Randy Moss: a cure for Phillipsphobia
Though they've probably never met, the lives of
Randy Moss and Lawrence Phillips briefly crossed paths one afternoon last
April. Hours into the 1998 NFL draft, Randy Moss, the story so far in
this year's NFL season, looked up at the draft board to find names like Brian
Simmons, Robert Edwards, and Vonnie Holliday. The name that he was looking
for--his own--was nowhere to be found. Moss was projected to go as high as in
the top five in the draft; in the end, he was the 21st pick. The drop, which
cost Moss about $4 million, was shocking.
|PHOTO COURTESY SPORTS ILLUSTRATED|
The lanky wide receiver, a Heisman Trophy finalist with out-of-this-world
numbers at Marshall College (53 touchdowns, 4,528 total yards in two years),
was arguably the most potent offensive threat available in the draft pool--yet
he almost plummeted into the second round. Why? Call it yet another case of
In 1995, Lawrence Phillips, the explosive running back who led Nebraska to
back-to-back championship seasons, was the sixth selection in the NFL
draft--about where Moss was expected to go last April. No one had doubts about
Phillips' ability to adjust to the NFL game; many expected him to dominate it.
Most, however, questioned his off-the-field problems. As a junior, Phillips was
a leading Heisman candidate, too, until he was suspended during the season
after pleading no contest to assaulting a former girlfriend.
Despite his behavior, the St. Louis Rams insisted that Phillips could be
rehabilitated. They rolled the dice and signed him to a multi-year contract.
But during his brief 19-month tenure as a Ram, Phillips was arrested three
times and spent 23 days in jail.
The Phillips project turned out to be a bust. After being picked up and
released by the Miami Dolphins, Phillips' problems persisted, and as recently
as last Friday, the now unemployed Nebraska native was charged yet again, this
time with a first-degree misdemeanor battery charge. If convicted, Phillips
could be sentenced to major time.
Phillipsphobia, n.: the fear of taking a chance on an off-field risk
and getting burned. It has paralyzed many NFL franchises; great collegiate
players like Warren Sapp and Jason Peter were also taken much lower in the
draft than projected. Phillipsphobia was certainly in the air when 20 teams
decided to bypass a player that many agreed was the most talented athlete in
the pool. None of the teams were willing to take the gamble--none of them, that
is, until the Minnesota Vikings had a chance at pick number 21.
Moss has always possessed the hands of Jerry Rice and the leaping ability of
Michael Jordan. It's only been a question of whether he'll make good use of
them. The answer was never clear. Moss was initially headed to Notre Dame to
play under Lou Holtz until he became involved in a racially motivated fight at
his high school. Florida State's Bobby Bowden agreed to give him a chance until
he was arrested for marijuana. Moss then turned to Marshall, where, as a
sophomore, he had domestic battery charges filed against him after a violent
outburst with his girlfriend. Can you feel the Phillipsphobia yet?
Still, the Vikings gambled--and it paid off in huge ways. The Moss pick may
turn out to be the best risk taken since the movie Titanic; since day
one as a Viking, Moss has simply been spectacular. In a preseason game this
year against the New Orleans Saints, Moss, still quite unfamiliar with his
routes, toasted the defense with six touchdowns. Even though the Vikings had a
bye last weekend, the young receiver still leads the league in touchdown
receptions and ranks fourth in yards. And while Phillips was in the back pages
of the sports section last week for his latest incident, Moss was all over the
front page with a dazzling effort against division rival Green Bay in the
greatest spotlight of all--Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field. He tore up
the highly-touted Packer secondary with 190 yards in receptions, and his
Vikings remained the NFC's only unbeaten team.
Phillipsphobia may be more unnecessary paranoia than anything else. There are
many other Moss-like cases: Sapp, who has come clean off-the-field, is regarded
as one of the finest defensive linemen in the game. Still, franchises shouldn't
wipe their consciences clean of this fear. In Moss' case, the team may have fit
the player perfectly: Randy's half-brother, Eric, is a lineman on the team, and
All-Pro receiver Cris Carter has served as an effective on and off-field
But in the end, taking a gamble on a troubled player is almost like having a
quarterback blindly throw up the ball high into the air for grabs--that is,
without Randy Moss there to bring it down.
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