History will be made Sunday as the San Francisco 49ers make the next stop on the Midwest tour to start the season. They have already posted eight-point wins over 2011 playoff teams Green Bay and Detroit and neither of those games were actually as close as the final score would indicate.
But the reason history will be made Sunday is because Randy Moss is coming back to the Metrodome. His Hall of Fame career was largely made in that building, but in every instance when Moss has played a regular-season game in the Metrodome since 1998, he was wearing purple and gold.
It isn’t a coincidence that when Red McCombs went on his very effective statewide barnstorming tour after buying the team in 1998 he has an electrifying enigma like Moss to help sell the Vikings to a state that loved to watch them but didn’t like to attend games quite as much. McCombs and Moss combined to start a streak of sellouts that only stopped two weeks ago.
The one thing about Moss that has never changed is that he has a vindictive streak. I was fortunate enough to get the first one-on-one interview with Moss after a beat writer from one of the local newspapers asked Moss whether his probation agent would remain the one in Virginia or transfer to Minnesota. Denny Green brought the press conference to a quick and unceremonious stop. The first question I asked Moss was why he wasn’t in New York City when it was clear he was a blue-chip talent. He said he wasn’t invited, saying, “The NFL don’t want no part of Randy Moss.” He had a chip on his shoulder that never went away.
He relished in punishing Dallas, where he thought he was going to be drafted after being assured by Jerry Jones that, if he was available, the Cowboys would take him. As a Viking at heart, he knew all too well about the Border Battle with Green Bay being the most important rivalry the Vikings have. He relished silencing Lambeau Field.
The Moss of 2012 is a far cry from the Moss of 1998, but the same fire and defiance that was so evident when he entered the NFL remains. By all accounts, he has been a model citizen and veteran leader of the 49ers – willingly accepting a role as a part-time player behind Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham. But he has never come to the Metrodome as a visiting player during the regular season. In his time with Oakland and Tennessee, he never played the Vikings. He played them as a member of the New England Patriots, but that was in suburban Boston. This time, he’s coming home and not as a Viking.
In the first two games of the season, Moss hasn’t been very visible, catching just five passes for 61 yards and one touchdown. It would be much more realistic for the Vikings defensive coaches to worry about Crabtree, the team’s leading receiver, and Davis, who has caught three touchdowns in two games. Given the Vikings’ history of struggling against elite tight ends, much less a big man with 4.4 speed, Davis is Priority One for Alan Williams and his defensive staff creating a game plan and Crabtree is undoubtedly No. 2. But Moss may be the guy that makes the biggest impact Sunday.
In order for a revenge play to work, a player needs to have a like-minded coach – someone who would kick a man when he’s down – and boy-howdy does he have one in Jim Harbaugh. A guy who can spoil a post-game handshake and routinely berates officials (although that has become more palatable this year given the sorry state of officiating by the replacement refs), Harbaugh is as likely as any coach this side of Bill Belichick to rub a franchise and its fan base’s nose in the stank.
Moss’ skills have eroded from the time he revolutionized the position and visions of Jerry Rice surfaced for the first time. He was Calvin Johnson when Calvin was in short pants – the one guy defensive coordinators had sleepless nights over after watching game film. He isn’t the Randy of old. He’s the old Randy. But the things he has going for him is that the 49ers are so dominant in the run game, Davis is such a threat at tight end and Crabtree and Manningham are both capable of doing damage deep down the field. Moss is almost an afterthought when the Vikings are preparing a way to stop the Niners on offense.
Underestimating Moss and the anger that fuels his engine is a dangerous thing.
The electronic pull-tabs that were approved this spring to help pay the state’s share of the new Vikings stadium debuted this week in four Minnesota cities. Unveilings were held in St. Paul, St. Cloud, Spring Lake Park and Coon Rapids. The launch is the first step in the process that eventually will go statewide. The state gambling control board approved five iPad games for the initial period. The pull-tab gaming is projected to generate about $36 million a year to the state coffers to pay down the state’s contribution to the stadium project.
The signing of third-year tackle Troy Kropog to the practice squad and release of wide receiver Tori Gurley may have more to do with the pending return of wide receiver Jerome Simpson than a need at offensive tackle. Simpson’s three-game suspension ends Sunday and he will be able to return to full practice Monday, lessening the need at wide receiver.
Percy Harvin added his voice to the growing chorus of complaints about the replacement officials. Harvin said that the offensive interference penalty called against him late in Sunday’s game with the Colts was a “terrible call.” He is far from alone. The ESPN analyst crew, highlighted by Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, basted the NFL for its hard-line stance, claiming that the league doesn’t care about player safety and is simply looking to break the referees union. While Young’s comments were more pointed than most that have been made to date, there is a growing sentiment that it will only be a matter of time until bad calls by overmatched Division III college and high school officials will cost a team a game. Harvin’s statement leads some to believe it may have already happened.
The Vikings have yet to see any return on their investment in tight end John Carlson. He missed the entire preseason after going down with a sprained medial collateral ligament injury early in training camp and, despite playing in both of the Vikings first two games, he has yet to catch a pass in two games. At the same time, Kyle Rudolph has caught eight passes for 102 yards, including the game-tying touchdown in the final minute of Sunday’s game with the Colts.
Steve Sabol of NFL Films passed away Tuesday at the age of 69. He revolutionized the history of the NFL by being it primary archivist. Along with his father, Ed, Sabol made NFL Films the official visual history of the NFL and his contribution to the game was finally recognized last year when he was inducted (far too belatedly) into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The New England Patriots released former Vikings RB Lex Hilliard, who was with the Vikings in the offseason.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.