I saw Randy Moss at a Dave and Buster’s in Providence, Rhode Island in March of 2013. A good twenty percent of the clientele at D&B’s that day were wearing some kind of Patriots apparel, but nobody seemed to recognize him. Nobody, that is, except my Brother Dan.
Randy Moss was the subject of “Rand University,” the latest episode of the”30 for 30″ series that aired last night on ESPN. Combined with his job as an analyst on Fox Sports One, it seems that the rehabilitation of the greatest receiver I ever had the privilege to watch is nearly complete. Randy had his troubles and tantrums: some seemed like real dick moves, others were just the sort of things old white men love to complain about. He seemed misanthropic at times, joyfully exuberant at others. But now he has seemed to have slid comfortably into the part of any great athlete’s career when we appreciate him again, the part where we are just far enough away from the inglorious final years that the earth shattering prime is ripe for re-appreciation. He’s comfortable on camera, he’s funny, and he’s pretty charismatic. He still has that edge though, that slight distrust of it all. Even in a suit on a TV set, he’s still exudes a sort of independence and intelligence that most ex-players don’t. He’s still a badass, which is why we were intimidated to approach him at a Dave and Buster’s at noon on a Saturday, and why we certainly don’t have a picture to prove it (I don’t even think I had a smart phone at the time).
Myself, my cousin, and Brother Dan had converged on Providence from throughout the Northeast the previous day to see a Drive-By Truckers show at Lupo’s. After a night of drinking and crashing back at the hotel, we decided we would visit the Dave and Buster’s downtown before heading off in our separate directions. While we were there, shooting baskets at some of the many basketball games, Dan approached me and whispered in my ear.
“Dude, that’s Randy Moss.”
I turned and looked to see a black man, easily the tallest person in the room, wearing a green velour sweatsuit and a black Red Sox hat. He was standing back and watching what had to be eight or nine kids, ranging in age from four or five to sixteen or seventeen. He was the only adult with them all.
God forgive me, I denied it was him at first. “That’s not him,” I said. “Why would he be here? He just played in the Super Bowl like a month ago.”
Then I heard him speak.
“Y’all want to play over here?” he said to some of the children he was shepherding through the Dave and Buster’s. It was the same southern twang I had heard a hundred times in press conferences over the years. I could picture him saying “straight tickets, homie” when getting a stuffed animal before leaving. It was totally him.
We conferred with my cousin, frantically trying to determine what we should do. We shot baskets next to Randy to get a better look, like 12 year-olds trying to figure out a way to talk to girls at the mall. Yes, it was him, unquestionably him.
The place was packed, packed with oblivious New England fans. If we made a big deal in approaching him, it would ruin his day and his outing. We were keepers of a secret. Besides, what were we going to get from him? I’ve never understood people who see a celebrity and need to get a picture. They are like hunters who can’t just appreciate a wild animal without wanting to shoot it.
Also, it really seemed like there was zero chance Randy was letting us take a picture with him. I voted we do nothing.
“One of us has to go talk to him,” Brother Dan implored us.
“I’m telling you right now, I’m not going over there,” my cousin said.
Dan, who was 21 at the time, stood up straight and all 5’6 of him soared majestically toward the ceiling.
“I judge myself on how I respond to moments like these,” he said. “I have to say ‘hi’ to Randy Moss.”
Dan had owned a Vikings Randy Moss jersey when he was seven years old. It was the only non-Boston area jersey I ever remembered seeing in our house. Nobody was happier about Randy coming to the Patriots than Dan.
So cousin Matt came up with a plan: we would give the tickets we had earned that afternoon to one of Randy’s children. It would be a sort of offering. And in that moment, Dan would talk to Randy Moss.
I can’t explain the oceanic divide between how silly this sounds now and how important it seemed at the time, suffice to say that we were brutally hung over from the night before. Dan, unlike my cousin and I, was still young and spry.
“I’m nervous,” Dan said. “Okay.”
Randy was separated from his clan of children and was only with two girls, probably no more than seven years old, at an arcade game. There was no one else in the entire row of games. My cousin and I stood at the end of the row as Dan approached them, paper bucket of unwieldly yellow tickets in hand.
Dan, who was closer in size to the seven-year old in the pink dress than to Randy, approached. Randy stood over them, protectively, with no interest in playing the game himself. Me and my cousin were trying not to stare while straining to hear.
“Do you want my tickets?” Dan asked as he walked by, coolly turning over his shoulder to offer his tickets to the girls, as if he just thought of it, as if he was on the way to toss them in the trash and thought “oh, these girls might want these tickets, I’m sure their dad didn’t make $30 million playing professional football.”
Randy didn’t turn away from the screen of the game one of the girls was playing. He stared straight ahead.
“Say thank you,” he told one of the girls.
“Thank you,” she said.
Dan hesitated. Randy was still still fixated on the screen. He hadn’t turned his head or acknowledged Dan. Dan looked at us, and we looked back, giggling more than any two men in their late twenties should be allowed to do.
“Hey, Randy, I’m, uh, a big fan,” Dan said.
Randy’s eyes did not move off the screen. After the first moment without a response I wondered if he hadn’t heard him. Dan, to his credit, held his ground. Was he not going to respond? Was he really that much of an asshole? Another second passed, with the bells and whistles of video games making the tension even worse than it already was. Dan started to open his mouth again, then closed it. He had said it loud enough. And if it wasn’t Randy, the man in question would’ve turned to look at Dan and evaluate why he was still there, standing over his daughters, calling him Randy. Randy was looking ahead so steadfastly, so complete in his avoidance of my brother, that only a life of celebrity could have trained himself to be so intentionally oblivious to a person two feet away talking directly to him.
Dan began to turn.
And then, eyes still fixated on the screen and his daughter’s score, Randy stuck out his fist at Dan. Dan looked at it for a second, and then his eyes got big as he realized what was happening.
Randy Moss was offering a fist bump.
Dan, as nonchalantly as he could, bumped him back. Randy kept staring at the screen as he slowly put his hand back in his pocket, although I swear I saw a momentary smile crawl across his face before disappearing back into a scowl.
Dan turned and walked toward us. To this day, I don’t really care about not getting a picture with Randy (although for the purposes of this post it would have been nice). No, what I truly wish I had gotten a picture of was the moon-wide, gaping smile my brother burst into after he turned back toward us. He then quickly composed himself and we walked with him away from the aisle, not wanting to attract attention to the man who just a few months before had declared himself the greatest wide receiver of all time.
“Did you see it? Did you see the fist bump?!”
That’s how I will always remember Randy Moss. The guy who brought his kids and their friends to Dave and Buster’s in Providence, Rhode Island (why Providence?) on a Saturday afternoon a month after he played, and was barely used, in his second and last Super Bowl, and who somehow was only recognized by a 21-year-old kid, a kid he reluctantly let touch his hand.