Catching up with Randy Moss still isn't easy

Columnist
Yahoo Sports
Organizers were at first skeptical of Randy Moss joining their workouts, but he's proven himself. (Yahoo Sports)
Organizers were at first skeptical of Randy Moss joining their workouts, but he's proven himself. (Yahoo Sports)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Randy Moss flips his hoodie up over his head, smiles and shouts, "There's gonna be a funeral tonight!"

It's 6:15 on a Monday night. There's a swell of nervous laughter around him as he leads a march through an enormous gym, past an Irish dance academy and out a double-door into 29-degree weather for an hour-long workout.

A football field sits empty in the dark, and Moss jogs to drop cones where midfield and the end zone would be. But there's no football this evening. This is a twice-a-week boot camp Moss helps run, for anyone who wants to join him, for free.

He's not just a coach, though. He's in the camp, grinding, every Monday and Wednesday.

"It's a little bit harder than an NFL workout," he says.

That hasn't kept anyone away; quite the opposite. This Moss-a-palooza has drawn nearly 500 people for some classes since it began in August, from soccer moms to weekend warriors who want to try to keep up with The Freak. The gym, called STAX, is even going for a world-record boot camp in May, aiming for 2,000 people or more. The owner of the gym, Eric McCoy, says some people have met their Tinder dates here.

"People want to compete against Randy," McCoy says. "People want to race Randy."

Moss as a man of the people might come as a bit of a surprise to longtime NFL fans. His reputation has been closed-off since he arrived at the 1997 Heisman ceremony sporting a pair of sunglasses. Nearly 20 years later, fellow finalists Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning have been feted for brilliant careers. Moss, who was arguably just as outstanding from a statistical standpoint, is still a bit of a mystery.

Maybe that's because he's still as unfiltered off the field as he was on it. "When those lights come on," he says of his football days, "I don't have no friends and I'm not here to smile. They thought I should be, 'Hey sir, how you doing?' Well, I'm out here to demolish people."

He has strong opinions on everything from the ESPN documentary on his life – "pure lies" – to becoming an NFL position coach – "I'm a bit more advanced than that" – to his reputation as a player – "I'm not a shake-hands player in this brutal sport."

Thing is, he is a shake-hands person now.

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Randy Moss showed up for boot camp fresh off a red eye from California. (Yahoo Sports)
Randy Moss showed up for boot camp fresh off a red eye from California. (Yahoo Sports)

Moss isn't the only celebrity at the boot camp. Emily "Breeze" Ross is a co-coach. She's a star in the world of CrossFit, and has been to the CrossFit Games (its version of the Super Bowl) twice. Some people come to train with her; some feel she's a better athlete than Moss. (She won't go that far; she grew up cheering for Moss as a Marshall fan.)

Ross is due with her first child in April, so tonight she is yelling instructions, and old No. 84 is in the class he helped plan. The group starts with three rounds of 20 squats, 10 push-ups, five sit-ups and a sprint around the football field. By the end of that stretch some people are bent over with their hands frozen and their mouths puffing out plumes of smoke.

That was the warm-up.

"We've had people throw up and get sick and make all kinds of excuses and leave," Ross says. It's not hard to see why.

It gets more intense: sprints, lunges, burpee-broad-jumps, bear-crawls. Moss does it all, sweating even in the freezing temperatures, pausing only to shout encouragement: "Let's ride!" is a frequent saying. "I hope everyone did all of your push-ups!" he nags. "Take your time ladies!" he says as he sees a couple of women struggling.

Initially McCoy was skeptical when he brought in Moss, wondering if the 14-year NFL star would be fully committed. McCoy was even more uncertain when Moss started doing the workouts, which "smashed" him. But Moss is still here, coming off a cross-country red-eye from his studio analyst job in California, caked in Bermuda grass and frigid dew. He's just shy of 39 years old, and he looks like he can still play. CrossFit has added 4 pounds of muscle. "My body is in the best shape it's ever been," he says.

But this isn't a comeback. He's even reluctant about talking to the media because he thinks "people like to be nosy." His training academy is here, but he's not marketing anything. He's not shilling anything. The boot camp is "basically my free time," when he's not with his wife and kids or clients.

"We've made our money," he explains after the workout. "Whenever you're trying to better people, it's not always about finances."

