Before we get too ahead of ourselves today, allow me to share what Randy Moss means to me.
As an eight-year-old in 1998, I vividly remember being at my dad’s apartment in White Bear Lake and tuning in to watch the Minnesota Vikings take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. Like most second graders in the late ‘90s, I had no idea whatsoever who the Vikings picked up in the most recent NFL draft. I was just spending an afternoon with my old man watching our hometown football team.
And then it happened.
That tall, skinny No. 84 blazed past the defense for the first of his many bombs, and I was officially hooked. A few minutes later, it happened again.
The self-proclaimed Super Freak took all of us on a magical ride in 1998. The only thing I asked for Christmas that year was a Randy Moss jersey. Little did I know, they were nearly impossible to find throughout the Twin Cities. The Greatest Wide Receiver Ever — at no fault of his own — introduced me to the heartbreak that can exist when falling head over heels in sports fandom for your favorite team.
Following Morten Andersen‘s game-winning kick in overtime for the Atlanta Falcons against the Vikings in the NFC Championship game, I proceeded to lock myself in the bathroom of my mother’s house in Shoreview for a good two-plus hours. To this day, I reckon I haven’t cried for a longer period of time than that January afternoon in 1999.
Suffice it to say, Randy Moss made a substantial impact on me as a child. Growing up in a divorced household, there was absolutely nothing I looked forward to more than watching No. 84 make highlight-reel plays that compelled me to jump out of my seat and cheer.
When the Vikings moved on from Moss — not once in 2005, but twice in 2010 — I never in a million years thought the Purple and Gold would be able to replicate the magic that the Super Freak created at the Metrodome. Not with Percy Harvin. Certainly not with Stefon Diggs. When the standard is the greatest, most electrifying star who has ever played the position, it’s essentially an impossible bar to reach.
But after watching Justin Jefferson singlehandedly (no pun intended) drag Minnesota’s offense to yet another fourth-quarter comeback on Sunday against the odds-on Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills, the thought finally registered with me:
Are we witnessing the next Randy Moss?
To be fair, the eye-popping numbers have always been there for Jefferson. On Sunday, he broke Moss’ and Odell Beckham Jr.’s record for the most 100-yard receiving games during his first three years in the NFL with 20. Similar to Moss in 1998, Jefferson made his impact felt from the moment he got his first NFL start in Week 3 of 2020 against the Tennessee Titans. But unlike Moss, the Vikings weren’t winning at extremely high level with No. 18.
That’s what made Moss so special to Vikings fans everywhere. When he stepped onto the field as a rookie against Tony Dungy‘s Buccaneers to kick off the ’98 season, he was hands down the best player out there and changed the NFL seemingly overnight. The rest of the league simply wasn’t prepared for the type of explosive verticality that Minnesota’s passing game possessed with the Super Freak. The Vikings re-wrote the history books as the highest-scoring offense in league history (at the time) and waltzed their way to a 15-1 record.
(Let’s not forget that Moss was also responsible for setting another record for the NFL’s highest-scoring offense of all time when he joined the New England Patriots in 2007.)
With the Vikings at 8-1 and tied for the best record in the NFL, this is starting to feel like 1998 all over again. Minnesota is winning — albeit without the same style points as the ’98 Vikes — with the best receiver in the game today making jaw-dropping plays the likes of which we haven’t seen before.
After trying to process Jefferson’s insane one-handed catch on fourth-and-18, I couldn’t help but think that Moss never made a play of that magnitude while playing in Minnesota. The difficulty level required in that “Gotta Have It” moment made it the most clutch reception in franchise history.
Forgive me if you’ve already begun the Randy Moss/Justin Jefferson discussion. You’re completely justified in doing so based on his statistical dominance and worldwide star power with the Griddy.
But personally, in order for me to dip my toe into that discussion, winning a lot of football games had to be part of the equation — just like what Moss did with the Vikings. Jefferson is well on his way to breaking Moss’ single-season franchise record of 1,632 receiving yards this season. He’s currently on pace for 2,002 receiving yards. And Minnesota is neck-and-neck with the Philadelphia Eagles for securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Suppose the Vikings can follow in the footsteps of the 1998 or 2000 Vikings by not only reaching the NFC Championship game with the best receiver in the sport, but to take it a step further and punch their ticket to the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance in 45 years. Then it will be nearly impossible to avoid putting Jefferson in the same category as the Greatest Wide Receiver of All-Time in Moss.
Eat your heart out, Jerry Rice.