Few NFL players in league history have been more polarizing than Randy Moss. Loved for what his freakish athletic ability could accomplish, he was also disliked for his lack of caring what the media thought of him.
Plenty of players would make highly publicized visits to children’s hospitals and other worthwhile charitable endeavors. Moss did as many as anyone, but, because he didn’t want them to be publicized, he steered away from having the meeting with kids become a media circus. It just wasn’t his style.
On Friday night, fans in the small town of Pelican Rapids, Minn. got to see a side of Moss that he rarely let the public get to – thanks to a promise he made more than a decade ago.
For those who knew Moss behind the scenes, his kryptonite was kids. The older people got, the less he trusted them, but he felt that children were pure of heart and he was always willing to go the extra mile for a kid. He would walk right past adult autograph seekers, but if it was a kid, he consistently stopped, signed and struck up a conversation.
During his rookie season in 1998, Moss met a 2-year-old girl named Kassi Spier from Pelican Rapids. They struck an immediate friendship that was tested over the years. In 2000, she was diagnosed with leukemia. In 2004, she lost her father in a tragic car accident. In 2013, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Years ago, when Moss was a member of the Vikings, he promised that he would attend Kassi’s high school graduation, hoping it would give her the motivation to keep fighting the good fight.
On Friday night, as Kassi graduated with the Class of 2015, Moss presented her with her diploma.
Given the nature of locker rooms, reporters can see everything that is in a player’s locker. There is very little privacy. It was a photo of Kassi in Moss’ locker that got reporters asking questions about who the girl was. Moss was hesitant to discuss it – that was just his way – but the bond between the two was obvious.
In 2003, Kassi had the equivalent to an all-access pass, joining Moss for lunch at nearly every session of training camp as he held her hand crossing the street from the practice field to the cafeteria at Minnesota State-Mankato.
In 2004, ESPN The Magazine did a story on their friendship, with Moss saying, “I know how she feels about me and I know how I feel about her. Our relationship is not important to anybody but us.”
For Moss, that kind of terse response to an adult was part and parcel with the type of person he was. He didn’t trust adults. He trusted kids.
On the release of the ESPN story, The Pioneer Press of St. Paul quoted Daunte Culpepper about their relationship: “Randy loves that girl to death. They have that connection and I think it’s beautiful.”
Perhaps former head coach Mike Tice summed it up best when it came to the bond Moss had with little kids. Kassi wasn’t the only child that touched Moss’ heart. It was one of few weaknesses – if compassion can be viewed as a weakness. He had a bond with kids that was as special to him as it was to them.
“Randy wants everyone to think he’s a tough guy,” Tice said following the release of the ESPN story. “But his relationship with this little girl is really something. It’s typical of Randy. He’s great with kids. He doesn’t trust authority and he doesn’t adults because he thinks they all want something from him. And you know what? He’s not far off.”
A lot of people can make empty promises to people similar to the promise Moss made to Kassi years ago that he would be at the milestone moment of most teenagers young lives – graduating high school. His life took him far away from Minnesota – with the exception of a brief, divisive second run as a member of the Vikings in 2010.
Moss didn’t have to fulfill his commitment to a young girl that, in the big scheme of things, he spent very little time with.
He did fulfill his commitment.
That’s the real Randy Moss that he was so guarded not to let the general public see. He wasn’t one seeking out the spotlight. For most of his life, the spotlight has been wherever he walks. He was constantly dogged by a press he didn’t trust or, in most cases, even like. He saw the media as an occupational hazard that came with the territory. When he did charitable work, he did it on the low-low. He didn’t want people to acknowledge it. It was personal to him.
For those who didn’t like Moss or were troubled by his off-field run-ins with the law – most of which were minor and not that uncommon among young men in their teens and 20s – Friday’s gesture of keeping his promise to a little stranger he met walking off the practice field at Mankato 17 years ago is a true testament to the man and what he has in his heart.
Fans will remember Moss for his unprecedented dominance on the football field. History will remember him for his football and his defiance to be what most would consider to be a role model.
But, for one young woman in Pelican Rapids, who has known Moss for about as much of her life as she can remember, you couldn’t get a much better role model than she got when Kassi met Randy.
Moss keeps promise to fan, cancer survivor
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