The end of the one-hour camp includes sprints, and in case anyone thought Moss has lost a step, that familiar gallop launches him across the field as if it was 2006 instead of 2016. One camper slips and falls and another blurts, "I'm not gonna make it," but Moss doesn't even look winded.

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It's Moss who fetches all the cones and returns inside.

"As long as you experience this," he says, "you know what we're going through."

That might be the best insight into how Moss thinks. When asked about the possibility of getting into coaching, he waves it off.

"I've always been a believer that coaches sit there and blow the whistle and scream at you and get down in your ear and blow the whistle louder. If you've done this before, I'll do your workout. If you want to give me runs and shorten my breathing time, well, as long as you've done it. If I'm dying out there, I need you to pick me up. If you're dying, I'll pick you up."

Randy Moss carries cones out to a workout at Stax Gym. (Yahoo Sports)
Randy Moss carries cones out to a workout at Stax Gym. (Yahoo Sports)

Moss wants people to come along with him, to go through trials with him, to get him. That's part of the appeal of this camp – it's a form of expression, in a way.

This is part of why he's upset at the "30 for 30" documentary, "Rand University," which was quite popular. He says ESPN promised to spend real time in his hometown of Rand, W. Va., and instead stayed only a short time.

"The '30 for 30' was full of lies," he says. "I felt '30 for 30' was 70 percent true and 30 percent lies. I told ESPN I didn't want to do it. They bugged me about it. I told ESPN, 'You come into my community, where my people live every day, it's best for you to tell the truth.' ESPN came in telling lies, OK? I told them not to release it because it was full of lies. Know the truth, get the truth, before letting it out. Well, ESPN flew in during the day, left during the night. People in my community live there. Their children play together, grandchildren. There was a lot of animosity in my community for that '30 for 30,' that ESPN caused it, and they didn't want to do anything about it. All they cared about was ratings and selling something."

Asked to elaborate, Moss begs off and says he wants to find a way to tell his own version of his biopic.

"I'll save that for the real story."

When reached for comment, Marquis Daisy, who directed the film, said he spent "seven or eight days" shooting in Rand.

"We stand behind the integrity of the production and the accuracy of the film," said ESPN Films executive producer John Dahl, who added that he hasn't heard from Moss in the 14 months since the film aired.

Moss has more to say about the media, and the distance between outside perspective – the pundits – and what he feels is the truth.

"[The pundits] don't have love in the streets," he says. "They don't go to bars, to house parties, they don't go out to dinner. They stay there scared behind closed doors. They're so controversial they don't understand the truth, nor do they care about the truth. So what do they do? They start a lot of controversy. That's not right, it's definitely not right."

This is a trace of the old Moss, the Marshall star wearing sunglasses into a banquet hall: he can see you but you can't see him. What's changed somewhat is more people can see him now. His "us-vs.-them" mentality lingers, but "us" includes more people. It includes the people who come to work out with him twice a week.

"Over time, I had to grow and learn that even though I'm off-duty, the fans are never off-duty," he says. "So as I grew with the game, the game grew with me."

He participated in the NFL's internal discussions about "What is a catch" recently. ("The biggest thing to me," he said, "if you catch the ball, the ball doesn't move, you're able to hand the ball back to the ref, let's go with that.") He took his kids to see "Concussion," and he will let them play if they so choose, but he wants them to be educated. He said he was "stuck" in his era because "you were thrown back on the field and they didn't care. Now they have rules and protocols; I think it's great for the NFL. It's great they care about their health and not the money."

These aren't the words of someone who is railing against the establishment, even though he realizes a retired player's later-life health is no sure thing. He seems grateful to the game, even protective of it. "I don't worry about myself," he says. "I got faith in God. My faith is very strong."

His faith in himself is strong, too. Without being asked, he offers a parting shot about his reputation – about the idea that he didn't work hard enough as a player.

"A lot of people talk about, I didn't have work ethic, I didn't give it my all," he says. "Well, there are two things that matter when you're a wide receiver: get open, catch the ball. OK? I got open, I caught the ball. I'm second on the all-time touchdown receptions list."

He taps the wooden table in front of him.

"The things people said about me, the negative things? I'm second all time on the list. So then what do they think about the guys under me? What about their work ethic?"

Other than Jerry Rice, who had two Hall of Famers delivering him the ball, Moss is the greatest pass-catcher who ever lived. But that's not what he's trying to get across. No, instead he wants everyone to know that whatever his reputation, he always showed up.

And he's still showing up.

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