KANSAS CITY, MO. – Spend a day with the “Monday Night Countdown” crew and you realize you aren’t alone. Randy Moss, TV media star, isn’t something anyone saw coming.
“I never knew what the future held,” the former Vikings receiver said Oct. 2 while sitting in an ESPN trailer outside Arrowhead Stadium. “I thought about just [disappearing]. I made enough money. I don’t know if in my mind I thought, ‘Could I do this?’ It was more like, ‘Roll the dice and let’s see.’ ”
ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman, who hired Moss away from Fox Sports 1 last year, keeps a list of current players he thinks will be great on TV. The enigmatic self-proclaimed SuperFreak never came close to making that list.
“This is one of the most shocking career paths I’ve ever seen in this business,” Markman said. “He had the personality, but I never imagined that he would want to do this. I thought he’d just go hunt and fish.”
Study the hands
Eleven people are packed around a table in a small room inside the ESPN trailer about 4 ½ hours before the Chiefs and Redskins kick off. The 6-4, 215-pound Moss, with his pterodactyl wingspan, sits at the center of the pregame cram session, seeming larger — and sometimes louder — than life.
“He is the energy of our show,” Markman said. “It’s infectious, I think.”
Study the hands. Once used to cradle 156 NFL touchdowns, the supersized mitts now work in concert with a West Virginia drawl that’s filled with down-home smarts, a biting sense of humor, some rather colorful language and between-the-eyes candor.
“He’s not afraid to just let loose, be silly on the air, and also speak his mind,” said Suzy Kolber, the host of “Monday Night Countdown.” “He’s incredibly smart. He’s also sharp enough to know what not to say on the air.”
As the crew and its staff scurry through preshow preparations, Moss is alert, engaged and mentally fast enough to stay in multiple conversations.
They watch clips for the upcoming “C’mon, man!” segment. When Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler is shown not moving a muscle while lined up at receiver in the Wildcat formation, fellow analyst Matt Hasselbeck cracks, “Can I say that looks like Randy Moss on a running play?”
“You know what my comeback will be,” Moss barks. “ ‘I play when I want to play!’ ”
The back-and-forth continues while Moss uses his right hand to jot down notes and his left hand to motion for a staff member to look up statistics that support the points he wants to make.
Told later that Moss sure seems to do his homework, Hasselbeck laughs and says: “Yeah, right before the test, he does. No, I’m playing, I’m playing. Sort of.”
Hasselbeck likes to needle Moss, and vice versa, whether it’s on the Monday night show or the “Sunday NFL Countdown” show.
“Randy’s super entertaining,” Hasselbeck said. “When he speaks, even though it might not be proper English, it’s something catchy. You find not only your kids start using those phrases, but you start using those phrases. Sometimes, I find myself saying, ‘Suzy, I tell you what!’ or ‘Well, Ms. [Samantha] Ponder, I tell you what!’ It sounds better when Randy says it.”
The other former players on “Monday Night Countdown” are Charles Woodson and Hall of Famer Steve Young. Being a football historian, Moss throws those hands up and says, “I can’t believe I’m sitting on a TV set with daggone Steve Young!”
Young joins the meeting and is still unshaven. Moss looks up and roars, “Dang, Steve Young! Someone get me a straight razor so I can clean this man up!”
All the while, Moss is taking a special interest in Redskins receiver Terrelle Pryor, who he senses will have a big game. He points a finger and asks for the number of times Pryor has been targeted.
“Randy Moss,” Young kids. “TV veteran. Studies hard.”
“Daggone right, Steve Young,” Moss says.
Randy the revered
A long day includes “The Charles & Randy Show” heading out into Arrowhead’s barbecue-filled parking lot to interact with fans. Then it’s on to something the crew had never done before — shoot a segment on a makeshift set in the middle of the parking lot.
Moss whips the crowd into a frenzy. He feeds fans plates of barbecue and accidentally dips the right sleeve of his suit into a cup of sauce. During a commercial break, he walks to the railing, takes a fan’s cellphone, turns and shoots a selfie. Someone hands him a Bud Light bottle to sign. He signs. Then a Miller Lite bottle. He signs.
And all the while, everywhere he goes, fans tend to do at least one of three things, regardless of how close they are to him: A, scream his name while taking his picture; B, scream, “You got Mossed!” while taking his picture; and/or C, scream, “Straight cash, homey!” while taking his picture.
“I remember when I first started seeing people going damn crazy whenever they saw me,” Moss said. “Dude, all I did was catch a football. Stuff I did as a kid. But now, a dude asked me, ‘Hey, man, how does it feel to have everybody yelling your name everywhere you go?’ I said, ‘You know what, I don’t even think about it because I’m so used to it.’ ”
But overserved fans aren’t the only ones who scramble just to meet Moss.
“We’ll be close to kickoff and players will still be lined up to talk to Randy,” Kolber said. “Ray Lewis is the only other player that I’ve seen get that same reaction, that same sense of reverence.”
On this night, the “Monday Night Countdown” crew has made its way onto the sideline set shortly before kickoff. The network loses power during the shoot and can’t get it back in time to continue the pregame show.
Moss hops off the set, goes to the sideline and calls Pryor over. The 6-6, 240-pounder trots over with eyes bigger than the kid who’s about to be placed on Santa’s lap.
“You got to go up and get that damn ball!” Moss orders.
Pryor nods as he receives further tips from one of the all-time greatest at going up and getting that daggone ball.
Randy the teacher
Back in the trailer, Moss and the crew watch the game. Actually, Moss does more than watch the game. He seems to be interactively playing the game mentally and physically from his chair. When he’s not jumping from it.
The highlight comes seven plays in. Moss is already starting to howl as Pryor gets open down the right sideline.
Kirk Cousins launches the ball as Moss yelps, “Go get that damn ball!” Pryor catches the 44-yard touchdown, his only score of the season.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” Moss roars as he jumps to his feet.
The crew heads down the tunnel for its sideline halftime show, back up the tunnel to watch the second half, and back down the tunnel for the closing minutes of a tie game.
The Chiefs win in the final seconds as Alex Smith takes advantage of the zone coverage that Moss predicted he would once Washington cornerback Josh Norman went down with a rib injury in the first half.
It’s past midnight and the stadium is nearly empty when Moss’ workday ends with the postgame segment. Walking back up the tunnel again, one can’t help but notice that even at 40 years old and walking, Moss is deceptively fast as he pulls away.
A man in his 50s spots Moss and goes berserk at his proximity to him. He’s a few feet away, relentlessly yelling all three of the things fans typically do when Moss appears before them.
Moss’ stadium security guard really should step up to calm the man down. Unfortunately, like so many cornerbacks from 1998 to 2012, the man guarding Moss is being beaten by two steps.
Finally, Moss turns to man and barks, “Dude! Chill out!”
The man finally turns away. He couldn’t be happier.
“I got Mossed!”