today, when he comes back to visit West Virginia--on a bye week or in the off-season--this is where he can often be found. "He'll call up and say, 'Boogieman, I'm home.' And then he'll holler, 'I need the 84 special.' And there you go; I'll fix him the 84 special. Fried chicken. Green beans. Mashed potatoes." When Randy was still a boy, his mother would ground him occasionally; the Singletons provided the means of escape. "Miss Maxine would say, 'Randy needs to do this, Randy needs to do that,' and I'm saying, 'Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.' But the whole time, I'm getting him back out on the football field or the baseball field," Singleton laughs. "So whenever he heard my raggedy old truck coming down the road, he'd get to smiling because he knew I was coming to his rescue."

When Moss was in the seventh grade, stories of a lanky kid from Rand who could dunk a basketball had already made their way to Charleston. Moss's legend exploded when he entered Dupont High School in the 10th grade. The school, a perennial powerhouse, won back-to-back football championships after Moss's arrival. He also excelled in baseball and on the basketball court, where he played with future NBA point guard Jason Williams and twice earned West Virginia Player of the Year honors.

In those days Moss often found himself at sports banquets and awards ceremonies. "I used to make him go, and he'd always say, 'Sam, you know I don't like this,'" Singleton recalls. "And I'd tell him, 'You're gonna stay at this until it's over.' But if I left early, he was gone too." Vanessa Singleton theorizes that such family-oriented events were hard on young Moss. "His mom had to work, so she couldn't go most of the time. I really think that had a lot to do with it, not having a parent there when all his buddies had a mother or father there. I think that's why he never wanted to go out in public, why he just wants to play the game and be left alone."

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