Seattle So here is the problem with the beauty and the speed in the NFL: You must pay a price. Randy Moss can blister by defenses, run the length of the field and change a ballgame with 10 long, loping strides down the sideline. But then you have to tolerate him.
And this is the lesson the Minnesota Vikings quickly headed on the road to a football wasteland are starting to learn. They were enchanted by his grace, mesmerized by the way he made them so much better that they gathered up every penny and dime lying around the office and poured it all into an $18 million check. Then they handed it to him and told him to be the leader of their team for years to come.
This is how he repays them for such dedication.
"I play when I want to play," he said recently. "Case closed."
What do you do when your franchise player says he'll play only when he feels like it? The Vikings have been strangely silent, struggling for excuses such as the one offered up by Cris Carter, who justified Moss' words by suggesting nobody can actually play 100 percent on every play.
It's the worst nightmare a team can have, throwing a record sum of money at a young player who has always danced on the edge, then watching with helpless horror as he strolls away the minute things start to get a little tough.
Minnesota is not playing well right now. Part of that is because the team is aging. The Vikings' defense has deteriorated. A running game has not exactly thrived under the great Teflon roof of the Metrodome. And now Randy Moss can't see the Super Bowl quite as clearly when he bolts down the field.
So maybe he doesn't bolt anymore. Maybe that gallop becomes a jog.
"When I want to play, I'll play," he said this week. "There's nobody here on the face of the earth that can make me go out here and play football. I can go out here on the field and suit up and stand on the sideline and play. At my highest level? I don't know. If I want to go out here and play at my highest level I'll do that."
The crazy thing is that we thought that he cared. And that assumption didn't come in any of those Vikings-Packers games or in the NFC Championship or anywhere on the field. It came just days after they announced the huge contract. He was wearing a white shirt and a tie and he was standing next to the coffin that held his teammate Korey Stringer and he clutched Stringer's purple Vikings jersey in his hand and he did something you wouldn't expect a player just handed a $18 million check to do.
He asked everybody at the memorial service to pass Stringer's jersey around and touch it with their fingertips, almost a way of breaking down that invisible wall between the athletes and everybody else..
Then the Vikings started to lose, and he said "I play when I want to play, case closed."
Oh, pity the assistant principal at DuPont High in Rand, W.Va., who had to deal with Moss and his basketball teammate Jason Williams, branded with trouble almost everywhere they've been. Now Minnesota discovers the real Randy Moss, too, barely more than four months after its $18 million down payment on a $75 million investment.