A few years ago, an editor asked me to sniff around and see if I could do a story on what Randy Moss was really like. I’d covered Moss, the football player, for years, but unlike his star wideout contemporaries at the time — Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens — the American public still had very little information on Randy Moss, the person.
There were no reality shows. No documentaries. There was Randy Moss, who had captured a generation of football fans unlike any player before. And that was what we knew.
I told the editor I’d try, but didn’t have all that much confidence. The truth was, I really liked Randy. Covering the NFL for several years, I ignored what I’d heard about him and tried asking him questions while nobody else was in the locker room.
Though we were by no means chummy (Moss wasn’t one to hang out with media members in the offseason or text them birthday wishes or LOLs),I found him to be open, honest, and above all — a football savant. He loved football. The X’s. The O’s. He could tell you the wide receivers coach of an opposing team from a decade ago or the type of coverage an AFC West team ran against an AFC East team in Week 4 despite playing in the NFC North and it being Week 15.
When he was in San Francisco back in 2012, the younger wideouts followed his every move, right down to swimming laps before practice. If Moss was doing it, they were going to do it, too. But who was this guy? What was he really like?
To know Moss, I was told to find someone named Donnie Blue. It was a name I’d never heard of before and one that didn’t exist on Google. I’d do even more digging over several weeks and soon learn that this wasn’t a former coach, traveling secretary or agent. Donnie Blue was one of Randy’s dearest friends, and, more important, his fishing buddy.
And thus started my mild fascination with Randy Moss, the Bassmaster. For all the amazing stories I was collecting on Randy Moss, no one seemed to mention the fishing. For all of our conversations between journalist and player, I’d never mentioned his love for the outdoors. The more I’d ask around and the more research I’d do on his tight-knit group of friends from rural West Virginia, the more I learned that Moss was a heck of a fisherman.
But not any type of fisherman. He didn’t do the yachts or the ocean.
Randy Moss fished for bass. Not trout. Not marlin. Bass.
And he loved it. It was more than a Sunday hobby for him. It was his decompression from the stresses of an NFL season; it was his social time.
The piece actually never came together, but years later, I spent weeks compiling the “The Oral History of Randy Moss.” Players loved Moss, and his former teammates all had incredible stories. His ex-coaches marveled at his talent and unique personality. My media peers who’d covered him each had an incredible interaction to share.
But no one mentioned the fishing. That was something I had in my back pocket.
Fast forward to this summer, and in one of those “Life Works in Mysterious Ways” deals, I got a call to participate in “The Big Catch” -- a FOX Sports one-hour-long show. I’d be previewing the upcoming college and NFL seasons with FOX college football analyst Joel Klatt, FOX pro football analyst Brian Urlacher and, of all people, Randy Moss.
The wrinkle? We’d be doing that all while on a three-day fishing trip.
After all these years, I’d finally be fishing with Randy Moss.
The 36 hours the four of us spent together out on two boats in California’s Big Bear Lake were something different than anything you’ll find elsewhere on TV. It’s a side of Moss and Urlacher football fans have certainly never seen before. Moss was in his element but also quite revealing, discussing the highs and lows of his career and a life under the media microscope.
Urlacher was open and honest, a future Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker who has more opinions than tackles. Klatt, a former college football quarterback turned TV analyst, sprinkles the show with details from a summer spent sitting down with just about every big-time college football coach in the country.
We talk about Jameis Winston and what the Florida State redshirt sophomore has to do for an encore effort after his breakout 2013 campaign. We go deep on the Cowboys and Browns. Randy and Brian explain why Aaron Rodgers is unlike any other quarterback in the league. There are bold predictions, insight on Bill Belichick and Lovie Smith you’re not getting anywhere else, and an explanation/demonstration from NFL on FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira on why we’re seeing so many darn penalties this preseason.