Randy Moss (Ed Szczepanski/USP)
Randy Moss appreciates the start he got with the Vikings, but he anticipates a mix of cheers and boos. Either way, he said, it means he’s doing something right.
Randy Moss is prepared for cheers, he’s prepared for boos. He is embracing all the hype surrounding his return to Minnesota, where his illustrious NFL career began 14 years ago.
Moss is headed back to the Metrodome on Sunday in his No. 84 jersey for the San Francisco 49ers, eager to step onto the very field where he played some of his best games in seven-plus seasons with the Vikings and leave one final impression. Especially after his short, rocky stint back with the team in 2010 didn’t go quite as planned.
The 35-year-old Moss also plans to do his part to keep his new Niners team (2-0) on a nice early season roll after showing the NFL it is among the best with wins over NFC powers Green Bay and Detroit.
Whether he will see any of those old Moss Vikings jerseys, he has no idea.
“I’m just very fortunate to go back where it all started at. We had some great times in Minnesota,” Moss said after practice Wednesday. “I’m looking forward to just hearing the Metrodome rock. Now I’m on with the away team and I look forward to a good game.”
Moss landed in San Francisco under reigning NFL Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh for a fresh start after a year out of football.
If he is counting his reps, chances or even keeping track of catches, Moss isn’t saying much. He has five receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown.
“Randy always, every week, is going to play a big part for us,” quarterback Alex Smith said Wednesday. “You never really know until game day sometimes what that actually is going to turn out to be.”
At this stage of his career, Moss is a role player behind Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. The 49ers also added Mario Manningham to an upgraded receiving corps that became a top priority after San Francisco fell just short of the Super Bowl with a 20-17 loss to the eventual champion New York Giants.
Moss earned the respect of his coaches and teammates long before he caught a touchdown pass in a season-opening victory at Lambeau Field. He thoughtfully instructs his teammates, he puts a little extra into every route, and the skinny, 6-foot-4 wideout keeps his mouth shut aside from the good-natured ribbing he hands out to teammates. They dish it right back, too, as defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois held a tape recorder to take part in Moss’ media session just off the field.
“I got my teammates sitting here messing with me,” Moss said, laughing. “I just think my focus now is just playing for the 49ers and being the best 49er I can be. I was drafted by coach Dennis Green and am still appreciative to this day that he gave an opportunity with all the nonsense and B.S. that was said during the draft. He gave me a chance, so I’m still thankful to Denny Green for giving me a chance to showcase my talent. As far as the past, is the past. I just look forward, not backward.”
Gone are those dreadlocks that long defined his look. As Moss has put it, he truly cherishes a fresh start as his career winds down.
Yet Harbaugh insists he isn’t designing anything special for Moss just so he can try to dazzle them again in Minnesota. The Vikings know all too well what Moss might bring.
“It seems like he’s always motivated to play. He’s had a great NFL career as we all know. He had a lot of great years here in Minnesota,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “He still shows that if you blink, he can run by you. He has got that ability. He really seems to be rejuvenated in their offense.”
Moss signed a one-year deal in mid-March only hours after he worked out with former NFL quarterback Harbaugh.
He ranks second in NFL history with 154 touchdown catches and his 14,905 yards receiving are good for fifth. His best season came for the Patriots in 2007, when he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a single-season record 23 touchdowns in helping lead New England to a 16-0 regular season.
“Moss is still dangerous,” Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said. “He’s not the same Moss he was when he came here in ‘98, but he can still make big plays. He’s still productive. We all understand that. We can’t let him loose.”
He appreciates the passionate fans in Minneapolis regardless of the reception he receives Sunday — his first regular-season trip back as a visitor.
“One thing about praises and boos is obviously you’re doing something right. I think I just hang my hat on that,” Moss said. “You hear the applause, of course you do, and you hear the boos, but I think the boos just being negative puts more pressure on you to go out and hush that noise up. So I look forward to hearing both and, like I said, I’m a 49er now and hopefully we can go into the Metrodome and come out of there 3-0.”
And, he hopes, this is just the beginning of something special out West before he walks away for good.
“Well, I’m not really thinking about Super Bowl,” Moss said, “but that really is the only thing missing on my resume.”