Moss’ early years documented in ESPN film

The ESPN 30-for-30 series took a swing at explaining Randy Moss’ early years that helped shape him into an incredible athlete and complex being.

Randy Moss is many things to many people.

Until Tuesday, nobody heard the full story. The vast majority of people learned about Moss from watching him on TV playing football for the Vikings – and later the Raiders, Patriots, Vikings again, Titans and 49ers– but for almost everyone, their version of the Moss story started when he was drafted by the Vikings.

On Tuesday, the missing pieces of the puzzle were put into context about as well as they could have been to explain to sports fans, especially Vikings fans, the early stages of the Moss legacy.

The ESPN 30-for-30 series – arguably the best documentary series in the history of filmmaking this side of Ken Burns – threw its spotlight to the pre-NFL Moss in Rand University. It covered his life from high school to the NFL and serves as a document to not only to his achievements, but the warts on his life along the way.

Those in the media who covered Moss from his beginning in the NFL to Randy 2.0 in 2010 can attest that the first time they saw him “Moss a D-back,” it’s something that will never be forgotten. Casual fans think mini-camps are meaningless. Even Adrian Peterson didn’t drop as many jaws as Randy Moss did in 1998 as a rookie phenom.

What the 30-for-30 documentary did is what documentaries do by definition – tell the truth from a limited perspective. Fortunately, the perspective was from Moss himself. Few documentaries have the level of available footage of a high school kid – making great plays and being arrested – as Moss. From the time he was a high school player, he was under the microscope because of his rare talent.

Director Marquis Daisy got what no beat writer or broadcaster working with Moss as a professional was afforded – complete access. For 20 years Randy Moss has been in the spotlight. Moss and the spotlight have been best of friends and worst of enemies.

The documentary went back to his teen years and showed how he grew up as a small-town kid from Rand, West Virginia. It put into clarity the racial divide that he grew up in and gave explanations for the baggage that allowed one of the greatest college athletes of his generation to slip from the top of the draft all the way to the Vikings with the 22nd pick of the 1998 draft.

Moss remains an enigma and it’s largely based on the information that was laid out in Rand University. It sugar-coated some of the run-ins Moss had with authority, but for the first time it gave the Moss version of events and provided explanations as to why Moss was at times hard to handle.

It’s both a story of sadness and triumph – overcoming the odds to avoid just being another statistic in a long line of promising high school athletes who saw their futures derailed and the cycle of poverty that often chased them into adulthood.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, make it destination viewing. It came too late for Moss to be understood during his playing career but serves as a rationale as to why he had trust issues with authority figures and why he remains one of the most fascinating athletes of his time.

Moss made history with the Vikings and later with the Patriots. Rand University spent very little time looking at that aspect of his life. But that wasn’t really necessary. Everybody knows what happened with that. It was the beginning that made his later years come into better focus, and for those who loved or hated Moss (or both), it provides the background needed to see the entire picture of the man and what shaped him into the adult he became.

Moss was a once-in-a-generation talent who came to the NFL with a chip on his shoulder that never went away. Many couldn’t understand why. Rand University helps fill in many of those blanks and gives the Moss saga a little more clarity.

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